Before the chilly fingers of winter tighten their icy grip and close in on some of the northern national parks, consider a trip to the Rockies. Rocky Mountain National Park is just under two hours from Denver International Airport. The resort town of Estes Park, Colorado, is the perfect gateway to the park, which is known affectionately by many as “Rocky.” With a good choice of lodgings, Estes makes the perfect base for your trip. Wherever you stay, try to save an hour to stroll through the historic Stanley Hotel.
Protecting a good chunk of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, this beautiful park features shimmering lakes, rushing waterfalls, quaking aspen, bugling elk and sharply carved peaks thrusting toward the sky. While I revel in capturing any and all of these subjects photographically, expressing the reflections in the various lakes may be my favorite.
Some important points to remember when shooting these reflections are:
- While the subject is well-lit, its reflection should be in shade.
- Get down low for more of the reflection in your composition.
- For the most natural look, keep the reflection about one stop darker than the actual subject.
- Some of the best lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park are Sprague, Bear, Emerald and Dream. The first two are right along the road, while the last two are reached via easy hikes from the parking area serving Bear Lake. Since all of these lakes are best photographed at sunrise, it will take several mornings to cover the whole group.
- Creating art often entails breaking the rules. Know in advance which rules you are breaking.
Scout around slowly in Moraine Park. By mid-to-late September, the aspen trees should be ablaze with autumn color, and the bull elk will be bugling their heads off in challenges to those who would poach their harems.
Many visitors feel that the most spectacular feature of Rocky is Trail Ridge Road (Rt. 34). Climbing to more than 12,000 feet above sea level, this road is the highest continuous paved road in all the United States. It will take you across the very tops of some of the rugged peaks of the Front Range. Along the way, you will be able to enjoy many wonderful pullouts, such as those at Rock Cut and the viewpoint for the Never Summer Range. While this drive is well above the tree line, some of the pullouts offer the opportunity to enjoy the low-growing but colorful alpine wildflowers that manage to eke out an existence despite the high elevations. Your macro lens will come in handy for these tiny blooms.
Oxygen is in short supply up here, so walk slowly and stay on the short trails. The road continues down to the town of Grand Lake, but if you’ve come as far as Fairview Curve, you have seen the best of it and might want to turn around and head back toward the east. Stay alert for new compositions. The same scenes might look very different when viewed from the opposite direction.
Note: Trail Ridge Road may be closed or blocked off intermittently with any snow or flurries. If not a serious storm, it will likely be reopened when deemed safe.
Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer whose images have graced the pages of hundreds of books and magazines. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of South America with medium-format cameras. Jerry is a National Park artist-in-residence for 2015 at Petrified Forest National Park. More of Jerry’s work can be seen at www.JerryGinsberg.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.