Archive for July, 2009

Magic morning … wow

Saturday, July 18th, 2009
Magic morning ... wow

There are some times when everything clicks and keeps on clicking, metaphorically and photographically speaking.   An important message for this morning is that things can only happen when you are out there, out there early, and ready to go with your gear. 

I decided this morning to head up to the Gore Range Overlook, hoping to capture some good, wide vista panoramic and large scenic images.  On my way to the overlook, I noticed a nice layering of mountain ridges to my right – east – where the early colors of morning were starting to show.  It reminded me of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the morning or evening, and I thought I would stop to photograph it.  Then I saw a large bull elk standing right there, silhouetted against that layering of ridges.  I spent some time with him and a second bull that came into view.  But, after a few minutes, I headed up to the overlook to capture first light.

Up at the overlook, I found Paul Rettberg from Chicago, whom I have mentioned previously here, already setting up his tripod and getting ready for the first light.  I was concerned we would not get good light, as there was a band of clouds to the east.  But, a little after sunrise, we did get some light, and I worked on capturing images of several ranges and ridge lines.  After the light was done, I decided to see what Rock Cut looked like at this time of the morning. 

On the way there, I found the two bull elk I had seen before sunrise, except now, they were split up, each on one side of the road.  I pulled over and worked both of them for a good while, with one posing perfectly with the mountains in the background – just a classic wildlife in the landscape shot.  After getting what we needed, Paul and I continued on to Rock Cut. 

Paul and I arrived to find several marmots scrambling around on the south side of the roadway.  Soon, three of them were up on the retaining wall adjacent to the roadway.  Then, two of them got excited about something and hopped off, back onto the tundra. 

We decided to walk up the trail for a bit, and soon found ourselves facing a group of four Rocky Mountain Bighorn Rams.  At first, we saw just three of them – two bedded down off to the side and one grazing right next to the trail.  Not wanting to get too close to the ram along the trail, we headed off trail about to do a wide circle around.  I also did not want to disturb the other photographer who was already working them, with what looked like a 500mm.  (I overheard from his conversations with other visitors that his name was Jason Crader, who has a website at www.arkansasphoto.com.)  Other people visiting the area were not so considerate, and the ram eventually went away from the trail to be with the others.  The rams kept getting up, grazing, then bedding down.  Eventually, the fourth ram appeared, and the others stirred and went off farther away.  It was time to move on and see what else there was to find. 

I went up further to check out the side trail I had not yet followed, and found that it was a nice view of the nearby range with Long’s Peak in the background.  The light was no longer any good for landscapes, so I continued back down the trail.  Along the way, I spent some time with a  marmot that was scampering here in there, occasionally pausing to survey the landscape.  After a while, he heard a call off to the north and took off running in that direction. 

I was headed back to my car, and noticed that the rams were back.  I spent some more time with them, this time, with all four of them together.   After a while, something spooked them and they went over the back side of the hill, toward the road.  I did not see it happen, but I overheard from other visitors that they all hopped over the retaining wall and went down the slope.  I found a couple other marmots who were willing to pose for me, and spent some time with them before heading over to see if I could spot the rams. 

I found them a few hundred feet down the deep slope, photographing them to show both the alpine tundra where they were currently grazing and the subalpine forest way down below them at the bottom of the steep grade.  Then, they disappeared behind a rocky outcrop, so I figured it was really time to leave now.  The light was getting pretty harsh.  At 9:30, I had been shooting for four hours, filling up around 14 gigs of compact flash cards.  Wildlife will really get you snapping – always so much movement, activity, different compositions.  It was tough for me to narrow down to just thirteen images for this post, but I could not have posted all my favorites from this morning. 

 

 

 

 

 

First test of a hike

Friday, July 17th, 2009
First test of a hike

So, based on a recommendation from one of the long-time volunteers here in the park, I decided to hike the Fern Lake Trail, but from the opposite direction most people commonly do, for first light this morning.  The trail starts at the Bear Lake trailhead, then goes around over the top and down into a gorge that leads down to Odessa and Fern Lakes.  I originally intended to be on the trail at 3:30, but for some reason was moving slowly this morning and did not get boots on the ground until 3:55.  After a short while, I seriously began to doubt that I would make it to Odessa Lake, a four-mile trek, by 5:45, which is when the first hints of pink have been hitting the mountains this week. 

I hiked through the darkness with a headlamp for a good long while, occasionaly getting glimpses of a bat or bats swooping down at the mosquitoes that were in the air.  So long as I kept moving, that pesky insect did not bother me.  Once in a while, I caught glimpses of the lights of Estes Park below me.  Quite to my surprise, as it started to get light, I came upon a snow field that had covered the trail.  But, it was easy to find it again, and I kept going.  Soon, I turned off my headlamp just at around the time I came upon a massive boulder field and some rather spectacular views of the mountains and ridges ahead. 

I reached the final sign post before Odessa Lake shortly before sunrise, but that still put Odessa Lake at 1.1 miles away.  The mountains were right in front of me, and I knew this area would be great for first light.  But there were so many trees blocking the view.  I took a look at the map I had with me, and it indicated there was a small alpine lake, Lake Helene, in my immediate vicinity.  Could it provide a good location for first light?  I found an unofficial trail and followed it.  Not only did I find the lake in time, but a beautiful stream flowing from it.  I set up the tripod and camera, and worked steadily.  Once I felt I had what I needed, I moved as quickly as I could down the steep, rocky trail along the gorge down to Odessa.  There was still some decent light when I got there, so I photographed the stream coming from the lake and the lake itself.  When I was done, I took a break and had breakfast – an apple and a PBJ. 

On my way down to Fern Lake –  I had still not seen another soul yet this morning, save for the two climbers leaving the parking lot at Bear Lake for a Hallett Peak ascent when I arrived – I found a nice patch of columbine to photograph.  I had seen a few here and there along the way, but none that I could capture.  When I finished photographing the flowers, I came upon my first group of hikers.  By the time I was at Fern Lake, the light was pretty bad, but I still took a shot to document the lake.  Given the little time I have in the park, I don’t think I will be this way again. 

Past Fern Lake and to the trailhead, the flow of hikers coming up the trail was fairly steady.  People kept asking if Odessa was worth it, and I said that, yes,  it was, and how I wished I had a fishing pole there – the fish were jumping left and right.  I also ran into a couple who had attended my presentation at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center the other evening – they were hiking with their sons – and we had a nice chat.  One of the wonderful things about being a nature photographer is making connections with people, and this encounter reaffirmed that. 

Once at the Fern Lake trail head, I hiked another 0.7 miles along the road to the bus stop, where I caught a ride that eventually took me back to my car, about eight hours after I left.  My feet were definitely feeling a bit raw, and I was a tad tired at that point.  I went back to the cabin and started to photo edit, but succumbed to a nap that would last four hours.  Tomorrow morning – sunrise at the Gore Range Overlook and then on to the west side of the park in the afternoon.

Old Fall River Road

Thursday, July 16th, 2009
Old Fall River Road

There is something alluring about one-way, gravel roads that reach high up into a canyon up to the Alpine.  The Old Fall River Road did not disappoint.  Starting just up the road from the Alluvial Fan, the Old Fall River Road winds up through the woods, around sharp corners – one overly long pickup truck in front of me misjudged so badly he had to back up twice in order to continue around the corner – and up above the treeline.  Along the way, the Chasm Falls provide a nice opportunity to get out and explore – and cool off, as the rushing stream and cascades cool off the air considerably.  You frequently catch glimpses of the upstream portions as you continue on up to the Alpine Visitor Center and connect with the Trail Ridge Road. 

I enjoy photographing cascading falls, as they provide a lot of opportunities for braoder scenic photos as well as close up, more concentrated shots of particular rocks and flows.  The late afternoon is the best time to photograph the Chasm Falls, as the sun has now retired behind them, leaving them in the shade. 

As I continued further, I noticed several areas with blooming flowers, but only one where I could safely stop.  Pullouts are a premium along this road.  Shortly thereafter, I started to get better glimpses of the nearby ridges and rock formations, as the trees started to give way to the more open, higher eleveations.  As I was in the shaded, final approach to the Alpine Visitor Center, I noticed five bull elk grazing along the hillside.  I pulled over enough to let other cars pass and headed down to photograph them for a while.  They seemed completely oblivious to my presence, or completely unconcerned.  Either way, it is good for me, as I take great care in not causing distress to an animal I am photographing. 

Back on the Trail Ridge Road, I stopped to photograph some Alpine flowers with the mountains in the background.  After the sun went down, I approached Rock Cut and saw hundreds of elk gazing right around the trail areas.  They, too, were oblivious to the many humans who stood in awe on the trail as elk moved around them.  This group of elk or others seem to have been spending a lot of time in the vicinity of Rock Cut this week.  I wonder if it is the abundance of Alpine flowers that draws them there.  I will give it a shot to photograph them tomorrow evening, when I return on the Trail Ridge Road from my visit to the west side of the park.

Lily Lake morning

Thursday, July 16th, 2009
Lily Lake morning

I decided this morning to photograph the first light of the day at Lily Lake, which has a nice view of Long’s Peak, but a different view than what is available through most of the eastern side of the park.  It also gave me a chance to scout the area and drive up to the Long’s Peak trailhead, where I will hopefully be going next week for a hike up to Chasm Lake. 

As there has been in the mornings this week, there was a breeze in the area, creating ripples on the lake.  I tried to minimize the effect as much as possible by creating long exposures to smooth out the ripples,  like the technique used to create the silky look of waterfalls and streams.  It didn’t work as well as I liked, but it did help to smooth the rough waters a bit. 

I also took advantage of the shade to photograph the flowers and trees along the east side of the lake.  There was a nice patch of Indian Paintbrush that I photographed with a double exposure – one exposure in focus, the other out of focus.  There is also a young grove of aspen on this side of the lake, complimenting the more mature patch on the other side of the lake.  As first light hits that more mature patch, I felt this would be a great autumn location, with that patch of gold adding a real pop to the corner of the frame. 

One of the things about doing drivable first light locations is that it makes for a short morning.  This evening, I will be driving up the Old Fall River Road and taking some short hikes along the way.  Tomorrow morning, the plan is to hike to Odessa Lake for first light, starting at the Bear Lake trailhead. 

 

 

 

Montane morning

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009
Montane morning

I slept in this morning because I had decided to set up a sunrise timelapse at a field of meadows with Hallett Peak and its neighbors visible in the background.  It turned out to not be a great spot for a time lapse because there was not enough movement to appreciate how light moves across a landscape in the morning.  It still turned out to be a nice photo, though.

After done with the sunrise, I headed over to a meadow near the Fall Rivers entrance to photograph an early light landscape with a field of magenta lupines.  As I was getting set up, I noticed a hummingbird working the area.  I had wanted to take a humminbird photo but did not know how to do it, as the birds are constantly moving.  I found out quickly that they really liked this meadow, and I sat among them for a half hour, waiting for them to get close enough for a shot.  One landed too close, though, and I was unable to photograph it because it was closer than the minimum focal length for my lens.  But now I know where I can find them in early light, and I will be back for more. 

I then headed over to Upper Beaver Meadows to set up a panoramic Infrared shot I had visualized the other day.  Upon setting up the shot, I realized how amazing the same scene would be in the autumn.  To take the Infrared photo, I used a Hoya Infrared filter, which blocks all visible spectrums of light, allowing only the IR to come into the lens.  Because of this, the exposures have to be rather long – 30 seconds at ISO 400, with the lens at f/11.  And since I use the long exposure noise reduction feature in my Nikon D300, it takes the camera an additional thirty seconds to process the file to reduce noise.  During that time, I have to remove the filter in order to reposition for the next frame in the panoramic – eight frames in all – because the filter prevents me from being able to see through the lens.  All in all, the image took ten minutes to capture. 

As I headed back to my car at the Upper Beaver Meadows parking lot, I noticed a crowd of people a couple hundred yards off in the distance.  I knew that the park offered guided walks from this parking lot, and everyone seemed to be looking very intently at something, crouching down on the ground and looking up into a tree with cameras and binoculars.  I went over to check it out, and they were observing a female humminbird sitting on a nest.  I instantly regretted not bringing my 500mm lens – but I had no idea that RMNP was such a birding hot spot.  I learned from Ron, the Park Service volunteer leading the walk, that the immediate area was a major breeding grounds for a variety of birds, with nests scattered all throughout the meadows. 

I headed back to my cabin to process photos, create my nighttime slide show, and prepare this blog post.  I will not be taking any more daylight photos today because I am meeting with a reporter from a local paper at 3:00 for an interview, then I have my artist presentation this evening.  By the time that is done, the sun will be down again. 

Tomorrow, I am going to be exploring parts of the park I have not seen yet.  So, stay tuned. 

 

Transitions of light

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009
Transitions of light

I had a long administrative day today, working on my Artist-in-Residence presentation for tomorrow evening at 7:30 at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, as well as putting up two blog posts and some other photo business stuff via email. I have to go into Estes Park to do my Internet work, as, not surprisingly, there is no Internet in the historic cabin where I am staying. By the time I got back into the park, it was 7:45. Not having enough time to get to a “good” evening location, I decided to photograph the transition of light from evening to dark.

Evening light is like a creature fighting for its last breath of life. As the sun gets lower, the color on the mountains gets more golden, more rich. When that light leaves the mountains, there is an explosion of golds and pinks in the clouds – if there are any. Once those pinks fade, the last colors breathe their last breath, giving way to the death of color, save for select hues of gray and blue.

I think it is a really magical time, probably the most scientific time for a photographer, as you truly can appreciate how light works as the sun gets lower and its rays have to go through thicker atmosphere. The colors that we see are a combination of refraction, atmosphere, and reflection. The deep blues of glaciers that everyone loves so much can only exist because of the density of that ice, and what it does to the blue spectrum of light. As the sun leaves the sky and gives way to night, everything turns blue, grey or black because there is little or no light to reflect or refract.

Twilight photos or nighttime photos may not be commercially popular images, but I enjoy taking them because they are graphically strong images. They are also more challenging, because there is not the advantage of color and subject available as in morning or evening photos.

After shooting the death of the sun’s colors for the day, I decided to set up a nighttime time lapse from the porch of my cabin. It is not an ideal spot because, as you will see in the slide show below, there are a variety of sources of light pollution – nearby cabins, cars driving by, and, predominantly, the glowing lights from Boulder or Denver, I am not sure which, in the lower left corner. But I wanted to set up the shot to test a new approach for me to nighttime time lapses so I can have the setting s right when I find a more scenic spot to use.

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Dream of a lake

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009
Dream of a lake

I awoke to the sound of my alarm at 4:15, and I was less than thrilled about getting up.  The previous evening had wiped me out, spending four hours at 12,000+ feet.  I lay back down, seriously considering bagging my plans for a hike to capture first light at Dream Lake.  But, the marmot living below the cabin I am staying in scolded me, and I got out of bed and got dressed. 

I was at the trailhead at 4:55.  By that time, there were already fifteen cars in the parking lot.  I first thought that I was going to be crashing a large party of photographers at Dream Lake – the Wonder Lake of RMNP for photographers – but then I remembered that this is a major entry point for backcountry campers.  Still, I expected to see around four or five photographers when I arrived at Dream Lake, a 1.1 mile hike with a 425 foot elevation gain. 

Instead, when I arrived 35 minutes later at Dream Lake after my hike along a well maintained and sometimes paved trail, I found only one other photographer.  Paul, who was visiting with his wife and two kids from Chicago, shared my pain in adapting from life at sea level to hiking trails where the trailhead begins at 9,400 feet.  Paul  was the only one in the family to get out and capture the wonder of first light.  Really, why else would anyone do such a thing unless they had a purpose of doing it?  So many times, hiking is really about the journey and greeting the destination.  Unless you have a particular need, like capturing first light with your camera, you can do that hike any time of the day. 

I was still unpacking my gear when the first hints of light began to caress Hallett Peak and its neighboring Flattop Mountain (not as aptly named as the one in Anchorage, at least not from this vantage point).  The steady breeze interfered with visions of a classic morning reflection of Hallet’s Peak on the lake.  I decided to try to overcome the ripples on the lake surface by adding a Polarizing filter to slow down the exposure.  The effect worked somewhat, smoothing out the ripples to allow some definition of a reflection.  Paul and I worked furiously for about ten minutes, ocassionally chatting, but mostly clicking.  When I was satisfied I had done what I could with that first light, I headed back down the trail to capture a few images I had previsualized along the way.  I then thought, what the heck, while I am up here, to continue on up to Emerald Lake, another 0.7 miles and additional elevation of 220 feet away. 

It is hard to say why it is that most photographers do not chose Emerald Lake for a first light location in this part of the park.  I am sure one of the issues is ease of access.  Sprague and Bear Lakes offer decent views with hardly any effort.  Dream Lake gets you closer to Hallet’s Peak and thus, perhaps, a better shot, and it is only 1.1 miles.  But Emerald Lake is also right up against the boulder fields that provide climbers access to Hallet’s Peak.  Perhaps it is too close for photographing first light.  I decide that I will still give it a try sometime before I leave just to see how it turns out.  I have noticed a few other shots in the immediate vicinity of the lake I would like to try with earlier light. 

I run into Paul again at Emerald.  We sit down, enjoy the view and share a granola bar.  He gets up to leave, noting that his kids are likely stirring by now, and leaves me to contemplate the lake and the view.  I take a couple of photos, then head down.  I encounter two pairs of climbers heading up Hallet’s Peak, then start to run into several groups of hikers heading up to explore the lakes.  I say, “Good morning,” and “hi” countless times, cheerfully greeting those heading up the trail.  One gentlemen cordially asks if there are any good photos left.  Thinking too technically, I respond about the poor quality of the light, and keep going.  Given what I could hear of his wife’s response to that, I think that perhaps a better response would have been that there are still plenty of good photos to take. 

This got me to thinking of what a “good photo” is.  I perhaps have become more strict and narrow in my definition of what a good photo is because I have a very specific purpose to my photos.  And I am constantly demanding of myself to improve in my art, to make more dramatic photos, to expand the boundaries of the technology and the art that is photography.  And wrapped up in all of that is also the sometimes elaborate process of simply creating that I enjoy.  But someone who is visiting a national park and enjoying a nice day hike, they have a completely different purpose to their photo that they will take.  Their photo will be a way of capturing and remembering for themselves this beautiful place, their wonderful experience, and everything else that the photo will mean to them.  

I make it back to the trailhead at 8:05 to find the parking lot over half full.  The next parking lot down the road, for the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead, is completely full.  I spy what will be a beautiful, and easily accessible, photo for first light the next morning and head back to the cabin. 

 

Rock Cut

Monday, July 13th, 2009
Rock Cut

I decided it was time to stop sampling and time to spend some quality time in a particular area.  For this evening, I went up the Trail Ridge Road, the highest, continuous paved road in the United States, with a high point of 12,183 feet.  I drove all the way to the Alpine Visitor Center, scoping out possible photos along the way.  Once there, I got out, stretched my legs a bit, and got a real sample of what it was like to move around at that elevation.  It is the second highest elevation I have ever been at, with the first being Mauna Kea at almost 14,000 feet (13,796), where I got winded walking ten feet. 

I decided to dedicate my time this evening to the Rock Cut area, at 12,050 feet.  After a half mile paved trail, there are groupings of rock piles, like kairns for the gods.  I stopped frequently along the way on the trail to photograph the abundant alpine wildflowers.  I recognized at least one species common in the alpine areas in Alaska – moss campion, a small bright pink flower sitting on a roundish bed of vivid green moss. 

I was about three quarters of the way to the end of the trail when I noticed that the large rain squall that was passing laterally to the west was now heading in my direction.  I moved as quickly as I could without passing out to get to my car.  Along the way, I encountered people who were just starting to make their way up the trail.  “You really don’t want to do that,” I warned.  Five minutes later, as I sat comfortably in my car reading Peter Jenkins, the rain came and it came hard, accompanied by pellet-to-pea sized hail. 

About fifteen minutes later, as the rain started to subside, I noticed a double rainbow forming to the east, so I got out and grabbed my tripod and headed up the trail.  Then, the rain completely stopped, the sun returned, and I headed up again to the end of the trail.  I had received several reports that a large herd of elk (reports ranged from 200 to 1,000)  was visible down the hill from the end of the trail, and hoped by the time I got up there they would still be hanging out.   

One of the things tha the Cut Rock area is known for is framing views of Long Peak to the south east.  I never found the most famous framing view – there was one short side trail I never got to – but I found many others.  I also saw several marmots, even one who decided to pose for me on a rocky outcrop, with Long Peak looming in the lower corner.  Then there was the pika, peeking in and out of the rocks, scurrying here and there.  He was close enough for me to frame him with my 200mm, but I did not get off the shot.   

I also encountered a large, I assume, extended family of about seven kids and four adults.  Part of the family lived in Denver and the other part was visiting from Phoenix.  We all enjoyed watching the pika and marmot.  As they headed down to escape the increasing winds, they all spontaneously gathered around me for a group photo.  I never thought to ask for a copy of the shot, but it would have been a fun one to have. 

The clouds rolled in again, covering the sun.  I kept waiting and hoping for the sun to get below the clouds and shine through a break I saw to the west.  While I waited, I photographed some flower and rock groupings, photographing some scenes using the traditional graduated neutral density filter method as well as bracketing shots for creating HDR images.  The winds became so intense I huddled behind a rock outrcop for a while for shelter.  It really did not work too well, because when you are as exposed as this area is, there really is no such thing as shelter. 

When I started to feel rain pellets drop, I knew it was time to bag it – the sun was not coming out again.  As I was heading down, the rain/hail mixture fell again, and I sped up my descent.  But then I noticed a band of red starting to form between the mountains and the clouds to the west.  I quickly pulled out my camera and lens, dried off my GND filters and set up the tripod.  It is at times like this when it is crucial to be familiar with your equipment, your settings, and how light performs under certain circumstances.  I was able to squeeze off two shots before the color faded and was gone for the evening. 

Given the views inherent to Trail Ridge Road, and the obviously frequent dramatic weather conditions, as well as the accessibility, I know I will come up here again a few more times to explore this part of the Alpine ecosystem in the park. 

 

 
 

 

 

First sample of morning

Monday, July 13th, 2009
First sample of morning

I decided to let myself sleep in this morning, setting the alarm for 6:00 a.m.  I had just spent a long day of driving, after getting up at 4:15, and decided I needed the extra rest.  I also had to remind myself that there is no way I can possibly photograph this entire park in two weeks.  Erik Stensland, a local photographer with a gallery in Estes Park, has set out to do that very thing … and he still has not completed the task after living here for a few years.  So, my goal is to stick to the mission and not try to do too much.

What is my mission for this residency?  Rocky Mountain National Park has three distinct ecosystem zones – Alpine, Subalpine, and Montane.  I want to find good representations of each of those zones, and then photograph them well.  I also want to do a few more time lapse pieces like I did in the Badlands.  That part will be a little more tricky.  Rocky Mountain National Park receives three million visitors a year, and I am here during peak visitation.  When I was in the Badlands, it was before their season really began.  So, it was easy to find a place near the road where I could set up my gear and leave it for a day without fear of it being disturbed.  The same will not be true for here. 

I decided that I would spend my time this morning just scouting locations and seeing what the light does.  I got my gear together in short order and headed out.  I was greeted at the door by a visitor I would not have expected.   There is a little back-story to tell first.  Ever since I first went out into the sand dunes, I have been hearing this sound.  It sounds like a metallic chirping – that’s the best way I can describe it.  I thought it might be some sort of insect, because it just had that sound to it.  Well, I was wrong.  The source of that noise greeted me as I exited my cabin – a male broad tailed hummingbird.  It flew right in front of my chest, about two feet out, hovered, chirped, and darted off to the right.  I don’t know if he was chastising me or saying hello.  I am a little rusty on my hummingbird speak.  But what a treat, to finally see a wild hummingbird, greeting me as I start my first full day in the park. 

I headed up to Bear Lake because I wanted to see how the light looks that way in the morning.  Even at 6:35, there were already about twenty cars in the parking lot.  I have been told that this is the most popular destination within the park, that the parking lot fills up by about 8:30 in the morning, even earlier on weekends.  All the better reason to get here tomorrow morning at about 4:30 so I can beat the crowds and have sufficient time to hike in and find a good spot for first light.  I turned around and headed back toward Moraine Park, stopping to photograph a cascading stream along the way.  I then checked out the Upper Beaver Meadows area, stopping to set up a panoramic Infra red black and white.  Just as I was starting, a couple of young bull elk strolled by, catching me off guard and forcing me to frantically change settings so I could at least get a couple of shots in.

Shortly after 8:00, I headed back to my cabin to make coffee and breakfast and wait for one of the park volunteers to come by for a visit.  Along the way, I spied a large raptor sitting on a rock only about fifty feet from the road.  Another wildlife first for me – a wild golden eagle.  I had seen them in captivity as part of programs put on by raptor rehabilitation facilities – the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage, the Raptor Center in Minneapolis – but had never seen one in the wild.  As I approached him slowly for a hopeful photograph, he was chased off by a couple of smaller birds.  Eagles, they just don’t get any respect from the smaller birds. 

The beautiful light this morning, the encounters with the hummingbird and golden eagle, all have instilled in me a sense of wonder and optimism about this residency.  Just the kind of things an artist needs to create his art. 

 

Hello, Rocky Mountain NP

Sunday, July 12th, 2009
Hello, Rocky Mountain NP

After a grueling six-hour drive, I finally made it into the park shortly after five this evening.  Normally, I suspect it would not take so long to get from Alamosa to Estes Park, but there was an RV fire in the Eisenhower tunnel on I-70, then some road construction, and then a couple of wrong turns.  During the process, I came to realize one of the benefits of living in Alaska I had not previously appreciated.  In Alaska, you can make it from Anchorage to the Arctic Ocean (practically) and only use a total of three highways to get there.  That’s a three-day drive.  Here, just to go from Alamosa to Estes Park, you have to take about ten highways.  For some reason, folks in Colorado decided to build their communities in the middle of mountains, not around them.  I suppose that is what you have to do when most of your state is a mountain range. 

So, I checked in with my contact at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and found my way to the historic William A. White cabin, where I will be staying during my artist residency in Rocky Mountain National Park for the next couple of weeks.  I immediately appreciated why this site was chosen for the resident artists to stay.  Not only was William White himself a renowned artist, but the beauty of the cabin and its exemplary view could inspire wonders from even the unskilled.  Put a practicing artist in here for two weeks, and the serenity and warmth of this place, along with the majesty of the park itself, and artistic creations are bound to flow. 

Since this park is so huge, I decided to spend the rest of the light driving around and exploring the Bear Lake Road and Moraine Park area.  I started to go up the Trail Ridge Road, but got only as far as Rainbow Curve before I decided to turn around.  The Safeway in town was calling to me, as all I had with me was bread, bagels, peanut butter, jelly and some fruit. 

I returned to my cabin in the darkness, unloading my groceries and calling Michelle.  I sat out on the porch, rocking gently in one of the two rocking chairs, looking out onto the black silhouettes of mountains and a sea of brilliant stars.  The Milky Way glowed like a heavenly ghost to my upper left.  I saw all of those points twinkling in the heavens and felt a pang of pity for those who spend their entire lives in light-polluted urban centers, never having the pleasure of seeing something like this.