Rock Cut

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. 





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