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Another year is almost over; I am amazed at how quickly the days pass, how many adventures have taken place and memories to last a lifetime, yet…I feel as though my efforts in imagery have barely scratched the surface.

In keeping with tradition, I am writing this not only to reflect on what I have achieved photographically during the year, but also to submit my 2015 Favorites to the long-running Blog Project by Jim Goldstein, for Favorite images of the year.

The last two months of 2014 were spent adventuring, as well as planning my first adventure of 2015 to Olympic National Park in February.  Winter months may not be the best time to visit Olympic National Park if you wish to explore the magnificent mountains and copious trail system…but the rain forest area and the beach areas on the western edge of the park offer some breathtaking scenery!

January came in with a flurry of hopes and desires; the typical snowfall along the front range of Colorado was less than expected so there was little snowshoeing going on in January.  On one trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (one of my more frequented playgrounds), while scouting potential photo shoot locations, I headed towards West Horseshoe Park; as I turned at Deer Ridge Junction and headed down the hill, I pulled into a turnout 2/3 of the way down the hill and this scene played out in front of me:

West Horseshoe Park

The lack of snow, yet just enough on the distant mountains, along with an amazing sky provided me an opportunity to create an image that is almost like a painting!! I’ve printed this image on Fuji Pearl paper and I can say that the image absolutely pops!!

As February rolled along, I prepared for my trip to Olympic National Park.  Using TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris and TPT (The Photographer’s Transit), I did as much planning as I felt was necessary, knowing that serendipity would play a part in the trip.  Winter weather, tidal chart hiccups, etc. would all steer my photography based on the on-site information available.

The trip was planned to take place the day after the New Moon in February.  The hope was that I’d have good astro-light for night-sky photography as well as some interesting options for sunset & sunrise.

After landing in Seattle, picking up my rental car and driving around the bay (wanted to maximize my options for photography as I drove out to Forks, WA) the day was pretty near perfect.  Temperature was very comfortable and the sun was shining.  The closer I got to Forks, though, the less enthusiastic I became as cloud cover began to wash out my thoughts of sunset (planned for Hole-In-The-Wall up Rialto Beach).

I checked into my lodging facility in Forks, geared up and drove to the parking area at Rialto Beach.  Figured I would trek up the beach and see what transpired.  The waves were looking rather ferocious even with the tide down as I trekked up the beach.  The weather definitely was not looking conducive as the light was flattening out more and more as sunset approached.  Looking at the tide and considering the I may have to trek back via Pacific NW trail vice the beach, I opted to turn around before I got to my chosen sunset location (discretion is the better part of valor).

I returned to my vehicle and decided I would go poke around at First Beach in La Push for a bit before heading off to evening meal.  There was a lot of flotsam around LaPush harbor and strewn about on the beach.  Old growth timber laying on the beach was absolutely huge!!

Having my fill of poking around and a little bit of photography, I headed back to Forks, to eat and review weather / tidal chart for the morning.

The next morning, sunrise was not feasible as the weather was still not quite cooperating.  I did go down to Second Beach and scout out shoot locations to be sure that sunset location(s) would be acceptable, if Mother Nature chose to play nice.  While scouting, I managed to trek a lot more than I thought I would, amassing about 4 miles while on Second Beach, enjoying the sun as it finally came out and warmed up the day.

I left Second Beach and headed to the Hoh Rain Forest to spend the rest of the morning and much of the afternoon poking around, seeing what photographic opportunities I’d have in one of the wettest places in the United States.  The Hot Rain Forest is a place where you could, potentially, spend a day or two looking, creating and enjoying the amazing scenery.

The day was winding down, so I had to make my way back to Forks, grab a bite to eat before heading back to Second Beach for sunset.  Once at Second Beach, I started to make my way to my pre-determined sunset location.  Knowing where the tide was earlier that day, I was actually able to to walk out another 60 yards towards the surf zone before I was close enough to know that was as far as I needed to go.

The sea-stack formations were an obvious subject, but as I began composing, the patterns in the sand were catching my eye enough to make them a unique secondary subject, drawing the eye towards the sea-stack formations.  Sunset had passed as I shot the image below, with just enough muted colors along the horizon to add some character to the scene.


I finished up the shots I had planned to create, taking an hour or so after twilight was over, packed up my gear and started to make my way back to the steps / trail up to La Push Road.  About half-way back, a small group of kids (20-somethings) asked if they could follow me out, since they had forgotten or lost their flashlight and were having a hard time making out where to go (no moon = very dark).  I agreed to lead them to the steps and once there, they scrambled up the steps and disappeared into the forest.

By the time I got back to my room, I was pretty well bushed.  I had trekked quite a bit and my body was feeling a bit exhausted.  I did take the time to import my images to my laptop, to ensure I had the master’s on both the laptop, and my external HDD for backup) and got the camera ready for any photography opportunities I’d have heading back to Seattle the next morning.

The drive back was uneventful; took the ferry from Kingston across to Edmonds, where I eventually met up with Steve Cole (@scolephoto) for a late lunch, then headed on to SEA-TAC to turn in my rental car and catch my flight back to Denver.

March was pretty busy with a few treks in Rocky Mountain National Park, a trip to Arizona with a stop at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve on the drive down to Arizona, to spend some time with my parents (mainly to help Mom care for Dad [Dad was still living at home at the time]); a day-trip with Mom & Dad to Falcon Field in Mesa and then, en route back home to Denver, I stopped in Moab for a night so I could shoot sunrise at Deadhorse Point State Park.

Another adventure was awaiting me upon my return; something I had been planning with my friend @AaronBatesPhoto for a few months.  A four-day trip to Big Bend National Park. The trip was a total blast, though the images I created were nothing super fantastic overall.  As much as I had planned for the trip, Big Bend is one of those places where you really have to experience it once or twice before you really go hog-wild with photography.  Aaron and I did hike from Chisos Basin to South Rim (12.2 miles round-trip) and had a lot of fun with that adventure.  Aaron got a number of good images from that hike and the days we were in Big Bend NP.  The last day were were there, we had planned to shoot wildflowers here and there and be heading back to Austin by 10am’ish, so that we could meet up with Aaron’s wife and son for dinner.

Best laid plans…we got so distracted by wildflowers that we did not leave the park until 2:30pm.  On the way towards Marathon, TX we saw a huge cloud formation off to the East that both Aaron and I noticed and knew that images must be made!

This clouds formation was the epitome of West Texas rain storms and while the color version looked neat, the black + white version really spoke volumes to me.  Ironically, when Aaron processed his composition, he too felt the black + white image was the better of the versions; here is my version:

Spring Storm

I returned home after a fun trip at Big Bend and did not have much on my agenda thru April.  Had a couple of short adventures in May, amid some serious rain activity, but nothing that really hit my “favorites” list.  I did take an opportunity to visit the Hondo Iris Farm outside of Ruidoso Downs, NM where I met up with my parents for a quick visit (they drove over from Phoenix).  This would be the last road-trip my Dad would make, as his Parkinson’s Disease effects were really beginning to cause issues shortly thereafter.  Departing from Ruidoso Downs, I headed to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, to meet up with Aaron Bates for a hike up to the summit of Guadalupe Peak.

You would think being in West Texas in mid-May that the temperatures would be reasonable.  Well, okay…they were when we met up at the campground, but by the time we made it to the summit (that was a trek and a half; ugh), the wind was absolutely H O W L I N G and the temperature was cold enough to warrant putting on my rain jacket, which substituted as a wind-breaker along with my skull cap.

Three weeks later, while we were still having major rain activity, I headed up to Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park, for a trek up to Calypso Cascades and Ouzell Falls.  As I trekked to the falls, I approached the two bridges that cross over the Calypso Cascades and it just struck me as something I needed to shoot.

The tree debris, the large volume of water and a little sunlight were what drew my eyes to this composition (probably not my very best, but a great memory for me):

Calypso Bridge

A few days later, I had an opportunity to head out to the Maroon Bells.  Yes, they’re popular.  No, I have not grown weary of shooting there.  Yes, there is the potential for a slew of people.  No, I wasn’t worried about that.

Having worked there as much as I have, I knew that I wanted to shoot night-sky, twilight and sunrise, then hit the lower trail for a particular image that I’ll talk about more shortly.

Left my house in metro Denver at midnight, arrived on-location at 4:15 am and started shooting night-sky almost immediately.  I should have arrived there 30 minutes earlier, to really get some good dark skies, but I got enough to satisfy my needs.  Twilight started about 5:10am and sunrise over by 5:50am (roughly), so I had my shots from my prime spot at Maroon Lake, packed up and started trekking towards the lower loop.

I had to laugh as a number of the photographers lining the shore asked why I was packing up so quickly.  I gave them my canned response (I’ve acquired the images I desired; have other locations to hit) and continued on.  As I approached the bridge over Maroon Creek, I was amazed at how lush & green everything was, as well as the volume of water in Maroon Creek.  The water was way beyond the normal creek boundaries, so I had to get a little spry jumping from the trail to the bridge.

Bells Bridge Awash

The remainder of June had a number of local treks to locations in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park (including a couple of treks on the west side, which is not as visited as the east side).

July is wildflower time in Colorado, so I made a number of trips to places like American Basin, Crested Butte Wildflower Festival and a couple of other locations I know that usually have some good wildflowers.  Some of the best times of the year, from a ‘being outdoors’ perspective.  Especially my time in the Crested Butte area (Love ‘Running Water’).

As July came to a close, time for the next road-trip adventure was just around the corner.  I had been planning this trip for quite some time (probably close to a year).  My trekking buddy Shaun was coming along for the adventure, so it had all the potential for a great photography trip.

Departing out of metro Denver on the 7th of August, we made it to our primary destination mid-afternoon on the 8th.  Cougar Rock campground in Mt. Rainier National Park.  There were a couple of images that I really wanted to create while here, so I had my fingers crossed that conditions would prevail.

The first sunrise trek was almost a total wash; we awoke at 1:30am, on the road by 2am in a misty, almost going to rain scenario.  We made it to Sunrise area, parked and trekked up to where we planned to shoot sunrise, only to have a wonderful fog-bank come through right at sunrise.  The sun continued to rise and as we were heading back to my vehicle, we had a nice glimpse of the mountain being revealed, so we hung out for a bit and got a few shots that were a good teaser.  We were both hungry, so we drove back to the campground to clean up, have some breakfast and plan out our afternoon.

Along the drive back, as we approached the Reflection Lakes area, we saw the makings of absolutely spectacular images so I hurriedly parked and we got the gear out, set up and started creating…

This is one of those times where you just want your gear to be 200% ready, so you don’t miss the shot.  I was able to create a number of images, this being one of my favorites of the year:

Reflection Lakes at Mt. Rainier NP

The next few days, we did a lot of hiking, tried a few sunrise locations, but because the wildfires in Oregon were really kicking up smoke, the haze was becoming a major detractor.  We had another night planned, but I felt that the smoke was only going to get worse.  As I pondered the options, I suggested a slight detour from our original route back home, which Shaun was content to agree to (he had not been to Glacier National Park before).

I made some phone calls en route, and secured a campsite in West Glacier and off we went.  This was right around the beginning of the Perseid Meteor shower activity, so as I drove up “Going To The Sun” road, we got to a particular location where I had shot an image four years prior, only to have the image not come out as desired, so while the opportunity was there, I took the chance.

The stream was so placid that Garden Wall reflected so nicely that I was composing and clicking like a mad-man, to ensure I got good images.  I can say that I’m rather happy to have finally completed this image goal:

Garden Wall Reflection

We both achieved some great photography and decided we should head back to camp, have some dinner and prepare to go to our pre-determined spot along McDonald Lake where we would shoot night-skies with Perseid Meteor activity.

One benefit of leaving Mt. Rainier National Park is that we were now in a dark-sky location and the night sky was absolutely amazing!!!!  To say that you can see a million stars would be a huge understatement.  The longer we were out there, the more the night sky became a vivid pallet of stars!!!  The experience was almost overwhelming, especially as we began to capture meteor activity amid the Milky Way and stars (with nearly a no-moon situation, it was the perfect time to be in that location):

Milky Way and Perseid Meteor

After a couple of hours, we had both had our fill of night-sky photography, so we headed back to camp, crashed for the night.  The rest of the trip was very worthwhile as well with more night-sky photography at Devil’s Tower National Monument and a fun drive through the Black Hills of South Dakota, en route home.

Once home, there were a couple of local hikes in the James Peak Wilderness and in Rocky Mountain National Park, then I had to head back to AZ to spend some time with my Mom; Dad’s condition was not improving much (fell and broke his hip in July; a number of things came up as a result…), so I wanted to spend some time with Mom and visit with Dad (you never know, so you have to make the most of the time you have available!!!!!).

September was a bit of a blur; probably because I was focused on my annual Fall Colors adventure.  I had spent a fair amount of time planning the general locations but not so much that I was hell-bent on being at place ‘x’ at a certain time.  As we drove toward the first major area, the color along Grand Mesa was absolutely perfect.

Mesa Magnificence

Fall was about four or five days early, but seemed to hold fast for the time I was out shooting.  Dallas Divide and Telluride provided some amazing scenic vistas and I was glad to be able to share them with someone special.  I’d been asked numerous times where we were going and it was tough not to spill the beans.

After a couple of days in Dallas Divide / Telluride area, we headed to another of my favorite locations: Maroon Bells Wilderness.

Sunrise the first morning was met with cool temperatures (especially since we were on-site about 90 minutes ahead of morning twilight).  Twilight and sunrise came and went; the image I created of sunrise was one of my better shots, as you could see the ‘Bells, the remaining fall foliage, the reflection in Maroon Lake…but with absolute calm that morning, you could also see into Maroon Lake, adding another layer of complexity and amazement to the image.

After sunrise was done, I once again, packed up the gear to head out on the lower loop to some of my favorite spots along the trail.  Maroon Creek was still flowing fairly good and there was a spot that just spoke to me due to the composition that lay before me:

Moody Maroon Creek

Fall colors is such a fun time, but before you know it, it is all done and photographers go into a lull as we await the season change.  That isn’t to say there weren’t some photography hikes, but the plan was more about just hiking and enjoying the great outdoors than to be creating new images.  I did have a couple of fun adventures, using solar powered Christmas lights, in an effort to create images for my Christmas Card and other future uses.

December rolled in and it was time to head towards Arizona.  The last four or five years, I have stopped at the Grand Canyon en route to metro Phoenix, to do some photography and add to my portfolio.  This year, I decided to stay at Bright Angel Lodge (a cabin to the west of the lodge itself).  The plan was to hike up The Rim Trail to Powel Memorial or maybe even to Hopi Point and shoot sunset, then hike back, crash and get up to shoot morning twilight and sunrise at Mather Point.  The forecast was iffy that sunrise would be worthwhile, but I certainly wanted to see what transpired.

The hike along The Rim Trail is one I highly recommend; you have an opportunity to see the canyon from so many different angles and perspectives!  I arrived at Powel Memorial about 15 minutes ahead of sunset.  After setting up and doing a few test shots, I started to see the sunset light, so I focused on my goal.  As many times as I have visited Grand Canyon National Park, there is always something new, something special about the moments I spend in the park.  This sunset was truly magnificent!!

Powel Memorial Sunset

While I awaited the light to change more, I turned about 120 degrees to my left and was totally astounded by even more amazing color, so I turned my attention to that scene, adjusted settings appropriately and created this gorgeous image:

Sunset Color at Powel Memorial

Usually, I will stay well beyond evening twilight, because there is potential for magical photography moments.  This night was different; the looming storm I’d soon hear/see (the following morning) was changing the light enough that I decided it was prudent to begin my trek back to the cabin, have supper and prepare for the morning photography (little did I know the plan would change).

My alarm was set for 4:45am.  The alarm went off, I awoke to the wind howling and as I looked out one of the windows, it was snowing rather well.  I looked at the Accuweather forecast and weather radar; potential for a break in the weather, so I chose to sleep for another hour vice hiking over to Mather Point in heavy winds and snow.

When I woke up at 5:45am, the conditions were not getting any better.  Hmmm…what to do.

I was awake, though I did not see any potential for photography with the thick fog / snow / wind.  Eventually I did get up, packed up and drove over to the parking area near the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center and trekked out to Mather Point.  There was a small break in the weather, so I did create a few images, but the goal I had in mind was not going to come to fruition this day, so I packed up my gear and left Grand Canyon (Mather Point and other locations will be there for my next trip!).

Mother Nature has her plan and when things are not going according to your desires, you can try to fight the conditions or you can accept that conditions are not optimal and choose to return another time (or another time after that!).  After all, it’s more about being there, seeing the potential and enjoying what is around you.  If conditions are not perfect, you are not going to change that by whining.  More appropriate to accept the situation and plan to return when conditions are more suitable.

2015 has been an interesting year and one that seems to have flown by at Mach 3.  Going to try slowing things down a little in 2016, spend more time focusing on the details just that much more, perhaps spend more time in each location just looking for the smallest of details.  2016 goal setting to come real soon!!!