Several Jam-Packed Days and Nights in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

I’ve been to Colorado many times but somehow I’ve never found the time to go to Rocky Mountain National Park. So when I looked on the map and found that it was only a seven hour drive from Kearney, Nebraska where I had been photographing the Sandhill Crane migration on the Platte River, I decided to drive over and spend a few days there. I checked the weather forecast and it seemed pretty good for March: a blizzard, then some clearing and finally, some glorious weather for hiking and photography. Seemed ideal so I drove to Estes Park, Colorado.

I especially wanted to do some night photography in Rocky Mountain National Park so I checked the phase of the moon, time it was to set, position of Polaris, position of the Milky Way and other factors using my indispensable iPhone apps PhotoPills and Sky Guide. Once I had all this data sorted out, I spent a lot of time scouting locations for my night shots. I came up with the location above which was around 9,400 feet in elevation. There the Milky Way would be visible and I could include some of the snow-covered mountains and some light from the dawn as well as the town of Estes Park, Colorado. I set up my shot around 4:00 a.m. and waited for the great show. The moon set at the promised time and the Milky Way stretched beautifully across the sky.

I shot this panorama of the Rockies at sunset. At the same time I set up another camera and shot a timelapse video of the sunset with amazing clouds moving across the sky and mountains. It was a glorious scene. I don’t know how I ever photographed landscapes without my new Nikon D810. This has to be the best camera I have ever owned. I still love my Nikon D4s and Nikon D4 for wildlife photography but the Nikon D810 surpasses my Nikon D800e for landscape photography by a long shot.

This was a lovely sunrise over the Rocky Mountains. It was 27 degrees as I stood out taking this shot. It was very windy and I had to hold down my Gitzo tripod to keep it from blowing over (a hard-learned lesson from Iceland’s wind). Finally the winds settled down and the cotton-candy-colored clouds appeared like magic over the mountains. What a morning!

This is a panorama of the Milky Way shot I took. I wanted to get the arch across the entire night sky.

Here’s another shot of the Milky Way.

I put on the lightweight ice cleats (the same ones I used in Iceland last month) as I set out to hike the Glacier Gorge trail to Mills Lake. Although it was snowing quite hard as I set out the trail was well packed and I was able to get good traction without snowshoes. The elevation and vertical climb made it tough going at first but I soon became acclimated and as the sun came out I found the hike quite exhilarating. The trail started at 9,240 feet and gained quite a bit of elevation as I hiked to Bear Lake, Alberta Falls then Mills Lake.

It was so quiet as I hiked through this wintry scene of snow and bare aspen trees.

Many of the lakes were still frozen over but the ice and snow looked really beautiful.

I spent a lot of time on my knees around the lakes photographing ice abstracts. There were so many interesting patterns and sometimes something colorful like this evergreen branch would be frozen in the ice.

I saw a lot of Rocky Mountain mule deer.

On the first day I arrived there was quite a bit of snow and the roads were being plowed. I took this photo of a large group of elk resting on a hillside in Big Meadows.

A few days later I took this photo of elk grazing at sunset.

I watched this bull elk from a distance for some time and then he stopped and posed for me in a clearing.

I took a lot of panoramas in Rocky Mountain National Park because that was the only way I could fit in all the grandeur.

This is one of my favorite sunset shots I took while I was there. The colors were just spectacular and the clouds rolled in and made the sky quite dramatic.

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