More from the Colorado Rockies

August 31, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

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Earlier this summer, I went to Colorado.  I highlighted my trip to the Flat Tops Wilderness in my previous blog post, but here are some of the my favorites to other destinations in Colorado. 

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During the last weekend of June, a colder than normal weather disturbance brought a mix of rain and snow to South Zapata Lake, elevation 11,900 feet. If you closely in the photo above, you might see the raindrops hitting the lake and a light dusting of fresh snow on the peaks above. It was good timing for me to do my semi-regular tradition of climbing a 14,000 foot mountain each summer.  This year, I decided to tackle Mount Lincoln. At 14,293 feet, Mount Lincoln is the highest peak in Park County and about 10 miles south of Breckenridge. There was still about a 1/2 inch of snow leftover from the previous day. This is the view from Mount Lincoln with a small coating fresh snow mixed in with the bigger patches of snow, leftover from the winter and spring. 

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After a couple of tough hikes in tough conditions it was time to recover with some easier hikes in lower elevations.  One of the my favorite hikes was in the Routt National Forest, northeast of Steamboat Springs. It was here where I came across the best combination of large flowers in an aspen forest that I have ever seen!

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These showy flowers are known as "Mulesear".  

I would return to being above the treeline.  My favorite time to be at or above treeline is at dawn to watch the night turn into day. 

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The two pictures above are from Rocky Mountain National Park. The one below is from State Forest State Park.  

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You are also more likely to be treated to seeing some wildlife.  On my last trip to Colorado in 2019, I would have a close encounter with some mountain goats. This year, I would see moose and bighorn sheep. 

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My favorite destination was to Mirror Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  It involves a lengthy hike of about 15 miles roundtrip from the nearest parking lot.  However, if you are willing to hike that far, you are rewarded to one of the most photogenic mountains in Colorado.  The sharp point is called Lone Eagle Peak and it reflects well in the aptly named Mirror Lake. 

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I would also spend the night here on this clear moonless night and photograph The Milky Way.  I'll hopefully have those pictures up soon in another blog post. 

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The Flat Tops Wilderness of Colorado

July 31, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

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In 2019, and again earlier this month, I made a couple of visits to the Flat Tops Wilderness. Located in the northern part of Colorado, southwest of Steamboat Springs, the Flat Tops were formed by a combination of volcanic and glacial forces over a very long period of time. The Flat Tops’ unique shape is the result of millions of years of erosion that has stripped away ancient layers of softer sedimentary rock and exposed a hard basalt cap. Along the edges of the mountaintops, glacial activity more than 10,000 years ago scraped out stacks of sheer cliffs hundreds of feet tall.

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The crest of the Flat Tops is an enormous plateau of mostly flat balsaltic lava, largely above timberline. This rock feature in the picture above is called The Chinese Wall. 

The Devil's Causeway is probably the most popular hiking destination in the Flat Tops Wilderness. The causeway is a narrow neck of the plateau where eroding glaciers on both sides almost met. 

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A section of the causeway is only about 4 feet wide with a sheer drop of 400 feet on both sides!

As a result of all the glacier activity, there are numerous small lakes such as the ones you see here.  

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Such goregous reflections!  I will have more new pictures from elsewhere in Colorado soon. That will be my next blog post that comes out later this summer. 
 


The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

June 25, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

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Earlier this month, my wife and I vacationed to the Asheville area of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. Although photography wasn't the primary goal of the trip, I still managed to take some nice pictures on our drives and shorter hikes in the area.

Of course, a trip to Asheville would not be complete without a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The picture below was taken at 5,600 feet above sea level, close to some of the highest elevations in the eastern United States.  In this picture, you can see the change in green hues between the highest elevations where the trees had not fully leafed out yet and the lower elevations where the trees had already fully leafed out.  

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There were a couple of mornings where I was greeted with fog in the valleys. You may have noticed that the fog is more likely to have a blue color to the landscape, which leads to the topic of how did the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains get there name? The Cherokee referred to the area as “Schconage” (Sha-Kon-O-Hey), which means “land of the blue smoke.” Early white settlers took inspiration from the Cherokee when they named the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. The "smoke" is actually fog that comes from the area’s vegetation.

While the Smoky Mountains are not the only place you can find blue smoke, they do have ideal conditions for creating this picturesque fog. The trees containing turpentine in East Tennessee and West North Carolina have high concentrations of vapor molecules called VOC's (volatile organic compounds) that scatter blue light. We all know that plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. What we hear less about is how plants also have this exhale process in volatile organic compounds. VOC's may sound scary, but when they are released from plants, they are completely natural. Have you ever enjoyed the piney smell that comes from an evergreen tree? That scent comes from the tree giving off VOCs as it breathes. The Smokies also benefit from abundant rainfall, plenty of sunlight, and high levels of humidity. Taken all together, these factors produce a breathtaking fog that is worthy of the name “land of the blue smoke.”

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The Rhododendrons were also in bloom in the higher elevations and there are numerous waterfalls in the region.  Below are Skinny Dip Falls and Looking Glass Falls, both southwest of Asheville. 

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After my wife went back home, I went on a backpacking trip to the Shining Rock Wilderness, where the highlight is the this quartz rock outcrop known as "Shining Rock" that overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

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Arctic Air Invades Arkansas

February 20, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

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     We are now wrapping up one of the coldest 2 week stretches in Arkansas history and central Arkansas is seeing one of its snowiest months ever. Many areas in central Arkansas have seen over a foot of snow this week. While Little Rock had about 20 inches of snow this week, Fayetteville's official temperature reached as low as -20 degrees. This is the new record for Fayetteville's Drake Field. You have to go back to 1899 when there was a thermometer at the U of A that recorded -24 to find the coldest temperature ever recorded in the history of Fayetteville. 

     During the second week of February, most of the state had not seen much snow. However, the higher elevations did see a significant amount of rime ice with a little bit of snow. Most of this was around and above 2,000 feet above sea level. After the entire state saw the first round of snow on Monday, I decided to take the slow, snow-packed road up to the highest point in Arkansas...Mount Magazine. 

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A thick coating of rime ice on the branches of every tree. Rime ice is created by an accumulation of water droplets in freezing fog. 

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     After the second round of snow on Wednesday, I thought I would take advantage of the recent extreme cold and take a hike to Glory Hole. It is one of the more iconic waterfalls in the state. I usually get pretty bored with taking pictures of the icons that everyone else shoots, but I made an exception in this case. Most winters, you will just get at least some flowing water with occasional icicles on the bluffline in the winter months. However, it is a pretty rare occurrence to see the entire column of water freeze from top to bottom as a full cylinder of ice. It usually takes several consecutive days where it stays below freezing all day and a round of temperatures around or below zero for the entire column of ice to freeze.

The last time it was a frozen cylinder, at least to this extent, was in 2011.

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     On average, it looks like this only about once (maybe twice) a decade and it will only last a few days. While we still might see another snow later this winter or even early spring, I think it is safe to say that we are through the coldest part of this winter.  Before long, it will be spring. After this 2 week stretch, many of us will be ready!


Snow On Top Of The Ozarks

January 09, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

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     This week there was a winter storm that affected the higher elevations of the Ozarks. As time drew closer to the event, with the help of my experience in forecasting the weather in the state of Arkansas, confidence was high that this was going to be elevation driven winter storm. Below was a computer model (called the HRRR model) forecast from the day before that I based my decision on where to be for this event. It was suggesting that the highest snow amounts were to be in the higher elevations (around and above 2000 ft. elevation), particularly in/near Newton County and other of the highest mountaintops, such as Mount Magazine, in western Arkansas.

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     I made the decision to drive to Newton County and "snow chase". The forecast was pretty much spot on where the accumulations would be. With such marginally cold temperatures, it was a particularly wet snow that was pasty and stuck to the branches of the trees. In general, the warmer the temperature...the wetter the snow. With a colder temperature (roughly mid 20s and colder), the result would be a more powdery snow.

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     It was rather fascinating to see the difference in snow between the higher elevations and the lower elevations. The picture below was taken at about 2,000 feet above sea level but you can look down on the Buffalo River Valley at about 1,300 feet above sea level. Notice the difference in the amount of snow on the trees. Down on the valley floor, many of the snowflakes melted into raindrops. This is about the closest thing you can get to snow capped mountains in Arkansas!

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     I thought I would take a walk in the woods to a waterfall. However, as you drop in elevation, the amount of snow was lower and already melting. This waterfall in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness was at about 1,800 feet above sea level. Still, the water was nice and the beech trees (beech trees hold their leaves all winter) in the background added a little color.

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     Winter is almost half over, but maybe there will be more opportunities to photograph snow later in the season.

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