Being prepared - Adventure a Day 8

While I'm not a prolific wildlife photographer, I either lack the patience or monetary funds to give it its proper due, I do capture the occasional image.  Some of my wildlife images are made through actual planning and hard work, but I'd say the majority come through luck while pursuing landscapes; this image is one of those occasions.


In preparation for the 2nd revision of my Colorado Fall Colors eGuide I made a visit to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I had visited the falls in previous summers and while I noticed a few aspens, it didn't seem like a hot autumn spot.  I was actually convinced by a friend to give it a shot and we met in the park with plans to photograph the falls followed by Bear Lake.

Alberta Falls is a short hike and soon after leaving the trailhead we came upon the stunning scene of a trail winding through golden aspens next to a thundering waterfall.  We spent the next hour or so photographing the location with the best spot actually being above and looking down the falls, towards the small grove of aspens below.  With a new location wrapped up we repacked our gear and headed for the car.

As we hiked up the last steep ascent to the parking lot we were again immersed in a grove of aspens.  Suddenly, I heard a loud bugle to my right, and I turned to see a large bull elk calling to its small harem.  As I said before, I'm not typically prepared for wildlife photography but in this case I had two factors working in my favor.  The first was I had recently bought a chest pack for my F-Stop bag, allowing me to hike with my camera easily accessible and ready.  The primary reason behind this was actually to facilitate taking more photos as the hassle of removing my gear would sometimes stop me from photographing a less striking scene (I know, lazy right?).

The second factor working in my favor was that the bull was not only really close, he was close enough to get a good frame with the 24-70mm lens already on my camera.  I quickly whipped out my camera, boosted the ISO, dropped my aperture, and manually focused for accuracy in the dense forest.  This is where knowing your camera well can really help, because as soon as I took a few shots, the bull moved out of the trees and into the much less photogenic parking lot.  Unfortunately, my friend wasn't able to get to his camera in enough time and missed the opportunity.  While my skills definitely helped on this adventure, it was mostly the luck of happening upon the elk at the right time with the right gear ready.  I still hike and backpack with my chest pack despite the occasional annoyance at wearing it, the lessons of that experience continually earned.

Workshop in the clouds - Adventure a Day 6

Perseid meteor shower over Trail Ridge Road 

Perseid meteor shower over Trail Ridge Road 

This year I taught a night photography workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park. As the date approached the forecast was looking worse and worse with building evening thunderstorms every day. It's usual in August to have afternoon thunderstorms but typically they're gone by the time night presses in.

One of my clients was concerned about the weather and understandably decided last minute to not come to the workshop. I was still fairly confident we would have clear skies at some point in the night, I just wasn't sure at what time or for how long. Thankfully my worries were eased and the cloud cover on our first evening parted and the Milky Way was revealed.

Unfortunately our good luck was limited the first night and after a couple hours of shooting, fog starting to roll in and blanket our lenses with dew. We saw a number of meteors from the Perseid meteor shower but not a Sky filled with them that first night's clearing. For our second night I decided to head up to Trail Ridge Road to get the darkest skies as possible in the park and increase our field of view.

Again the same scenario played out and and cloudy skies parted to a blazing Milky Way and meteors popping everywhere. Without a strong foreground element I decided to set up my tent without stakes on a rocky area that wouldn't impact the fragile alpine tundra. I then proceeded to light up the tent and help everyone with their exposures. As we left our cameras running we saw meteor after meteor after meteor, the most I have ever seen in one night. They were all over the sky, so not many were ending up near the radiant source but we all enjoyed the view nonetheless.  

The night was over all uneventful besides chasing off a curious coyote and soon the clouds rolled in again. We all left happy and enthralled from the night's adventure from one of my favorite nights in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

"It's overcast, there won't be a sunset..." - Adventure a Day 4

"It's overcast, there won't be a sunset...", my famous words before the most incredible display of color I've ever seen in the Grand Canyon, possibly anywhere! Just getting to the canyon rim for sunset that day though was a monumental accomplishment.

The whole adventure started when I planned a group trip to the GC to complete the famous 42 mile Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim ultra run.  As part of the Denver trail running community, I had made many other numerous friends committed to physical punishment for the pleasure of seeing some of the best scenery the world has to offer.  After sending out invites, I soon had over 15 fellow runners signed up and ready to dive into the open earth. With campsites and a large passenger van reserved, plane tickets bought, and meals planned, I thought the worst of the logistics were over.

Fast forward to the day of the trip and Megan and I were already facing a major challenge and possible end to our excursion before it started.  Our amazing dog and fellow mountain adventurer of 4 years, Sierra, was going through a fight with an auto-immune disease for the past month, and while she had been getting better, she was starting to relapse again. I had committed to the planning and organizing of the GC run and I didn't want to bail, but we weren't sure if Sierra would be alive when we returned. In our attempts to say our possibly last goodbyes, we were somewhat late to the airport.

Our late arrival wouldn't have been an issue if the Denver airport had been operating more than 2 security lines per side that day. The line was relatively short, but unfortunately the typical TSA incompetence meant lots of people standing around and little actual security screening going on. After spending over an hour in line we finally made it through, and although the timing was down to minutes, we thought there might still be a chance. As we ran down to the gate we saw the aircraft was still there and we thanked our limited luck, too soon as it was.

When we showed up to the gate we noticed the agents were missing only to turn around and see a swarm of Southwest employees attacking a box of freshly bought Voodoo Donuts.  We attempted to get their attention, but our cries were muffled by the sounds of sugary delight in a pretty pink box. After finally breaking through to a couple hypnotized employees we were told the aircraft had already left, which I then quickly corrected by pointing out the jet still sitting outside. They then countered that the door was closed and no more boarding was possible, to which I again pointed out the door was in fact still open, but we rebuffed that no one was available to open the gate. At this point we decided pointing out their continued inaccuracies was futile, and we headed to the nearest staffed gate.

Thankfully the employees at the other gate were free from donut enslavement and they not only helped us get on the next flight in 2 hours, we were refunded a few points as the later flight was cheaper.   We settled in to wait for the next departure to Phoenix with another friend that fell victim to Voodoo Donuts and a few hours later we were in Phoenix.  Regrouped with the rest of our friends we loaded up our behemoth van with hopes for smooth sailing forward, but again, it was not to be.

After a stop for running fuel (In-N-Out), we worked our way north on I-17 towards Flagstaff and not long after leaving Phoenix we came to a complete stop on the highway. Luck had been even unkinder to others and a vehicle driving the wrong way caused a head-on collision closing the interstate for hours. By the time we finally got going again we were madly behind schedule and unsure if we would see the canyon before nightfall. After a few more short stops, we finally made it to the park shortly after 5pm and got to work setting up camp.

Despite the exhausting day, we decided to head out to the canyon for sunset and to glimpse some of our future running route. As we piled out of the van and headed to the viewpoint I grabbed my camera but left my tripod and bag. "Won't you want your gear for sunset?", I was asked. "Look all the clouds, it's overcast, there won't be a sunset", I famously responded as I watched another photographer lug his gear down the trail.

As we enjoyed the view and talked about tomorrow's trial, I noticed the sun starting to come through a break in the clouds on the horizon. "Shit, I need my gear!", I yelled as I handed off my camera and ran for the van, sandals slapping hard rock and pavement. I tore into the van, grabbed my bag, and ran back for the rim. As I clumsily extended my tripod and attached my camera, the sky glowed with color.  My viewpoint wasn't the best angle, but I knew the incredible sunset would more than make up for it; one of these days though I'll actually be setup before the incredible light starts...


-This story is dedicated to the memory of my incredible companion and running partner, Sierra.