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This year, I presenting my personal favorite images for 2017.  While I could have chosen to present my ‘Best of…”, the stories behind the images are what I wish to share more than anything else.

The first image I present for my 2017 favorites is from Hanging Lake here in Colorado.

Hanging Lake

During the first few months of 2017, my wife had seen many images from various people and such on Facebook, yet had not been to Hanging Lake.  She kept asking about the lake and if it really “was” that amazing, to which I replied: “Yes, it actually is and you will see for yourself when we hike up to the lake.”  In the first few days of May, the weather looked conducive to a hike up to Hanging Lake, so I prepared her for the adventure.  She wasn’t super thrilled at the idea of waking up at 2:00am, so we could be on the road by 2:30am.  We didn’t quite hit that 2:30am departure time, missed it by about 5 minutes or so…but that IS a pretty tall ask, I suppose (lol).

We arrived at the Hanging Lake Rest Area (trailhead parking) at 5:30am, geared up and started walking down the concrete path to the actual trailhead .5 mile away.  The light of day was slowly making an appearance, but would not really be light for an hour or so (sunrise was around 6:00am). Because of the location and how surrounded by the cliff walls and trees both the trail and Hanging Lake are, the light really does not come into Hanging Lake until an hour or two after Sunrise, but that does not stop Hanging Lake from being an extremely popular destination, especially early in the morning (it is recommended to arrive very early if you wish to find parking at the trailhead; there is some concern of overuse so IF you plan to hike up to Hanging Lake in 2018, I would highly recommend you make sure you know ahead of time, what the parking and hike availability actually is.  There may be a ‘lottery drawing’ system put in place to try and control the amount of traffic).

The hike in, while not very long, is rather strenuous, as you gain about 1200 feet of elevation in just a short .9 mile from the actual trailhead to the lake (the hike is 2.8 miles round-trip).  The last quarter mile involves a fair bit of climbing up rock steps that have ~15” of step for each one.  There are a few spots where the trail/rock-steps are rather narrow and hand rails have been put in place to help maintain safety as you climb up.

As you finish the last few steps up, you begin to hear the water falling from Bridal Veil Falls, a short distance above Hanging Lake.  Once you round the final bend, you see the pristine & crystal-clear water of Hanging Lake.  The scene is so beautiful that you almost want to jump in the water…BUT, that would be a very BAD IDEA!  The delicate ecosystem contained in Hanging Lake would be severely damaged by the skin oils and such from human or pets, so DO NOT ENTER THE WATER!!!

My wife was like a kid in a candy store; the pictures she had seen did not do Hanging Lake justice (as she stated numerous times).  We had managed to be some of the first people to arrive on-location, so we had the lake pretty much to ourselves.  My wife was busy shooting with her camera and I the same with mine; trying to re-compose images I had created in 2015, but try to get better compositions this time.

Not too long after we had arrived at the lake, we could hear the sounds of hikers making their way up the trail so we knew that it wouldn’t be long before the lake was overrun with people.  We finished up our shooting efforts and began the short trek to Bridal Veil Falls, just to take that in before heading back down to the parking lot.  The falls were pretty spectacular, but had quite a few people already getting selfies and such, so we began to make our way back down to the parking lot.

The next couple of months were busy with trips here & trips there, but no significant images that I felt were worthy.

July in Colorado always brings the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, which has become an annual tradition for my wife, the kids and I.  Weather can play a significant role in the wildflower bloom; The majority of the photographers around Colorado felt that the inordinate amount of snow that Crested Butte received over the winter of 2016-2017, would ensure one of the best wildflower seasons in some time.

We planned for four days in & around the Crested Butte (CB) area.  Once we arrived in Crested Butte and got checked into our room at Elevations Hotel & Spa, we went out for a scouting drive, taking advantage of the remaining light.  We headed up Slate River Road, hoping that the wildflowers we had seen the previous year would be as good, if not better.  As we headed up Slate River Road, we saw signs of wildflowers, but seemed a bit lackluster.  The road makes a tight u-turn at the end of Slate River Road, prior to heading up Paradise Divide Road.  Beyond that u-turn is an area where people tend to do dispersed camping.  The wildflowers there were abundant beyond imagination!!!  We saw more Colorado Columbine there, than anywhere else we had seen in past trips to Crested Butte.  The light was fading fast, so I did my best to capture a composition that encompassed it all.  What I was able to capture evoked a sense of peace, serenity and definitely my happy-place!

Sunset Columbine

The next morning, Elaina and I were out the door early.  The boys were tired and wanted to sleep, so we headed out to Camp4Coffee; we have to start the day out right, after all (lol)!  Once we had coffee, we headed up Gothic Road.  Along the East River beyond Gothic, I found a slew of Indian Paintbrush & Elephant Heads.  The array of wildflowers and bright, cheery color was not something I could (or would) pass up!!

Paintbrush & Elephant Heads

The rest of the 2017 Crested Butte Wildflower Festival was a bit of a let down for us, in that the flowers were less than stellar.  We did find one area that was pretty good and will keep it primed for next years visits to CB!!

July left and August came in, like a blur and before we knew it, Labor Day weekend was approaching.  Elaina and I were up in Rocky Mountain National Park, looking for elk, as the bugling had started.  We found a sizable herd in West Horseshoe Park and stopped for a while.  There was one buck who was obviously the dominant male, but the stinker would not come out of his little hidey-hole behind a small group of aspen trees and a nice spruce tree, so we decided to go see what mother nature would give us for sunset (at Sprague Lake).

We got to the parking area with about 15 minutes before sunset, so it was a hurry up mode for us.  The color in the sky sure looked primed and ready!

As I set up my tripod, the calm and quiet that surrounded us was absolutely amazing!  As I awaited sunset, the only thought that crossed my mind was the title to the image that came about at sunset: “Be Still, Let Nature Sing!”

Be Still, Let Nature Sing

My favorite time of the year (Elaina’s too) was fast approaching and our plans were set for another trip to Crested Butte.  Yes, we love Crested Butte and the surrounding area!  Especially fun this year, for Elaina and I, as we were able to bring the eldest son with us, to enjoy the last bit of his free time before he headed off to Marine Corps Boot Camp.  The colors were much like the dadgum wildflowers.  A number of photographers I know were all commenting about the difficulty in finding consistent fall colors.  The first night there, we tried a sunset shot out Kebler Pass, only to see that the trees were not really turning, though there were pockets of gold and even a spot or two of red.

The next morning, I got up early (let Elaina sleep in) and headed out to shoot sunrise.  The tree color not being great was hampering my mental planning, but I figured maybe with the right sky, a shot of East Beckwith Mountain would give the pizzaz I was looking for, for this composition.  Sadly, the images I did get were only “marginally okay” for me; decent images, just didn’t have the feel behind them that I look for in my personal favorites for the year.  The weather took a turn the next day, so I was really praying for some good color on our third day.

Fortunately, we did get some luck; the sun was out and I found one of my favorite shots of the year; perhaps of the last few years.  I look for images like this, where the leaf (or leaves) have fallen naturally and just speaks to me about the serendipitous ways of nature!  Yes, I could have synthetically created this image, but I like to find shots that are absolutely natural.  Add to this that it was still cool enough that the morning dew had not evaporated from the leaves on the forest floor yet!

Morning Dew

One of the events that takes place on Saturday night during the Fall Colors time is the Vinotok Fall Harvest Festival.  We missed the event the year prior, so we made sure that we didn’t miss it this year.  A huge crowd had assembled on Elk Avenue.  The trial of the Grump ensues.   Then, “The Grump” is taken on a parade down Elk Avenue to a clear area for his final resting place where he would serve his punishment.  This is a huge town event and the bonfire that evolved was amazing!

Burn The Grump!

Our Fall Colors was winding down and our last little bit of exploration for color led us to a small area on the east side of Independence Pass.  We stopped at a parking area and walked across a bridge to explore the area more.  I managed to shoot a few images in that area, however, my favorite shot from that adventure was the final image I composed.  If only we had color like this throughout our fall colors adventure this year; alas, that was not meant to happen!  This image was one that I visualized in mere moments as I rounded the bend as we began our short trek back to the vehicle.

The Path Less Traveled...

A couple of days later, Elaina & I took the eldest to the airport, so he could fly back to Texas.  He was required to be in Texas for a period of time before he shipped off to boot camp.  This time, the good-bye was more difficult, mostly for Elaina (but for me as well).  After Cade scanned his boarding pass to begin the walk down the jetway, he turned around and walked back to Mom for one last hug.  That was pure awesome in my book.  The next 14 weeks would be tough.  Cade would undergo a transformation much larger than he realizes (all recruits do!  lol), but as parents who are used to the daily chatter between us and the kids, the lack of that ability to text, call or message Cade would be frustrating, hard but also, in a weird way, satisfying!  We did get a letters in the beginning of the 2nd week, which we thoroughly loved!  He was enjoying boot camp (though it was written during the first week of actual boot camp, so we know he had a lot more intensity coming his was real soon).

We both had a need to get outdoors after a couple of busy weeks after Cade’s departure.  So, we headed back to our “playground” … Rocky Mountain N.P. for a hike on a trail neither of us had hiked yet:  Boulder Brook Trail.  The trail winds along Boulder Brook, amid a rather permanent feeling incline (lol).  The hike had a purpose and we certainly met the objective.  Additionally, we were blessed with some rather interesting ice formations along the brook.  The last bit of fall color was present, so it made for some amazing potential!

The Demise of Fall

We made a trip out to Las Vegas in mid-October.  During the trip, I shared my knowledge of the Bellagio Hotel Conservatory displays with Elaina and one evening we made our way there to see & photograph the display.  For those who have never been to Las Vegas, if or when you do go, I highly recommend visiting The Conservatory at The Bellagio.  They always have an amazing display of some sort!!!!  If you can manage to stay up long enough, it’s best visited in the wee hours of the morning (1am, 2am, 3am, etc.) as that is when the area will have the least number of people to interfere with any photography you may wish to do.

We did not go late enough and there were still quite a few people there.  I managed to persuade people to stay clear long enough for me to get this shot (and thanked them for doing so)!!

Peacock's in the Conservatory

On our drive home, I had inserted an overnight stop at Zion National Park.  Elaina had never been and while I knew that was nowhere near enough time to really take in all that Zion has to offer, I was hoping the fall foliage would be showing it’s color (the timing was actually rather early for Zion, but I was hopeful).  We left Vegas and got to Zion a bit beyond mid-afternoon.  We drove through the park from west  to east, scouting and preparing for sunset.  I knew what I wanted to shoot for sunset and only had to hope for some nice character clouds to make for a good sunset.

Sadly, the clouds failed to show and while I got a decent shot, the better shots I got were the next morning, while we explored Pine Creek Wash.  The color was actually at or maybe even a day beyond peak on the east side of the park, but the maple trees were absolutely magnificent!  We walked along Pine Creek Wash and the light and composition conditions were perfect for this image!

Maple Sunstar

The next morning, sunrise was kind of a bust.  We headed back to Pine Creek Wash to explore more.  I found another example of serendipitous color just sitting on the sandstone along the wall of Pine Creek Wash:

Maple & Sandstone

Returning home from Zion was a bummer; we both knew that another two or three days there would have been amazing (and I know so much more of the park was not explored)!

We spent much of November getting ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  This was the first year that Elaina would not have both boys around at Christmas.

The near constant wind and obligatory cold temperatures of Rocky Mountain National Park freeze the lakes every winter.  On a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park over Thanksgiving, we wandered here and there, ending up on the north side of Bear Lake.  We were graced with barely a breeze (ultra rare for RMNP in the winter months) and the temperature was 20 degrees warmer than forecast.  The pattern frozen into the ice was pretty spectacular!  The light was not the best, but as I started to compose the image, I felt this image in black & white!

Ice Patterns at Bear Lake

The photography for the year was not as good as I had hoped, but I still find passion in getting out to explore the joys of nature.  The one constant with all of our time outdoors is the feeling of peace & serenity.  Nature’s music and aromas are what strengthen and enrich our lives (plus the added benefit of exercise)!

Too often, we see people out hiking with earbuds in or headphones on.  To us, that is so bizarre as you miss 90% of what the great outdoors can offer!  We also hear people far too much for our liking, yet I understand why people do talk…after all, it is what humans do (and are taught to do when going out in nature, to thwart off predators).  But, what if you were to try being a little more quiet and allowing nature to just be itself; perhaps you would see the moose, the elk, the bear.  Of course, you should always be cautious and be prepared whilst in their neighborhood, but if you observe from a respectful distance, more likely than not, you will be blessed with visual stimulation beyond your wildest imagination!