Backpacking Lost Creek – Colorado’s Granite Wonderland

Lost Creek, Tarryall

Lost Creek Granite : Prints Available

Climbing a granite crack to reach a view of the Lost Creek drainage, I exclaimed Wow! when I saw this perfect granite ball sitting on the granite bench. Lost Creek, home to the Tarryall, Kenosha, and Platte River Ranges, is a Colorado anomaly, the granite spires, domes, and twisted rock are the 'Yosemite of Colorado' and unique in the Rockies. This area is accessed via the Goose Creek trail.

Itching to get out over the Memorial Day weekend, we set out for the Lost Creek Wilderness, a wonderland of granite sprires, domes, and three mountain ranges reaching as high as 12,000 feet. It’s a popular early season spot when the higher mounatins are still buried under heavy snow, often getting more snow at the end of May. Our out and back trip from the Goose Creek trailhead was bluebird, and our camp in ponderosa forest rewarded us with the wonder of silence.

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Marla takes in the view high above Lost Creek. Lost Creek Wilderness, CO

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Lone Pine In Stone. Lost Creek Wilderness, CO

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Granite Study, Lost Creek Wilderness, CO

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Camp In Ponderosa Forest. Lost Creek Wilderness, CO

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Majestic Ponderosa Pine. Lost Creek Wilderness, CO

NatGeo Newswatch with LightHawk

Spotlight on the Roan Cliffs

My friends at LightHawk just published a nice “Behind The Lens Above The Ground” Waypoint article on their site and on National Geographic Newswatch. The theme is the aerial perspective is essential to telling a conservation photography story. I’ve flown a number of LightHawk missions for the Sage Spirit project and the Absaroka ILCP expedition, each for specific goals. The thing they have in common is the West is getting smaller with energy development exploding in the sagebrush ecosystem. LightHawk’s mission is to champion environmental protection through the unique perspective of flight. LightHawk is an ILCP partner and flies ILCP photographers for a wide range of conservation projects. I’m proud to work with Shannon Rochelle and their dynamic staff and fly with such a great team of volunter pilots who generously donate their airplanes, fuel, time, expertise, and enthusiasm to fly for conservation. Thanks LightHawk!

Flying Dinosaur

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Echo Park Aerial : Prints Available

 The Yampa River winds through Castle Park to its confluence with the Green River in Echo Park. The Yampa is Colorado's second largest body of water and runs wild, apart from a few small dams and diversions. The Green River starts high in Wyoming's Wind River Range and is the chief tributary of the Colorado - the most endangered river in America. Dinosaur is fascinating for it's geography, cultural and ecological significance, and diversity. It was also the scene of a major conservation battle over the proposed damming of Echo Park, with the Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society leading the fight to keep the rivers running free. Photographer Philip Hyde was commissioned by Sierra Club president David Brower for the book This Is Dinosaur in 1955 - he became the Sierra Club's primary conservation photographer. Thank you to LightHawk for providing the aerial support to fly this mission. 

I met LightHawk volunteer pilot Jim Grady at oh-dark-thirty in Grand Junction, CO last week to fly over Dinosaur National Monument in northwest Colorado. Jim and I flew together once before, over the Gunnison Basin last year, so I knew I was in for a great flying experience with a great plot. Jim has that kind, generous spirit that is typically LightHawk, and will stay out there as long as it takes to get the right images. I was excited to climb into his 1953 suped-up Cessna 180 with the huge window opening – the window just hovers, held open by airflow. My only worry was nausea-inducing turbulence, but there was none of that in the cool, stable morning air. Dinosaur has been on my radar for awhile for the significance of the wild rivers, cultural and conservation history, and its central role as the wild in northwest Colorado. I came to think of Dinosaur in a regional context when I photographed Vermillion Basin and Brown’s Park NWR a few years ago, areas that tie into the Dinosaur complex. Their protection bolsters the ecological sustainability in a region that is under heavy drilling development pressure that could turn Dinosaur NM into a protected island in a sea of industrialized drilling; an ironic twist when you consider the struggle between conservationists and politicians hellbent to dam Echo Park in the ’50’s. I’m mindful of the courage of David Brower, Philip Hyde, and Wallace Stegner as we soar over the confluence and peer into deep canyons slicing the wrinkled landscape of the Moenkopi and Weber Sandstone formations. Those early conservation greats found a way to make Dinosaur matter and kept dams out of all national parks and monuments. The modern threat fragments surrounding lands that sustain the ecosystem and steals millions of gallons of water for every fracked well. The threat may have changed, but the challenge to see the future is no different today than it was in the 1950’s. Continue reading “Flying Dinosaur”

Bluebird Day

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Eastern Bluuebird Males In Spring Snow, Jefferson County, Colorado

While walking Abby the labby yesterday, we came upon a big flock of eastern bluebirds who were unconcerned with us, maybe because of the miserable conditions. After our walk, I went back with my big lens and just kneeled in the snow, watching the birds fly and land all around me. They’re so colorful and animated – I could also see some with tail feathers hanging out of a horizontal hollow cottonwood branch. Birds flew in and out of the cavity, which I though held three of four of them, until 20 or 30 burst out at once. I suspect they were just huddling for warmth between sorties to gather a few seeds to make it through the storm.

April Showers

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Spring snow blankets ponderosa savannah in Jefferson County Open Space, Colorado

Holy cow! Yesterday’s snowstorm teased us most of the day, then dumped all afternoon and into the evening. Here on the west side of the metro area we received 10 inches or so. So, this morning I ventured out to a local open space near the Flatirons to make a few images, just fun stuff. Although this storm won’t be a drought ender, we’ll take what we can get.

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The local elk herd is usually around 40-50 animals, but it swelled to 100 or so with deep snow pushing them down from the foothills. Jefferson County Open Space, Colorado

New “Aspen Color” Photo Workshop!

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Exciting news! We’re ready to launch a new photo workshop in the heart of the Rockies – Aspen, Colorado. Let’s see, why is it named Aspen? It could be because of the amazing aspen forests in the White River National Forest all around the city – which makes for a remarkable fall color display. We’re teaming up with Aspen Meadows Resort, a wonderful full-service venue that’s perfectly situated for our field excursions around Aspen. The workshop dates are September 26-29 and the cost is $695 with a 10% discount if you book by May 15. Please contact me at (720) 351-0386 or email: dave@daveshowalter.com if you’re interested.

Oil Spill!

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Aerial View of the Natural Gas Plant On Parachute Creek, near the town of Parachute, Colorado. There is an oil spill just below the plant. I made this image with the support of LightHawk.

I remember flying over this massive industrial plant to photograph Two Sides Of The Roan and wondering what would happen if there was a spill. The plant is situated on Parachute Creek, which flows into the Colorado River. Rigs, plants, and compressor stations line both sides of the river in between Rifle and Parachute. A spill has happened – an estiimated 6,000 gallons of oil and 60,000 gallons of contaminated water have escaped and are leaching into the earth. From the Denver Post: “Oil company workers investigating a weeks-old spill along Parachute Creek are focused on a valve box on a pipeline carrying natural gas liquids away from the Williams Midstream gas plant, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said Tuesday.” The good news is that it’s not in the creek yet, but we don’t know how much has discharged, where it’s traveled to, what chemicals are leaking… At a time when Colorado is debating how close to site energy development to human development, and while our governor claims that the industry has proven they can extract oil and gas safely, this catastrophe suggests a more balanced discussion.

Zapata Ranch Sandhill Crane Workshop

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Searching for owls – pygmy, Western screech, saw-whet, and great horned with naturalist John Rawinski as our guide. Zapata Ranch in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

Michael Forsberg and I led our third annual Sandhill Crane Photo Workshop at Zapata Ranch from March 11-15. The class was full with 12 photographers, and featured John Rawinski returning as naturalist guide, 15,000 or so sandhill cranes stopping on their migration route to Yellowstone, amazing Zapata hospitality (one of the Top 50 Ranches In The World), close-up views of bison, the historic Medano Ranch homestead, no wind, Great Sand Dunes National Park, night photography of one of America’s best night skies, great food – even appetizers in the field, and fun photographers from all over the country who made many wonderful images. Continue reading “Zapata Ranch Sandhill Crane Workshop”

Prairie Song

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Singing Western Meadowlark : Prints Available

 Western meadowlarks are often seen singing from perches above prairie grass - yucca, mulleins, and fenceposts. While sitting in a blind waiting for burrowing owls to emerge, this nearby meadowlark was singing his head off. I opened a window slowly and saw that he was standing in the grass just a few feet away, He didn't care about the shutter firing, maybe because he was making so much beautiful noise. 
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