Tag Archives: San Juan Mountains

Destructive Grazing in the Wilderness Hurts Everyone

30 Oct

Cattle Pic

Cattle living in the mountains where there is literally snow melting into streams in August. 

The summer of 2017 ushered in many new habitat changes in the San Juan Mountains – none more noticeable than a grazing uptick. This was most prevalent in the South San Juan Wilderness near Tobacco and Quartz Lakes – where sizable herds reside.

Cattle cause problems in numerous ways and when living in pristine places – the results are disturbing. They damage the ground by widespread trampling while also devouring flowers and grass. Lush green pastures perfect for taking a nap become a cesspool of ants, flies, mud, and loose rock. Flowers don’t automatically grow back yearly and the ground doesn’t magically reform either. It takes decades to fully recover.

In areas of competing public use these effects are worse. The herds sleep at obvious camp spots, making those inhabitable – littered with foul manure and swarming insects. This means looking elsewhere and finding new spots – putting more pressure on an over-stressed environment.

trail damage

Hiking to Tobacco Lake

The same applies for hiking trails. The trails become so disfigured and muddy – hikers have to step off and go around. However, the most significant damage is done to our water supply.

High altitude places in the Western US should be known clean water – a vital natural commodity.  In the South San Juans, these high-altitude watersheds flow into the Rio Grande River. Tobacco is the highest lake in the wilderness at nearly 12,400 feet. Yet, dozens of cattle graze just beneath the shoreline.

I’m all in favor of responsibly herding cattle but not between 8500 – 12,000 feet at beautiful mountain lakes. Can’t we find some place more appropriate? In most towns, chemically treated tap water tastes poor and bottles waste millions of tons of plastic each annually. If our highest and finest natural resources are tainted by bovine – we’ve all got issues.

In case you are wondering how much it ranchers pay for their grazing rights – it’s now 1.87 a month for a cattle and calf. That’s down from 2.11 during the Obama Administration. I think they do more damage than that in an hour. Let’s put politics aside and all agree this is not right.

If you are interested in more evidence please check out my video uploads here. I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic again in the future. Your thoughts, opinions, and input are always appreciated.

quartz lake

Noticeable damage to the banks of lovely Quartz Lake while the water color is a murky green it should be a silty blue. The forest service touts this lake as a hiking destination but a herd of 20 cattle live onsite making picnics here less than desirable. 

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New Images from Colorado

1 Sep

Wildmoments Update:

I’m back from a three-week adventure to Colorado specifically for additions and updates to my book. The trip was a tremendous success for photography. It rained more this summer than my previous visits, which made for interesting conditions. I witnessed better sunrises, unique cloud formations and prolific waterfalls. However, my feet were constantly wet and I spent more time holed up in my tent, which also incurred some damage. Overall, it was a good year for wildflowers with some spots showing better than before while others not as prolific.

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Cunnigham Gulch was raging this year and a delight to photograph

I also was fortunate to visit some new places and meet some new friends. Currently, I am working on processing images as well as a new book design. My plan is to have the book in print by next spring. It will surely be the best version yet with even more spectacular pictures and places to visit! Stay tuned for more exciting news, updates, and I’ll explore other related topics too!

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It hailed four times on this particular day

Photographing Ice Lake

16 Jun

In addition to hiking, my book also includes a photography section for each lake. This provides useful information for both the serious shooter and the casual looking to improve his or her (smartphone) shots. While each chapter is unique, topics include instructional, technical and creative advice. Also discussed are nearby points of interest, strategies for finding the best composition and more.

You might learn something that isn’t obvious too. For instance, notice the distance from the water in the picture below. It’s about a half mile and 500 feet of elevation away. In many spacious basins, it is challenging to explore everywhere in one visit. That’s why tips on where to go help.

Below is partial excerpt for a popular location in the San Juan Mountains. July and August are the perfect times to visit. For an amazing experience, consider personal instruction and guidance by yours truly this year! Find more information about this here.

Exertion Point

Ice Lake Basin, Colorado, August

Capturing or witnessing Upper Ice Lake Basin’s signature alpenglow is an exclusive experience available to those willing to spend the night. Golden Horn is the most iconic peak and befittingly shows off the best display of crimson morning light, both before and immediately after sunrise.

During times of peak wildflowers, compositions are plentiful. The most iconic shots feature alpenglow reflections and successful ones accentuate form. Consider shooting at an intimate tarn as opposed to Upper Ice Lake. Sunrise images won’t display the lake’s vivid color, which needs direct midmorning light. Be sure to bracket shots or use a graduated neutral-density filter.

Another alternative is shooting Ice Lake’s hefty outlet stream. Several sections of rippling cascades offer excellent vantage points. These dynamic compositions usually do not include the lake. Use a wide-angle lens and try blending for depth of field.

Perhaps skip the water altogether and fill your foreground with a bouquet of splashy wildflowers. This works best on still mornings and emphasizes spectacle. Whatever you choose, the best plan is staying more than one night to ensure the greatest opportunity for success.

Sunrise is not the only time for mesmerizing photography. Midmornings on partly cloudy days also yield outstanding results. Remember to use a polarizer and shoot when the groundcover is in partial shadow. Even in harsh midday light, the lake photographs well with a smartphone.

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Hiking Hope Lake

10 Jun

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Below is an excerpt from my new book, Capturing Colorado: Hiking & Photographing Lakes of the San Juan Mountains. Celebrate summer with a definitive guide to Colorado’s finest range. Find out more about this exciting guide here.

Clouds play hide-and-seek amid unearthly red peaks and motley fields of flowers en route to Hope Lake. The price to pay for this special occasion is a paltry one – 2.5 miles and 1500 feet of altitude gain. A relative drop in the bucket compared with the taxing work necessary to reach other locations with similar scenery. Hiking is part of the allure, making this adventure an ideal choice when exploring near Rico and Telluride.
Begin on level dirt venturing through a shaded forest before reaching a hillside gulley. The streambed is wide and shallow but floods after heavy rains. An unobstructed presentation of a looming crest soon appears. Accentuated by the chattering sounds of water, these stately sights impress.
Effortless hiking continues for over a mile, including a brief downhill stint on a series of meandering switchbacks. Views progressively improve with shimmering Trout Lake and the unorthodox skyline of the Lizard Head Wilderness afar. Twenty-five minutes of walking brings the confluence of two major waterfalls and the trail traces them upwards. A wooden sign marks the beginning of this climb, which is a natural resting spot. Nearby, a tree-covered ravine makes an enchanting place to investigate.
The final push takes place on moderate switchbacks through a timber canopy and open understory. An occasional window offers compelling views of an imposing peak. Walk on soft ground while enjoying the roaring sounds of water splashing down the mountain.
Above the trees, enter a medium-sized meadow with unbelievable vantages of the burnt-orange slopes of 13,897-foot Vermillion Peak. Enjoy outstanding views of this mysterious mountain amid dizzying scenery. Wandering forward toward a notch in the hills, catch your first glimpse of soothing Hope Lake. You may find yourself wondering, “Is this place real?”

Back from Snowy Colorado Part 1

18 Oct

We returned safely from our adventure in Colorado last week and I wanted to share some pictures and conditions from our first couple of days on the road. We departed Phoenix around 4:30am PST and made it to Cortez by about 1pm MST. From Cortez, we headed up the 145 touring the picturesque Delores River Valley toward Lizard Head Pass, seeing the first signs of snow approximately five miles outside of the town of Delores and before Rico.

The first storm of season had hit the area the day before and blanketed the mountain slopes with up to a foot of snow. The weather was a mix of partly sunny conditions with fast-moving clouds with temperatures in the low 40’s.  The trees in that area were a mix of peak, past peak, and still green – a theme that became the dominant foliage conditions of the trip.

What’s interesting, is as we drove towards the Dallas Divide there were large areas of the mountains that didn’t appear to have any snow or that it had already melted. A few token stops along the way didn’t yield any keepers and we settled into our hotel in Ouray, stopping for happy hour at O’Brien’s Pub in the downtown area. By nightfall, the cloud cover was getting thicker and it was obvious another storm was moving in. The snow started a short time later…

We overslept a bit the next morning for sunrise as I set my alarm on my Blackberry for the right time, but the phone never changed time zones like the rest of us. Luckily, we still woke up in time. When I went outside to heat up my ride, it was still snowing and there was a fresh three inches of powder covering my SUV.  We made our way towards the Dallas Divide on snow-covered roads.  The snow did stop a short time later but the skies did not clear in the right place to catch any sunrise color. Still, it was a beautiful morning and I was able to capture this image about 45 minutes after sunrise.After spending the first part of the morning on County Road 7 we headed back towards Ridgway to check out Owl Creek Pass. It didn’t take long for that road to turn to snow too and we found ourselves four wheeling in what was easily six inches of fresh snow.  As we made our way up and over the 10,114 foot Owl Creek Pass towards Silver Jack Reservoir, I stopped to capture this image taken close to 11:00 am.  There was definitely a foot of snow on the ground where I was standing…The temperatures were in the mid 40’s by the time we stopped for lunch near the Silver Jack Reservoir. This was our first time in the area and I was quite impressed with the dispersed camping opportunities as well as the side roads and hikes to explore the area. The views were 360 degrees and the foliage was looking great, good, past peak, and not yet changed all at the same time again.  Here is an image of the main road between Owl Creek Pass and Silver Jack Reservoir. As you can probably tell by the previous two pictures the weather was partly sunny, but that didn’t last long as heavy clouds were moving in.  I captured this next image just a short way down the road….This was pretty much our turning around point as had about a 75 minute commute back to Ouray and the weather was threatening again. On the way back, much of the snow had melted on the road and there were many more people out and about.  This was our last stop of the day, one of the more iconic foliage view points in the area located just inside the Uncompahgre National Forest boundary. I have several more days of pictures and reports to share with you, and I hope you enjoyed this one as well as the pictures. If you have a particular favorite or favorites, I would love to know about it. Thanks so much for reading.

Leaving tomorrow for snowy Colorado

6 Oct

Tomorrow marks the start of my second annual visit to Colorado for autumn foliage. Last year, we visited the week earlier, stayed in lovely town of  Telluride,  and the timing was perfect for color. The weather was generally cooperative with a few minor afternoon storms and some overnight snows coating the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains.

This year appears a totally different story.  As I write this, a massive storm is pounding much of the state with up to a foot of snow.  It’s effects can be felt all the way to Phoenix, where temperatures have significantly dropped and the winds have picked up big time. Originally, the plan was to camp most nights and stay in a hotel to get a good night’s rest and get cleaned up before we return home, that’s now changed.

This year, we designated Ouray as our base camp. For those of you not familiar with the area, Ouray is the northern most town located on the San Juan Scenic Loop and is about an hour drive from Telluride and probably closer to two hours from Durango.  Getting there could be the biggest problem as the mountain passes are snowy, wet, and treacherous. By the time we reach the area tomorrow the worst of the storm should have passed, but forecasts are calling for lingering snow showers possibly as late as Sunday.

Driving the region’s back country roads can sometimes be a daunting task, but when wet and muddy obviously it can get extremely dangerous. There’s also the possibility the high winds would eradicate what’s left of the region’s foliage, which could significantly decrease photo opportunities.  The storm also brings plenty of promise as well. The mountains will look incredible and snow-covered foliage is a wonderous sight.  The weather should improve over our last couple of days in the region and conditions could be optimum for landscape photography.  It’s hard to tell what this trip will bring, my primary goal is to make it home safely, hopefully will a handful of really good photographs to share with you.

New Colorado Wildflower Images

14 Aug

I’ve safely and successfully returned from my journey to Colorado and the wildflowers and mountains were spectacular! It was a very productive trip and I am looking forward to sharing my new images with you soon.  My approach to editing has changed with this trip.  I am using a lot more manual focus blending as well as extra blending for dynamic range.

The first the part of the process is reviewing all my images and then selecting the ones that are the sharpest and that have the best light. Next I determine the white balance and tone of the image and then I manually stack them in Photoshop. Once the images are stacked, I hand blend them and then edit for contrast and color.  Lastly, I’ve been returning to the images over the course of several days to give me time to digest what I am seeing and to ensure that my editing is in synch with my final vision. The result is a slower process, but I want to make sure that I am 100% satisfied with the image before I post them publicly.

Currently, I am about 20% of the way through the editing and I am selecting the pictures as they come to me. Here’s the first image I’d like to share with you. It is an image from Clear Lake entitled “Modularity.”  I’d love to hear your thoughts. I hope to share more with you soon as well as tell you more about my trip!

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