High On A Mountain

Kit Carson Mountain (14,165′) in early morning light from the summit of Humboldt Peak (14,064′). Sangre De Cristo Wilderness, Colorado

I came across this image while working on a submission for the 2013 Colorado 14’ers Calendar and it stopped me in my tracks. The yearning to get back on a mountain peak with Marla has been building for months as I’ve tried to be patient with my osteoarthritic knee; but never allowing myself to seriously think about climbing a mountain. But last night’s hike was strong and I’m now able to spend some time going through mountain photos, day-dreaming about that feeling of freezing on a mountaintop in mid-summer while waiting for those first golden rays that trick the camera into capturing warmth above timberline.

We were camped with Annie, Mike, and Chris, and Marla somehow convinced the crew that it would be awesome to start hiking at 2:30 a.m. to be on Humboldt’s summit at sunrise. I don’t know how she did it, but there we were the next morning, a short train of light, winding our way up Humboldt’s summit ridge. And it was cold! Just after sunrise, clouds building on the valley floor raced up the valley between us and Kit Carson Mountain, creating an alpine dreamscape that would eventually obscure the peaks, then tease us with views of the Crestones and the Sangre De Cristo skyline. I can’t wait to get back.

Mayflower Gulch Winter

Winter In Mayflower Gulch, Arapaho National Forest, Colorado. Fletcher Mountain (13,951′) looks like it was sketched into the backdrop as light snow fell.

We make a pilgrimage to Mayflower Gulch at least once a winter. It’s an easy snowshoe or ski up to Boston Mine, situated at timberline beneath hulking peaks and a jagged ridge in the Tenmile Range. Our plan (in Feb, ’11) to photograph sunset changed with Mother Nature’s muse, offering light snow and flocked pine with glimses of 13,000 foot peaks.

Ogallala Capstone

Sunrise Over Ogallala Capstone, The Nature Conservancy Fox Ranch in Yuma County, Colorado

With the Keystone XL pipeline in the news these days, this image came to mind. I made the photograph while working on my Prairie Thunder book; thinking of a way to somehow make an image of the Ogallala Aquifer, water source of the Great Plains. At the time, the most immediate threat to the Ogallala Aquifer was rapid draw down during a drought. These white sandstone blocks on a ridge above the Arickaree River are the capstone for the Ogallala formation, the aquifer system of a 174,000 square mile underground lake. The Keystone XL Pipeline would transport the world’s dirtiest oil from Canada tar sands over the Great Plains freshwater source, risking the lifeblood of middle America. It’s mind-boggling that we’re at this stage, even considering putting so much at risk for the filthiest energy on planet earth. Let’s hope President Obama keeps his promise to fight for the climate – draw a line in the sand, Mr. President.

Rocky Mountain Hooters

Burrowing owl chicks on a hunting blind that I use for wildlife photography. Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, CO Athene cunicularia

My friend Sherry Skipper at Rocky Mountain Arsenal told visitors about this image from the first season that I photographed burrowing owls at the refuge. One of the visitors sent me a note and asked about the shot, so I’m posting it here in response to Katy – and it’s still a fun shot for me. Outdoor Photographer Magazine ran the shot as “Rocky Mountain Hooters” in their Last Frame, and it’s really a result of me showing up late to work. I had spent several weeks with the owls, watching their development from this portable hunting blind. I would arrive in the dark and wait for the chicks to climb out of the natal burrow at first light. The chicks progress toward fledging with wing stretching, bug catching, and short flights in their prairie dog town territory. I showed up a bit late on this particular morning, and the chicks had taken over my blind for a hunting platform, the tallest thing on the prairie. They were ready to fledge, marking the end of my burrowing owl project for the summer.

Lindsay Ranch – Before Rocky Flats

The Lindsay ranch was originally homesteaded by the Scott family in 1868. The barn and relic buildings are the only permanent structures on the refuge.

About seven miles from our house, and in between Golden and Boulder, CO is the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, formerly a plutonium manufacturing plant. Plutonium triggers were made here for forty years, followed by a cleanup from 1990 to 2002. Today, all that remains is a landfill in the center of the refuge that’s surrounded by wild prairie backed by the vertical slabs of the Flatirons. The USFWS doesn’t have funding to open the refuge to the general public, but it plays an important role as a refuge for wildlife in the foothills/prairie interface along the Front Range. The Lindsay family bought the ranch from the Scott’s in 1941; and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission purchased the land in 1951.

Black-footed Ferret Closeup

Black-footed Ferret ready for relocation to the wild, National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center, Colorado

I stumbled upon this image during a recent hard drive treasure hunt. In 2006, I was working on my Prairie Thunder book and asked for permission from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to photograph at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center north of Fort Collins. At the time, there were no ferrets in the wild on the Colorado plains. There still aren’t. In fact, there is only one ferret living in the wild in the state – he’s up around Dinosaur in the northwest corner. There are around 800 or so wild ferrets in North America and only one prairie dog complex larger than 10,000 acres remains. It seems unlikely that their status as North America’s most endangered mammal will change anytime soon.

While photographing the ferrets, I forgot about all of those serious conservation concerns for a couple of hours and just enjoyed these gregarious, playful, beautiful animals. It’s still a highlight of my conservation work. As I was preparing the leave, the ferrets I had been photographing were trapped in preparation for relocation to priairie dog complexes from Chihuahua, Mexico to Shirley Basin, WY.

Longs Fire

Fire in the sky over Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

I don’t know why I forgot about this image – it’s one of the craziest skies I’ve ever seen. Todd Caudle and I met in Estes Park to photograph elk on 9/21/07. The Mexican food was ok, the elk photography stunk because of high winds, but there was this moment where the sky caught fire over Longs, Rocky’s iconic (and only) fourteener. Enjoy!

From The Vault – Burrowing Owls

Nine Burrowing Owl Chicks, Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, CO

A hard drive treasure hunt, that’s what my friend Todd Caudle calls it. I’ve been working on images for the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Friends Group and it’s been fun finding forgotten images. I have a few new tools now and can breathe new life into some of the old favorites.

In the summer of 2004, my first as refuge photographer, I worked on a mini project with burrowing owls. Back then, I was using a world class Nikon F5 and Provia film – you had to wait for the slides to see how your images turned out. I know, crazy! I sat in my blind day after day, baking as the late June, then July sun rose above the prairie. I wanted to be there when the chicks emerged. One day, I watched in amazement as the first, second, and third chicks popped out from the abandoned prairie dog burrow for their first lookaround. Then they kept coming, until nine were standing there, all in a line. Broods of this size are uncommon and some say that the birds somehow know when there’s plenty to eat and produce more chicks. Whatever the reason, I had a blast photographing these chicks for a few more weeks before they were too mobile for my stationary hunting blind. The Western burrowing owl is classified as threatened in Colorado.
Athene cunicularia

Bison Family Portrait

“Bison Family, Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, Colorado”

One of the best things that I get to do as a photographer is hang out with the RMA bison herd. They stand for a free and wild west, and give me hope that we can find a home for wild creatures to roam. These 35 or so majestic grassland animals are genetically pure, with no cattle markers in their DNA. They can be dangerous, but their body language is quite specific – If the tail goes up and they’re not shitting, you’re inviting a 2,000 pound animal to charge at 40 miles per hour. I can respect that.

This image was made from my truck window with a 600mm lens on a Kirk window mount. I had been trying to make a famaily portrait for awhile and the youngster jumped on his mama’s back just as I framed up the image.

Gone Fishin’

“Four Boys Fishing” Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, CO

Everytime I look at this image I see a snapshot of my youth, when I spent all of my “free time” thinking about fishing and messing with gear, organizing lures, and melting lead for sinkers and jigs. This was a quick, unplanned image that has a timeless quality. I think it speaks to the importance of getting kids outdoors and having fun – doing anything. In this case, the rod and reel complete the circuit. These four boys are probably high school age now… and totally comfortable in the outdoors.

* I’ll be posting previously unpublished or overlooked images in the new “From The Vault” category.