Archive for July, 2009

Final Frame

Saturday, July 25th, 2009
Final Frame

So here it is … two weeks and my residency in Rocky Mountain National Park is complete.  I thought I would write some concluding remarks along with the last photo I took in the park, before I headed down to Denver to check into a hotel to wait for my flight tomorrow morning back home to Anchorage, and to Michelle.

This was my third artist residency with the National Park Service.  It is so difficult to really compare the overall experiences, as each park and experience, as well as the focus of my photography, is different.  But so many things made this a wonderful experience – I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an opportunity to develop their art in a truly inspiring place.  First, the volunteers and staff were fantastic – especially Betsy, who formally welcomed me into the park in my first morning, and her husband, Roger, who along with Betsy, run the weekly programs presented by the visiting artists.  I additionally need to thank Roger for his excellent suggestion of the Bear Lake to Lake Helene to Odessa/Fern route – some of my best morning photography during the entire trip, and a great hike.  I have to thank Marilyn, another involved in the artist program, for her overall checking in on me to make sure that things were going well, and for doing such a wonderful job of giving the artists a clean, beautiful place to stay.  Jean Muenchrath, the AIR coordinator, was very enthusiastic about my projects and was particularly helpful, no, key, in getting me the bivy permit for my night at Chasm Lake.

I also cannot forget to thank Lowe Pro for its donation of two Sling Shot 200 AW bags to give away as door prizes to my weekly presentations.  I certainly hope that it was an added value to the audience.  One lucky winner’s wife indicated he had been shopping around for that very thing.  Thanks also to the Estes Park-Trail Gazette for a nice feature article on me.

But there are so many others involved in making my experience possible.  There are the members of the selection committee who decided that I had something to offer for their program (one even told me after my last presentation at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center that I had “exceeded expectations” – always great to hear).  And then there is the public, who through entrance fees and contributing to affiliated natural history associations, allow such opportunities as this to be possible.  For Rocky Mountain National Park, that would be the Rocky Mountain Nature Association.

It is hard to point to a key experience for me in the park, as it was a collection of several things that made it memorable.  One thing that was different, though, was the early rising for landscape photography.  Not that I am not used to getting up early to go shoot, but getting up early enough to drive to a trailhead and then hike a couple of hours before sunrise – that was different.  In Anchorage, all the best landscape shots are dependent upon evening light, as the sky is open to the west but a wall of mountains to the east.  The best locations for morning shots are completely from the road – no hiking is required.

I also enjoyed my exposure to the mountain climbing culture here.  When I was up really early, up to two hours before sunlight, the only folk I would run into was mountaineers.  In Alaska, there is no mountain that requires technical climbing that I can think of that is accessible from a road, let alone a trailhead.  Additionally, the mountains that are technically climbed in Alaska are never clear of snow – Alaska has all ten of the ten highest mountains in the United States.  I think that when I come back, I would like to photograph and interview mountaineers who climb in the park and explore more the role of climbers in the present and past of the park.  Many parks have a strong mountaineering connection, and in many ways, those climbers can be influential, for better or worse, in the shaping of the park.  I certainly know that they shaped my experience in the park – I made several “trail friends” who were climbers on their way up or down, who shared in conversation and helped to make the hike worthwhile.

Then there is the inspiration and legacy of William Allen White, in whose historic cabin I stayed during my residency.  White used the cabin from 1912-1943 as a summer retreat, and did many of his writings from there.  I used the very desk he used to write to do my photo editings and write most of my blog posts (which I would later publish using the free WiFi from Kind Coffee in Estes Park).  All Mr. White did was write and try to influence the policies of his day, winning two Pulitzers and becoming close friends with Theodore Roosevelt among other key figures of his day.  I am sure he could not have imagined that, sixty-six years after he left the cabin, a photographer from Alaska would come down to take shelter in his cabin and join a long list of artists who have spent two weeks of their time finding solace and inspiration in the cabin, with its majestic view.

Thinking of Mr. White made me think of the actions we take in our lives and their later significance.  As I told the audience members who attended my presentations at RMNP, I gain my primary motivation to photograph wild things and wild places from the act of doing it.  In so many cases, I am completely alone, capturing a moment in time that only I have the pleasure to see.  It’s a powerful experience, and often so envigorating, I am simultaneously working furiously at capturing it while cherishing it in ways I cannot photograph – the smells, the sounds, the feel of the air or the sun.  Secondary to that motivation, I gain pleasure in sharing my photography with others.  My motivation changes depending on the subject – on one hand I might hope it would inspire others to explore away from the roads to find magic of their own, on the other, it might be to share a place with others who may never experience it and hopefully help them understand that such protected places are vital and necessary.

Finally, taking  a back seat to those two goals, I simply wonder and hope that maybe my art may inspire others to create their own.  After my second presentation at RMNP, a young boy named Graeden from Kansas came up to me, with two obviously proud parents in tow, and told me that he was interested in photography and that my talk had truly inspired him.  He informed me that he had also recently become a junior ranger.  I asked him about that and his interests, and he asked me for my autograph.  In that moment, I felt more humbled than I ever had before, and inspired myself to keep doing what I have been doing.  I thought about how I must have been at that age, and could not think of whether I could have had the courage to do what this boy did.  With my autograph, I wrote that nature is truly the best inspiration you need to be a photographer.

And perhaps that is the greatest value for experiences such as being an artist in residence for one of America’s oldest and most visited national parks – the renewal or birth of inspiration.  For the visiting artist, it is certainly the renewal – we would not have been in that place if we did not already have some level of inspiration and skill.  And for those who attend our presentations, may we inspire them as well – whether to get out more, practice an art, fight to protect our public lands – whatever it may be.  My own personal gains from what I create are limited to me, but hopefully in sharing my art and inspiration, others can gain as well.

And now, I go to sleep, getting up at o’dark thirty again, this time to go home to Michelle and our cats.  I save these last lines to thank my lovely wife for all her support, love and encouragement.  It may have been my photography that brought us together, but it is our relationship that helps to keep my photography going.

Beatle – er, Beetle – Mania

Saturday, July 25th, 2009
Beatle - er, Beetle - Mania

The topic title comes from a program that Jean Muenchrath, the Artist-in-Residence coordinator at RMNP, puts on with other staff and volunteers every Tuesday evening at 7:30 at the Moraine Park campground ampitheatre.  Using Beatles music, they try to educate the public, as well as entertain, about the mountain pine beetle that has been ravaging the park in recent years (check out a Denver Post article about the outbreak in the area).  Particularly, the beetle attacks the lodgepole pine.  When I saw the brown trees on arrival, I knew exactly what it was, as Alaska has been ravaged by a similar beetle, the spruce beetle, in the last fifteen years.  

U.S. Forest Service research seems to indicate that the expansive infestation is made possible through global climate change.  While the beetles have always been there, they have not been able to effect such large areas because they cannot be as active during colder temperatures.  In regions that are experiencing shorter periods of colder temperatures, the beetles are allowed to thrive longer, and thus wreak more havoc.

I wanted to photograph the heavily-impacted west side of the park, where whole hillsides are covererd with brown and bare trees impacted by the beetle.  I found a certain beauty in the reddish brown color matched against the rich green of unaffected lodgepole pines.  But I also wanted to document the beetle kill areas because it is an impact on the park, regardless of whether you think it is good or bad – it is nonetheless an impact.  Another impact I explored while I was in the park is visitation, as the park gets three million visitors per year.  But that is the subject for another blog post.

Up to Chasm Lake

Friday, July 24th, 2009
Up to Chasm Lake

For my “finale” hike of this residency, I decided I wanted to go up to Chasm Lake. I really did not care for the idea of starting the trail head at 2:00 a.m., so I considered options for staying the night near there. The nearest formal campsites are miles away, still not the best for doing what I wanted to do – a full night time lapse and some good morning shots. After some inquiries, I was able to secure a bivy site at Mills Glacier, at the base of Long’s Peak on the back side at Chasm Lake. Normally, these sites are only available to people climbing the mountain. But, when you are the artist-in-residence and you have a project in mind, things can happen.

Needless to say, it is a challenging hike. The first 2.5 miles are not bad, more like a slightly steeper version of the hike from Bear Lake to Lake Helene. Then, you hit the sign post for the spur trail off to the Battle Mountain campground. From then on up, a mere 1.7 miles, it is a one-step-at-a-time struggle if you are not used to this elevation and have a fully-loaded pack. Now, there are all kinds of people who hike this trail in no time – 1 1/2 or 2 hours. There was even a park ranger 30 years ago Sunday who made the hike, made the Long’s Peak summit and was back to the parking lot in 2 hours and four minutes. I am not them. But, I wanted to get this shot.

The 0.7 mile Chasm Lake Trail from the Mills Moraine is the highlight of the trail. It has the highest concentration of columbine I have seen in the park, and has beautiful waterfalls. There are tremendous views of Long’s Peak and its adjacent ridges. But you pay for it all after you get to the ranger patrol cabin. From there, it is a several hundred feet scramble up a boulder field to get to the lake

To keep things as light as possible, I brought only one of my Nikon D300s, two lenses – the 12-24mm and the 24-85. I brought the Lee filter system, Moose’s warming polarizers for each lens, and my Hoya IR filter in case I wanted to do any Infra Red. The last thing I would need is to be miles up a mountain side and see a great possible IR shot, but no IR filter. I also brought my Hassleblad for the really spectaclar scenics, but to also capture a 3-hour star trails while the D300 was capturing the time lapse.

I started the D300 on the time lapse at around 8:00 p.m., shortly before sundown. I set the camera at ISO 400 on aperture priority, taking a photo every ten seconds. I came back after sunset when it was starting to get dark to adjust the exposure settings. No matter what the ISO setting, shooting at aperture priortiy will not get any sort of exposure other than black for nighttime photos, especially during a new moon when it is really black. So, I jacked the ISO up to 3200, set it at f/4.0 with a 15 second exposure, set to take a photo every 31 seconds. Why 31? At 15 seconds, with the long exposure noise reduction, it takes 15 seconds to process the image. Thus, a total of 30 seconds to take and process a 15 second photo. – hence the need for the one second margin.

As I was readying my camera for the darkness that would follow, something small, soft and fuzzy hit me in the back and bounced off. Then on the side of the head. Then in the chest. Moth after moth after moth was coming out, taking the to newly darkened sky, and not expecting my body in their flight paths.  My only light source was my headlamp, and I was able to capture glimpses of dozens of moths within the reach of my beam as they scattered about in the dark night sky.  Then I started to hear the fluttering of wings, to my left, behind me, off to the right. With my headlamp, I was able to determine that the fluttering of wings came from bats that were swooping out in great numbers and going after the moths. It made me think of the flying creatures from “Pitch Black” and how they exploded into the sky once the three suns in the sky set – not the sort of thing you want to think of when you are alone in the dark. In the morning, as the light started to show on the lake, I saw the aftermath of the aerial battle – hundreds, if not thousands, of wings and various moth parts blowing up against the lake shore. I wondered how many bats there could have been airborne at one time, and the sheer magnitude of this event was awe-inspiring.

I came back at 1:00 to start the Hassleblad, which I had propped up on rocks and framed the shot before it went dark. Everything was ready to go – I just needed to set the shutter cable to lock and walk away. At 4:00 a.m., I stopped the Hassleblad. At 4:30, I started adjusting the Nikon D300 exposure to compensate for the increasing light. Over the next hour, I constantly adjusted the exposure, ISO, and eventually was able to get back to aperture priority again, which would be the best way to accurately expose the changing lighting conditions. As soon as first light was in full swing, I stopped the time exposure and went to taking stills of the scene.




Camera works, I sleep

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009
Camera works, I sleep

One of the things I like about photographing star trails is that the camera does all the work while I sleep.  Really, though, the best thing about doing star trails is that it transforms the night sky in a way that our eyes are not capable of seeing.  This image was captured by setting my camera up for a 2 1/2 hour exposure, ISO 200 at f/3.o. I messed up when I stopped the exposure by turning the camera off instead of releasing the cable release lock.  Ideally, I would have let the camera do its Long Exposure NR (noise reduction) processing, which takes the same amount of time as the exposure.  Fortunately, though, with Lightroom, I was able to greatly reduce the noise procuced by such a long exposure.  I also played a bit with the white balance settings to represent what I think the color hues should be for a nighttime starry sky. 

It was a nice way to cap off a great evening.  I gave my second presentation at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center as artist-in-residence.  I discussed my experiences and contributions in my three National Park Service artist residencies, and what I had given or still planned to give back to the public and the park from those experiences.  I found the crowd to be really attentive and appreciative of what I had to offer.  One of the great things about being a nature photographer is that I derive pleasure from the creation of the image, the processing of the image, and the sharing of the image.  A great nature photo is just a gift that keeps on giving to the artist creating it as well as those who see it and appreciate it.  And in that appreciation, I can hopefully help the viewing public more greatly appreciate the location being photographed, more greatly appreciate the need to protect such beautiful places, or be inspired themselves to explore or create their own images. 

I am all packed up and ready to go.  I will be heading out from the Long’s Peak trailhead this afternoon – destination, Chasm Lake.  I have a bivy site at the Mills Glacier, and will be up off and on attending to my camera to do a long term time lapse exposure.  I will explain more about the process tomorrow, when I will post the blog entry about the hopefully successful endeavor.  The weather looks good, the forecast is good, so let’s hope it holds out.

Meadows morning

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009
Meadows morning

I thought I would try again this morning to do the time lapse of the sunrise at Upper Beaver Meadows. The skies were clear to the west and north, but not to the east. That meant that clouds could obscure the early light and thwart the project. But, I headed out anyway, found a good spot, then set up my camera.

It was slow going at first. The sun had obviously come up, but there was no light yet on the continental divide. After a while, hints of light graced Long’s Peak. The light danced a bit on that prominent feature, then subsided. A short while later, it came back, working its way along the peaks from Hallett down to Long’s. After a while, the sun commanded the landscape, and its golden light came down to the meadows. Time to grab the camera and move on.

I wanted to spend a bit of time working around the Montane areas, seeking the meadows and Ponderosa pine groves. I simply worked back and forth between Upper Beaver Meadows and Hidden Valley, looking for things that caught my eye. By 8:00, though, the light was getting harsh and it was time to pack it up for the morning. 

The rest of the day will be errands (I have to run into Boulder to pick up a bivy I ordered), preparing for and delivering my presentation this evening at 7:30 at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center auditorium. The subject will be what I have gained, and contributed, from my three very different experiences as an artist-in-residence in the National Park Service.

Here is a time lapse video of the sunrise.
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The clouds continue

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009
The clouds continue

I had a busier-than-expected administrative day, spending several hours on my presentation for tomorrow evening, as well as taking care of some email, reservations for a camp site in Denali National Park & Preserve for when I get back home (Michelle and I will be taking my nephew, Daniel, who will be visiting from Texas), and other matters.  I went back into the park at around 7:00, taking advantage of the cloudy weather to photograph a Ponderosa pine grove near the beginning of the Bear Lake Road.  I stopped by the Moraine Park campground ampitheater to see the musical and educational program the park staff and volunteers put on about the pine beetle (photos later when I do a post on the beetle). 

On my way out, I noticed a small group of people gathering on a grassy and rocky knoll overlooking the Big Thompson River.  Having never checked it out before, I grabbed my tripod and camera bag.  After a short hike, I found myself at perhaps the best view of the whole Moraine Park area.  The mound is one of several that seemed to have formed in the area – they remind me a bit of pingos that can be found in the Arctic.  I am sure there is some geological significance to these formations in RMNP; I just don’t know what.  One of the challenges of being a nature photographer – you find yourself photographing a lot of things that you don’t know what they are, and want to find out so you can identify them correctly. 

As I was standing on the mound, looking down over the river and its meadow, I saw a cow and calf elk wandering through the area.  I spied a dead, bare, standing tree that provided an interesting element to contrast against all other things living on the mound.  Then I noticed bright shafts of evening light bursting through the clouds.  I did one shot with my Lee graduated neutral density filters – 5 stops total – and a series of shots to convert using my HDR software.  I thought the HDR did a better job of rendering this particular moment.

Above the clouds for the elk convention

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009
Above the clouds for the elk convention

My plan this morning, after again sleeping in to 4:30, was to go set up a time lapse of the sunrise near the parking lot at the end of the Upper Beaver Meadows road.  I wanted to do a meadows sunrise, since I have not done one  yet, and the way the light would fall on the land would be perfect for a time lapse.  Unfortunately, there was a thick band of low clouds hanging over the east side of the park, so I instead decided to get up above the clouds, taking the Trail Ridge Road for sunrise.  While I could not get any first light shots on the landscape, the sun burned through soon enough to still get some nice warm golden light in various areas.  The clouds added a nice element of the drama to the scene, and was a welcome addition. 

Then, I decided I would head back down into the Moraine Park area to take advantage of the cloud cover to photograph some areas, like the cascading falls at the Alluvial Fan, that photograph best under such diffuse light.  But, as I passed the Forest Canyon Overlook, I saw the head and antlers of a bull elk just over the edge, out of full view.  Then I saw another.  The light falling on them was gorgeous and the background perfect.  So, I turned around, parked at the overlook parking lot, and grabbed the gear.  There turned out to be three bull elk at first, and I did what I could to photograph them with the landscape, using a polarizing filter when the angle was right to improve the light.  After a while, I moved back toward the parking lot, waiting to see what the elk would do. 

After a while, one by one, more elk came into the area, then bedded down.  It’s interesting to watch how they get to the ground – kneeling first on their forelegs, then slowly dropping to the ground.  Eventually, nine bulls came to the area and lay down for the morning.  I positioned myself so that Long’s Peak would be in the background, making sure not to approach the wildlife but to move parallel to them – the last thing I wanted to do was to disturb them and the photo opportunity. 

Eventually, another photographer came along after they had all bedded down.  I didn’t catch his name, but he looked like he was using a large format or possibly a 6×17 panoramic camera.  I just saw that it was a large format and he was using a bellows.  Later, a photographer for the Estes Park Trail-Gazette, Walt Hester, came by to check out the action.  He was up to cover a bike tour that would be starting at Rock Cut and going down the hill to Estes Park.  While he waited for the group, he photographed the elk and the photographers.  I mentioned I had seen people biking up the Trail Ridge Road, and how nuts I thought that was – he said he had done the ride before and it was great.  Yikes!  People here are in way too good of shape for my comprehension.   

When the light got way too harsh for my taste, I headed down to see if there was still ample cloud cover to photograph the Alluvial Fan.  I was able to get off a few good shots before the sun returned to dominance in the sky.

Bierstadt Lake, and trail

Monday, July 20th, 2009
Bierstadt Lake, and trail

I awoke at 3:30 and scampered over to the doorway to check the skies – clear and starry.  So, I got everything together and headed out to the trailhead for Bierstadt Lake, where I was on the trail by 4:30.  The maps say that it is a 1.5 mile hike up to the lake, with another 0.3 miles to get to the east side of the lake, where you can connect with a trail going down to the Park and Ride.  The main part of the trail up to the lake, though, is actually only 1.2 miles, with a 556 foot elevation gain.  I contemplated hiking down to the Park & Ride when I was done, but once I got a look of the trail – what I could see in the darkness – I was intrigued by the opportunities. 

As I got higher, I could see better, although it was still mostly dark, and appreciate the possibility for great views and photos of the aspen grove covering the slope.  I decided to come back the same way I came to see the photo potential in daylight.  I got to the far side of the lake with plenty of time, so I set up my camera, did a couple of test shots, then sat down to enjoy a PBJ and banana. 

The view from this end of Bierstadt Lake is pretty much similar to that on the east side of Sprage Lake – the peaks and mountains that are the signature of this end of the Bear Lake valley, and part of the Continental Divide, lay out before in a similar view.  There are rocks and reeds available in the foreground, much like Sprague, to balance out the composition.  There were some nice clouds in the sky that should have provided some brilliant pre-sunrise pinks, but the band of clouds to the east interfered somewhat.  After finishing up the first light photos, I headed back down the trail.  I would not linger at the lake like I did at Sprague – I wanted to explore that trail.

And what a view from that trail there is.  From what I have seen so far, it offers the best views of the valley and Continental Divide of any of the lake trails along the Bear Lake Road.  Among the aspens, there were also several types of wildflowers, offering additional photo material.  Long’s Peak stands out nice and clear, a monolith to the south, and can be photographed standing alone or framed among the various trees.  But the thing that really struck me is how brilliant of a spot this would be to capture first light in the autumn.  To heck with going all the way to the lake, I wanted to see this view in the fall, when first light struck the aspens, which dominate the slopes on the right side of the road, countering the dark green of the pines on the other side. 

I was back to the trailhead by 7:30, having never seen another person on the trail or at the lake.  There was another car parked there when I arrived – and still remained – but I suspected the owner was at a backcountry camp site.  I am not sure what I am doing this evening.  I am hoping that the clouds thicken so I can photograph a few spots where I have been saving for shooting in cloudy, overcast light. 

Sprague Lake – tourist or guest?

Sunday, July 19th, 2009
Sprague Lake - tourist or guest?

After a late evening on the west side, I decided to “sleep in” until 4:30 so I could make first light at Sprague Lake, one of the more accessible lakes on the east side for early light photos.  There was virtually no breeze, a first for my morning shots, and the lake was calm.  I photographed a few spots about a half hour before sunrise, before I headed out along the trail to find a spot to photograph early light. 

As I headed out on the trail, I met Rick Gayhart, a resident of Loveland, who was out early to photograph as well.  He said that he tries to get into the park once or twice a week, saying that no matter how many times you come into the park, you can always find something new. 

What Rick had to say is a philosophy I can agree with.  Nearby my home of Anchorage, there is a body of water called the Turnagain Arm.  I have routinely told people I could spend an entire year photographing nowhere but Turnagain, and could always have something to photograph.  The seasons change, light changes, the weather changes, wildlife patterns change, even blooming patterns of flowers change from year to year.  There is always something new to photograph, even at someplace as “cliché” as Sprague Lake, or Wonder Lake back home in Alaska. 

Albert Sprague, after whom the lake is named, also spoke of a similar philosophy, making a distinction between “tourists” and “guests.”  Mr. Sprague operated the Sprague Lake Lodge from 1910-40.  He called people “tourists” when he referred to people who “go tearing from coast to coast and back again on their vacations … When they reach home from their travels they are certain where they say this or that.”  As for guests, he said the guest “comes to spend every minute of his vacation he can spare.  If he fails to see every nook and corner of the place on one visit, he comes year after year … Our guests never get tired, the same old urge to visit spots seen more than once brings them back on their next vacation.  They go home rested.” 

I was able to experience this dichotomy first hand this morning.  About ten minutes after first light, after Rick and I had been there for around forty minutes, another photographer showed up.  He seem harried, rushed, and had a wife and kid in tow.  The new photographer picked a spot, photographed for five minutes, then left with his family.  They did not seem to be there to enjoy the lake; rather, they apparently came so that an obligatory photo could be taken to move on to the next spot, or back to bed.  Rick and I stayed at the lake for almost another two hours, exploring all other aspects that the lake had to offer.  Flowers, reflections, ducklings … all of them presented to me for my eye and my camera. 

For the rest of the day, I am taking off to relax, read, and simply enjoy the view from the cabin for what it is.  Tomorrow morning, weather permitting, I am thinking on a visit to Bierstadt Lake. 




On the west side

Saturday, July 18th, 2009
On the west side

I decided to go explore the west side of the park this evening, just to see what there was to see, check out possible locations for future hikes or photos, and to see how the light fell in the end of the day.  I drove to the Kawueeche Visitor Center and spoke to the park staff there about their favorite locations in that side of the park.  Always ask the locals where the good spots are. 

The first spot I checked out was a trail to an area they referred to as Ranger Meadows, down past the Green Ridge campground in the adjacent Arapaho National Recreation Area, managed by the Forest Service.  I crossed a bridge over a stream that I later found out was the Colorado River.  I explored a little along the East Shore Trail, photographing wildflowers.  After a bit, I headed out back across the bridge and noticed a raptor I have never seen before.  I will have to do a little research to find out what it is. 

I headed back up the road back into the park, I found my way into a “moose jam,” a massive gathering of cars along both sides of the road where people had stopped to watch a cow and calf moose, grazing about fifty yards off the road along the edge of the woods.  I found it interesting that moose would generate so much more attention than any other wildlife I have seen.  But, you cannot see moose on the east side of the park – it is just not their habitat.  I was getting back to my vehicle to leave when a ranger arrived to break up the party.

One thing to know about the west side of the park is that the light goes down early.  The main road runs through a low part of a valley, along the headwaters for the Colorado River.  Most of the higher points in the west side are accessible only via hiking trails, many of which take you a long way before you get into the Alpine areas – as much as 9.25 miles one way, for example, along the East Inlet Trail.  As I was driving along the road, the sun was no longer hitting the river corridor by around 7:45.

I headed back toward the Trail Ridge Road, stopping along Poudre Lake to photograph several large bull elk that were gazing in the area.  Unlike the cow moose and calf, only a few cars stopped to notice – most kept going through.  As I climbed up the road, the sun had completely gone down.  But the last colors still lingered along the mountain ridges that border the west end of the park.  I stopped at Medicine Bow Curve to capture the last colors. 

It was a nice foray into the other side of the park, but made me realize how limited I will be to explore that area while I am here.  I certainly am not up to a 18.5 mile day hike, half of which would have to be done in the dark, which is what it would take to get up to Fifth Lake, a beautiful alpine lake at the end of the East Inlet Trail.  But, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the beautiful, winding Colorado River and some of the wooded, Montane areas of the lower trails.