After a nearly sleepless night in my car, I awoke at dawn. I was in the Moraine Park area, a large meadow surrounded by mountains. With no idea what to do, I started driving. Within a minute I came upon a large herd of Elk having breakfast alongside the road. Continuing on, I noticed a group of photographers in the meadow. I pulled over and went to join them. They had a wonderful spot picked out to watch the sunrise, but the clouds put a damper on that idea. After shooting for 30 minutes I got one decent photo.
As I returned to my car I met a fellow hiker, Alan. He has hiked all the Western National Parks and had spent the last 5 days enjoying RMNP. After talking for a while we decided to do a hike together on Old Fall River Road, a one-way dirt road that travels up a steep canyon. The hike itself was pretty nice, especially along the tundra portion. However, 9 miles of downhill hiking wore me out. As usual, people were shocked to see a guy in barefeet and sandals in the mountains.
Old Fall River Road
After the long hike I returned to the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road. They had some wonderful couches with a fantastic view. It felt so nice to finally relax. I sat for quite a while, in fact, I almost sunk into the couch!
With a solid day hike under my belt, I decided to scout for some wildlife. A large herd of elk were meandering along the tundra near Trail Ridge Road. I found a nice warm spot in the sun and sat down with my telephoto lens. The wind was whipping the lens from side to side, making the shooting difficult. From my perch, I could see all the idiotic tourists, acting like fools in front of the wildlife. After an hour of sitting on my rocky outcropping the herd had cut off my exit route. Not wanting to disturb them, I scrambled down a rocky patch and managed to get back to my car.
Shooting wildlife on top of a mountain makes for some amazing photos! Using my 150-600mm lens, I am able to isolate a single Elk against the massive clouds in the sky. Much better than the usual condition back in Ohio!
With the sun slowly starting to fade into the western horizon, I knew I needed to get some sunset photos. The summit near the Alpine Visitor Center provided a stunning view. The last rays of light illuminated the tiny Alpine flowers.
At the summit, I met two photographers from Minnesota. We ended up staying on top of the mountain well into the night, hoping to photograph the Milky Way. The sky was cold and clear, and we could see far off into the valley. Dim city lights, dozens of miles away, flickered at the edge of our vision.
Driving down Trail Ridge Road at night is an odd experience. As I descended into the treeline, the forest walls began to close in on me. The pale headlights from the car illuminated the towering pines, as if I was traveling through dark maze. At 11:30pm I reached the final overlook. Estes Park glistened down in the valley, while the faint light of the Milky Way glowed overhead.
As I complete this journal entry I am in the same spot I started this morning. But now, I can look straight out my windshield and see the Milky Way shining above me, the stars twinkling, and hear the creek murmuring.
This was only Day 1…
Click here to see all the photos from my first day in Rocky Mountain National Park.