“Abundant Beauty”

Ridgway, Colorado

I first learned of this area in the fall of 2022.  I was staying in Durango Colorado and commuting daily a couple hours each way north on route 550 (aka the Million Dollar Highway) to Silverton, Ouray, Ridgway and the Dallas Divide. Route 550 is loaded with photo opportunities as you travel over and through the San Juan chain of the Rocky Mountains.  That was my focus at the time.

However, the above photographic location (closest town being Ridgway) was unknown to me and I missed this great opportunity in 2022.  I drove by the road to this location numerous times but never accessed it. I thought it was prohibited due to all the private ranches in the area, most notably, Ralph Lauren’s infamous 16,000-acre Double RL Ranch. 

There are a few dirt county roads leading into this valley and they are the main access to several large private ranches.  Along these roads are miles of fencing with gates, “no trespassing” signs, security/cctv signs, “do not enter” signs and employees on horseback or in vehicles.  There are warnings on the Internet that the security is robust and not to test them.  Everyone I encountered was friendly but then, I was not trespassing. 

But, I was captivated by more than just the Dallas Divide.  Vast expanses of ranchland, valleys, aspens, scrub oaks, wildlife and the Rocky Mountains begged for further exploration.  I vowed I would do my homework and return in 2023 — which I did, capturing this image entitled “Abundant Beauty”.  

In preparation for the trip, I learned much about what land was public and what was private; and that opened up a whole new world, making this visit much more intimate and rewarding.  I read about the county roads and access points to the ranches.  It remained crystal clear where you were not to trespass.  Still, there were plenty of vantage points for excellent images and this was one of my favorite locations. 

What struck me immediately about this scene was how vast is the valley foreground with the expansive San Juan Rockies and Mt. Sneffels as the backdrop.  As I stood there, my eyes wandered back and forth, over and over, wanting to explore all the scene had to offer.  The longer I stood there the more I began to appreciate all the patterns, shapes, colors, sounds, smells and majesty of the scene.  

I could hear the mooing of cattle hundreds of yards away reminiscent of a scene from a western movie.  The sweet smells of fall permeated the crisp autumn air.  Far away in the distant foothills, I heard the faint sound of bugling elk.  And just a few yards away, perched on the fence, a song sparrow sang loudly with approval.

With so much to behold, one can’t help imagine what it would be like awakening to such beauty every day all the while appreciating the privilege of standing there, if only for a short time.  You want that memory forever etched in your mind but how??

And then you are rescued by a photograph.


Ridgway, Colorado

In fall of 2023, for several days I traveled north on route 550 from Durango to the Ridgway Colorado area.  As I documented in 2022, there is an abundance of beauty and photo opportunities along route 550.  However, that was not to be my focus in 2023.   Traveling west on route 62 out of Ridgway, there are several county roads along with the Last Dollar Road worth investigating. You can also access these areas traveling North out of Telluride.

I had been exploring one of those county roads for hours when I pulled off onto the left shoulder in this image.  Originally, I was photographing the valley and peaks from ground level and having finished with that, I was searching for other locations.  It was then I noticed a short trail leading up the hillside behind me.  It was somewhat hidden by vegetation and I did not see it at first.  Soon though I was above the road overlooking this stunning scene.  The trail meandered along a no trespassing fence and I walked back and forth along the it until I settled on this viewpoint.  I loved the sweeping curve of the road gently guiding my eyes through this stunning landscape.

The sun having already set, temperatures began to drop quickly while the sky and clouds developed into beautiful hues.  However, I was feeling pressure to begin the 2.5hour drive back to Durango.  After dark, it would no doubt involve the potential for animal encounters along the way.  But, I stayed anyhow. I had to.  The scene demanded it. 

A feeling of Euphoria came over me as I was shooting this breathtaking landscape.  Suddenly, the solitude of my experience was interrupted by the sound of bugling elks and coyotes howling all around me.  Their calls echoed through the valley and they seemed to be everywhere though none were visible to me.  Sharing this moment with them was electrifying.  There is nothing quite like the ethereal sounds of the wild augmenting the beauty that lies before you.  A moment I won’t soon forget.  

I stayed until dark and while I drove back to Durango, as expected, there were plenty of animal encounters.  I took it slow and safe all the while reliving the past few hours. When I arrived at the hotel it was late but I stayed in my truck for a while.  I wanted to review the last images of the day on my camera attempting to reassure myself, I captured what I had been remembering.  Thankfully, I did.  If you like it even half as much as me, I will have succeeded. 

“Angels Landing”

Zion National Park – Utah

This hike and this shot were on my mind years before it ever happened.  In fact, I had been traveling to southern Utah off and on for 6 years (mostly in the Moab area) before I made it to the west side of the state.  When I finally did, all I could do is chastise myself for not getting there sooner.  Even then, it took years before I made it onto the Angels Landing trail.

My first trip to Zion was more of a short stopover get acquainted trip.  I planned it as small part of a larger trip and I was still somewhat ignorant of all that it had to offer.  It was not until my second trip that I hiked several of the more popular trails and the Virgin River Narrows hike in particular captured my heart.  I was so impressed with the Narrows, I cancelled the Angels Landing hike and substituted another full day in the Narrows. (See “Drawn to the Light” Narrows image for detail.)

It wasn’t until my 3rd trip to Zion during October that I finally got to hike Angels Landing.  The 5-mile roundtrip hike has a lot of hype surrounding the inherent dangers of pulling yourself up the steep chain section.  I thought it necessary to do some homework before I would attempt it.  Actually, I did a lot of homework probably watching every online YouTube video I could find along with reading quite a bit.  Many videos are full length videos of the hike but after watching several of them, I found myself fast forwarding to the chain section.  After all, that section of the hike was supposed to be the most dangerous. There have been a significant number of fatalities on this hike (not just the chain section) over the years.  I watched so many videos that I knew the hike before I did it.  Refrigerator Canyon, Walters Wiggles, Scouts Lookout and the chain section.  I felt confident I could complete the hike but I also had to convince my wife. 

I have been pretty faithful working out over the years and consider it not only prudent for good health but a necessity for my job as a photographer.  Still, there was something about turning 65 and hiking Angels Landing alone that caused me to reflect on it a bit.  I decided it was a go and convinced my wife I would be ok.  She stayed back at the hotel in Kanab, Utah praying….which I greatly appreciated.   

When I started watching the videos, I originally thought a panorama image from on top of Angels Landing would be the shot to pursue.  As it turned out, I found something I thought was much more interesting.  Some of the videos showed an area part way up the chain section that veers off to the right about 20 yards to an outcropping.  This vantage point reveals both the spine of Angels Landing and the long valley to the right of it.  An image from somewhere out on that outcrop was the shot I most desired but getting there almost did not happen.

I started the hike about 3:15 pm and made it to Scouts Lookout in about an hour or a little less as I recall.  I had a fair amount of shade early on in the hike and I was congratulating myself on the decision to go later rather than earlier like most.  Pretty soon though I was in full sun and got fully exposed at Walters Wiggles.  I was hot and flushed walking the 21 steep switchbacks. Being fair skinned, I tend to get bad sun burns and have always looked beet red when exercising from the time I was a kid. 

I found myself needing to stop and catch my breath halfway up Walters Wiggles.  Having my camera gear, tripod and considerable water didn’t help.  A woman coming down the trail asked if I was ok.  I laughed and said yeah, I always look like this.  When I arrived at Scouts Lookout, I took a brief break like most people before either heading up the chain section or back down.  This is generally the turnaround point for people who don’t wish to hike the chain section. 

After a few minutes, I started up the chain section.  Ironically, the first section of the chain section was heavily slanted but without chains. I found this kind of disturbing because of the deep abyss just to my right.  It did not last long but it quickly left me wondering if the problem with the chain section was that there were not enough of them.  But, I soon realized that was not the case. 

A little further up the chains traffic abruptly came to a stop. I waited a few minutes and word got down the trail that someone had frozen further up and no one was moving.  I waited another minute or so and headed back to Scouts Lookout so as to not get boxed in by people coming up from behind me. 

I spent a good hour waiting for the trail to clear and was taking pictures from Scouts Lookout including California Condors.  They were landing on cliffside ledges just below me or on rock face ledges to my right.  I had seen them soaring earlier but never expected to have such close encounters.

There were only a few others observing the Condors as most people were heading back down the trail to catch the final tram out at 7pm.  I was starting to accept the idea that my pictures from Scouts Lookout would be the best I could get.  At about 5:30 after taking more photographs, all of a sudden I noticed the trail up had cleared.  I quickly packed and hurried up a practically vacant trail as time was of the essence.  It wasn’t too long when I reached the outcropping I had seen in the videos and quickly went to the edge and opened my camera pack.  I set up my tripod and as I typically do, walked around the area pre-composing possible shot selections.  A few minutes later I was taking photographs of various compositions I felt looked promising.  The lighting was soft as sunset approached and a beautiful cloud moved into the valley giving it all the more depth.  I frantically shot and recomposed some additional images before it moved out of the scene.  It was now about 6:15 and I had 45 minutes to get down to the tram stop.  It took a lot longer to get to my current location but it would be all downhill making the trip much quicker I thought.  Not having done a return trip before, I wasn’t sure.  If you missed the last tram out, you would be hitching hiking or walking 7 miles back to the visitor center.  I felt pretty sure I could make it down in time when I connected with a couple other guys who had done the hike before.  They assured me we would get down in time and we did.

I shot this Angels Landing on the evening of my 65th birthday. What a birthday present!

“Drawn to the Light”

Virgin River Narrows – Zion National Park – Utah

During my pre-trip planning to Zion National Park, I read and heard a lot of praise for a water hike in the Virgin River known as the Narrows hike.  The images I saw were very intriguing to me in terms of composition and lighting but I had a hard time getting past the idea I was going to be sharing the experience with hundreds of other people.  That is how most images I saw looked.

My wife Sharon knows it is the opposite of what I seek.  I would rather hike off on my own to find some unique creation than stand shoulder-to-shoulder with 50 other photographers from around the world in some iconic location……though I admit having to do it more than once.  (Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park comes to mind.)  That said, some scenes are so iconic, you may have to make sacrifices you would not normally make to capture the shot you have longed to achieve. Most of the time I can find my own way.  Typically, it happens through an abundance of research, discovering locations known only to locals or shooting at a time and place when most can’t or won’t.   

Such was the case when I hiked the Narrows.  It was late fall, actually the week before Thanksgiving when I entered the water at 9am.  The temperature outside was 34 degrees.  Not a problem if you are hiking and shooting on dry land.  However, when you plan to hike 3-4 miles up a river and back until dark, you better get some help. 

For me, it required renting a full wet suit from the Zion Adventure Company in Springdale.  I also rented dry bags, waterproof shoes, and a walking stick to probe the water depth.  (about $80 at the time). I wore various other layers of fleece vests and exterior Gortex because it was a damp cold.  I had a backpack with water, my camera gear in a dry bag and carried my tripod in one arm and the walking stick in the other which helped to balance me out.  I looked like a human pack mule.

Sounds like a real hassle but that wasn’t the hardest part.  The worst part was having to pack and unpack the gear every time I wanted to take a picture.  Sometimes, I only traveled 25 feet around a bend to another spectacular scene with 1000–1500 foot canyon walls, colorful stones and a beautiful shaft of light. Such was the case when I shot “Drawn to the Light” above. 

There were other areas with vegetation attached to the canyon walls. There was the striping of desert varnish on other walls and fall colors still on the trees at various points when there was shoreline to support them.

As I hiked, I was so tempted to just leave the camera around my neck to avoid all the packing and unpacking.  Convenience is so important.  But I knew as soon as I did, I would slip and fall and that would be the end of my shooting.  I never did fall and the shoes I rented played a large role in helping me to maintain my balance on all the slippery cobble rocks.  I highly recommend the shoes and walking stick no matter the time of year. 

As you embark on this hike, you criss cross back and forth in and out of the river on and off the shoreline.  Sometimes you must be in the water exclusively when there is no shoreline to walk on due to the narrow distance between walls of 20-25 feet.  Usually, there are patches of shoreline or mini-islands and you find yourself zig zagging your way up and down the river.  The water was generally ankle deep to chest deep and the walking stick along with the darker green colors of the water alerted me to the deeper areas.

Obviously, you never should enter the Narrows if it has rained or is threatening to rain even if it is miles away.  There have been deadly flash floods in the Zion area for years.

If you want to hike the Narrows and encounter the least amount of people, go late fall, winter or early Spring.  The other times won’t be the most advantageous photo ops but it’s still a great time.  With few people around when I hiked the Narrows, my experience was extraordinary. 

I had planned to hike Angels Landing the next day but I enjoyed the Narrows so much, I cancelled Angels and hiked the Narrows a second day.  It remains one of the most unique and beautiful hikes I have ever done.  I can’t recommend it enough.

“Mystic Falls”

Near Ames-Ophir, Colorado

I had never heard of Mystic Falls during my first trip through the San Juan Mountains in fall of 2022.  The Falls are just south of Telluride, loosely near the town of Ames and Ophir Pass Road. 

When I saw a photograph of the falls while researching for my trip, I knew I wanted to photograph it.  You could see the potential for capturing many different pleasing compositions.

What concerned me a bit about traveling there was some of the conflicting information online about the falls and having to hike circuitous routes to avoid trespassing on the surrounding private property. 

That did not help.  Additionally, most of the “information” people I contacted never heard of Mystic Falls.  It was really kind of surprising considering how lush and beautiful they are to see.  You feel like you are in a Pacific Northwest rainforest. 

Because most people were unfamiliar with this location and another location I was seeking (the Dancing Aspens off Ophir Pass Road), I decided I was going to need to hire a guide.  I can count on 1 hand the number of times I have done that in my professional career.  Usually, I can accomplish my research online or with a few phone calls.  It is not like the old days when you poured over maps and books in advance of a trip.  Cost is the other reason I rarely hire a guide.  In this case, I made an exception.  I contacted Mountain Trip out of Telluride.  They were awesome and well worth the investment guiding me later that morning to my second location to see the Dancing Aspens or what I refer to as “The Swans of the Forest”.

They texted coordinates to me the night before and I drove over from Durango the next morning and met them at 8am.

The waterfall sits at almost 9,000 feet in elevation and the trail down and back up is steep and slippery in the rain.  Make sure your hands are free.  You may have to even sit down in a few spots.  After meeting my guide at the pre-established coordinates, we drove in one car to a parking lot near the trailhead.  We hiked into the falls from there. 

The weather was not good.  In fact, it was nasty.  I did not mind the overcast at all but we were frequently pelted with rain, sleet and hail.  It was also windy, slippery and the only thing going for us was the overcast.  The weather changed rapidly with precipitation coming and going.  Thankfully, there were brief moments when the precipitation would stop and I was able to shoot.  I had my compositions ready to go for the next break in the weather, would shoot and move on setting up another composition. 

I probably spent a couple hours here moving about and waiting for the opportunity to shoot any number of compositions.  At times, my guide provided an extra pair of hands and held a canopy umbrella I had over me and the equipment. 

It was a short hike out but steep and slippery.  Between that and the elevation, I stopped briefly a couple times to get my breath.  You would not know from the image how nasty the elements but the beauty of the location was only enhanced by the weather. It is a beautiful waterfall made even better by the lush, moist and rich colors of the season.


Mesa Arch – Canyonlands National Park – Utah

This is one of those iconic locations that as a photographer, it is well known to you before you ever see it.  Any pre-trip research or onsite investigation of Moab, UT or Canyonlands National Park will no doubt include the discovery of Mesa Arch.  After that, good luck experiencing it alone. 

I have been here more than a few times.  Initially, I scouted it just to make sure I knew where I was going and I could find it in the dark.  This was in February when it was the “off season” and presumably less crowded.

On my shooting day, everything went fine except, there was no sunrise.  Oh, there was hope with a crack of clearing at the base of the horizon for the sun to peak through but it quickly closed and that was the end of it and my hope for a shot of Mesa at dawn.  I had only one chance and it did not happen.  My plans at the time did not allow for another attempt.  It is often the case in photography.  It can take multiple attempts to achieve success.  Showing up and getting the image you seek (composition, lighting, subject, etc.,) is never a guarantee in my experience.  There is a lot of planning, a lot of patience and a lot of factors determining the outcome and you can’t control all of them…..particularly the weather.  Sometimes, it is your ally and other times your nemesis.   

I would have to return another year. Fast forward to the following February and there I stood once again only this time reminding myself there were no guarantees.  Being there is a must but past performance is no guarantee of future success or failure.  You may wonder why I would go to the expense of returning to the same spot.  Hopefully, my image says enough but allow me to further explain. 

If you are in to the beauty of natural arches, this is one of the best you’ll see even if you can’t be there at sunrise.  But if you can and as a photographer you must, then you will see the phenomenon I have entitled “Radiance”. 

You arrive before dawn making your way up the trail preferably with a headlamp.  It is a short simple hike, about a ¼ mile or so each way.   If you are lucky, there may be a spot for you looking through the window of the arch with the LaSal Mountains in the distant.  Also beyond the arch is a large monument called “Washboard Woman” aptly named once you see it. 

Even though it was a cold February morning and I arrived 45 minutes before sunrise, the window of the arch was already full of tripods and people who literally slept at the site.  They were from other countries and were all together.  Part of a group I think and they had staked their claim.  I paced back and forth looking for an opening and finally wormed my way in at the right end which turned out to be most fortuitous with the sun rising directly in front of me.  As I checked and rechecked exposures with the changing light, fine-tuned my composition and played around with possible secondary compositions, I waited for the light.  But be prepared, it is a fleeting event.

As you stand there and observe the landscape before you, everything looks pretty normal.  Darkness to predawn blue light gives way to a brighter light as the sun approaches the horizon.  Again, everything around you looks routine as the landscape becomes more visible with warming light.  

Suddenly, a transformation begins.  As the sun breaks the horizon beams of light appear.  In a matter of seconds, the arch starts to glow.  As you begin shooting and adjusting exposure it gets hotter and hotter.  The landscape around you is bathed in warm like typical of golden hour….except for the arch. 

Soon, it has taken on the appearance of a hot coal and it is extraordinary to witness. You can hear the “ohs and ahs” of people and cameras shuttering behind you like a White House press conference.  Thousands of camera clicks take place over a period of 2 minutes.  You don’t dare take your eye off what is in front of you for fear of missing any nuance of lighting nature has to offer.  In 5 minutes, it’s over.  Finally able to turn around I see between 50-100 people with tripods or without jammed into this location.  Definitely not my preference and probably the largest crowd I have ever had to share such an intimate setting in nature. 

Even though I am not a hunter, I still felt like I bagged an elk.  Definitely one of the most unique lighting experiences I ever witnessed and an image well worth the effort.  So striking, it is always a conversation piece.

“Beneath the Surface”

Lake McDonald – Glacier National Park – Montana

This is a magnificent National Park and truly one of the finest North America has to offer.  West Glacier and Lake McDonald alone are worth the trip.

Even though I had been to Glacier in the late 80’s, (as part of a Canadian Rockies trip) I only scratched the surface from a photography perspective.  At the time, I was as much interested in high altitude hikes as I was photography.  I remember the excitement of renting a helicopter with no doors and camera in hand.  I thought I was in for the time of my life until he lifted off and my stomach stayed on the ground.  He made wide turns, dips, dives and went over the tips of mountains where it felt like the bottom fell out.  I could smell the scent of pines wafting up from below. Probably my most pleasant memory.  He said there was a mama grizzly and 2 cubs below this spot yesterday.  All I could focus on was not throwing up until I embarrassingly asked to just ride a straight line.  I never did get any pictures. 

Nor do I remember much about Lake McDonald other than driving by it on the way up to the Logan Pass area for some hiking. 

It wasn’t until years later I learned that the beds of Lake McDonald and Medicine Lake were known for having these amazing colorful stones.  I saw a photograph of them somewhere and knew I had to return.  They are a wonder of nature.

This may sound absurd but if my only success on the trip was this one image, I would be content; not that one is ever enough.  It took several years before I could arrange the trip.  I went during the COVID pandemic, when there was nothing to do but get as far out of town as possible where some semblance of normalcy still existed.  Go West young man!  And so it was that Glacier National Park became my destination.

The East Glacier entrance (one of the 2 “main” entrances) was closed because it bordered the Crow Reservation and the Native Americans had a particularly difficult time dealing with COVID.  Closing the entrance was one way to minimize their exposure to the virus.  It meant that West Glacier was the only other main entrance to the park so I made my base in Kalispell, Montana about 45 minutes to an hour away depending on traffic.

I commuted to West Glacier daily during October of 2020 and felt like I scored a private pass into the park.  When I saw Lake McDonald, I knew I would be spending many hours there. 

It exceeded my expectations.  I hiked along the shore off and on for several days from every access point that I could find seeking the most striking example of these “Hidden Gems”.  The still waters and mountainous backdrop further enhanced my love for this lake.  

Something to note.  If you arrive when the sun is high in the sky, you might not notice these colorful stones due to the reflective glare off the lake.  But, arriving during the morning or evening light yielded a spectacle to behold.  I bought waders at a Cabela’s in Kalispell to insure I could explore every option possible.  I wanted to be right on top of these rocks. 

I shot this image where Lake McDonald emptied into McDonald Creek. There was a mini break wall of these colorful stones as Lake McDonald flowed over and through them into what becomes McDonald Creek.  I spent multiple mornings or evenings standing in the creek just behind and on top of the break wall. The lighting was different each day so I would return always looking for the best image possible.  I shot many compositions from in and around Lake McDonald but my favorite images were from the mouth of McDonald Creek.  This horizontal composition is entitled “Beneath the Surface”.  I have a vertical version as well entitled “Hidden Gems”.  This location was worthy of both for different reasons.  I’ll let you decide a favorite.