Nostalgic look at Rocky Mountain from 1919

Melissa just happened upon an interesting find on Project Gutenberg. The Book of the National Parks, by Robert Sterling Yard was originally published in 1919. The author describes the book this way: 

In offering the American public a carefully studied outline of its national park system, I have two principal objects. The one is to describe and differentiate the national parks in a manner which will enable the reader to appreciate their importance, scope, meaning, beauty, manifold uses and enormous value to individual and nation. The other is to use these parks, in which Nature is writing in large plain lines the story of America’s making, as examples illustrating the several kinds of scenery, and what each kind means in terms of world building; in other words, to translate the practical findings of science into unscientific phrase for the reader’s increased profit and pleasure, not only in his national parks but in all other scenic places great and small.

What grabbed our attention in particular were a few of the picture included from Rocky Mountain National Park. 1919 reaches almost back to the NPS’s foundation which is being celebrated this year. And yet, these photos instantly took me back to places I was able to visit just one year ago.

The image of Flattop, Hallett and Otis is exactly the view we saw from our porch every day. Andrews Glacier, I slid down during my descent (interesting note, for some reason it actually appears larger in my photos than in these historic photos, but maybe that’s just optical trickery). And lastly, this image of Chasm Lake looking toward Longs Peak is instantly recognizable. 

All this to say, it is pretty humbling to think about the roll my images of the National Parks may be able to play as part of their history.


Countdown to Acadia 2

So, I’m about a month out from heading to Acadia for a couple weeks for the artist residency. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. For so long it has been that thing that will be happening in a long time and recently I’ve been so focused on getting all my classes up and running for the start of the semester that I haven’t really had much time to think or plan. I’m sure once the semester starts I won’t have any extra time, so it’ll probably only sink in once I’ve actually started driving north.

There is one thing I’ve been mulling over a little though, and that is the question: how mobile am I going to be? Am I going to be traversing the whole park, hitting every hot spot at the golden hours? Or am I going to stay stationary as much as possible, and settle into the landscape directly around the Schoodic Institute?

I think my residency time in Ireland taught me to really appreciate a slower pace of creating. I was there for a month and didn’t have a car. All my favorite work that I created was walking distance from where I was living. The same was true in Toronto.

In Rocky Mountain I did travel more. I think I was trying find deeper wilderness areas where there were very few or no other people. I’m happy with what I was able to accomplish in my time there, but it had a very different quality than the other two. More hurried, less contemplative.

So, it’s clear which way I’m leaning right now. Staying close to home, really spending time in slow, careful observation. But at the same time, I feel compelled to go and see the most iconic sights. You know, the ones that have been shot a million times before from all different angles in every feasible lighting scenario. So yes, I want to see them, but realistically, what am I going to do that looks significantly different than the thousands of shots that already exist? 

Yes, I’ll visit those locations, but I’m not going to make it my focus. I will move slow, observe details and respond to the space that is closest to me, in order to make work that is most in tune with the park itself.

And on a final note, I am running a small pre-order of a few select items that I’ll be producing during the residency. Click here to take a look and find something you’d like to order.


I’m currently in post-production with all my images from the residency. It is a huge task to sort and select, and then select again before deciding which images will go all the way through to a final edit and eventual print or selection for the book. It’s been 2 weeks since I’ve been home and I’m just now getting to the place of doing a final editing run on some of my images.

screenshot of images I'm ending in lightroom
Screen shot of 5 images I was working on tonight

Tonight I was specifically working on the images that I will turn into engineer prints and give to 4 of my kickstarter backers. I’m glad to finally be fine tuning adjustments (yay for masking!) and I can’t wait until I see the final prints. If you don’t know, an engineer print is basically a giant xerox, so you end up with a black and white image that has a low-fi look. My images will be printed 3ft x 4ft and I’m pretty sure they’ll look awesome.

Next I’ll be working on finalizing the images that I’ll be giving to backers as inkjet prints. I’ll also be making all those images available for sale on my website.

Thanks for staying tuned.

Final Days at Rocky Mountain National Park

A starry night looking over Long’s Peak

These last few days at Rocky Mountain National Park have been just as magical as the rest. After completing the Chasm Lake trail on tuesday, Melissa, Jed and I have been driving and hiking around the park, making sure we visited everywhere we wanted to.

On Wednesday we did a 4 lake hike, starting with Bear lake, then up to Nymph, Dream and Emerald. It was about a 3.5 mile hike round trip, which Jed did a mile of by himself (the rest we had a kid carrier for). Each lake was a little different and each had pretty spectacular views. That night I gave my second artist talk a the Beaver Meadows visitor center auditorium. 68 people came and I had a lot of fun talking about my work, what I’ve been doing in the park, and giving a demo of large format photography.

Dream Lake looking towards Hallett and Flattop

Emerald Lake looking up to Hallett

Thursday we all drove through various stops in Horseshoe Park (where the park was originally opened in 1915) and then up Trail Ridge Road again to the Tundra Communities trail, which I hiked while Jed and Melissa napped in the car. That trail gave some spectacular views and gave access to some unique ecology and rock formations on the tundra. The wind was whipping however, with a sustained “breeze” of about 25 mph with gusts of 40 at least. It was pretty similar to being up at chasm lake again except that the sun was shining, so it felt quite a bit warmer.

In Horseshoe Park at the edge of the Alluvial Fan area.

Mushroom stones on the Tundra Communities Trail
Near the top of the Tundra Communities Trail

And today, our last full day in the park, we wanted to get out and see something new, so we drove down to the southern end of the park to Wild Basin and did a short hike to the picturesque Copeland Falls. Jed did a little fishing, we had a snack and I took some photos. It was a great little day trip and a fitting finale to our adventure. And now, the drive back home.

Aspen Leaves

Ascent to Chasm Lake

I had just a couple hikes I knew I wanted to do even before I came to RMNP.  One of those was the Flattop and Hallett hike, which I somewhat accidentally turned into an over-exhausting excursion. And the other I was able to accomplish today: Chasm Lake. This lake starts on the same trail as the famed fourteener, Longs Peak. However, rather than continuing to the summit, Chasm Lake sits at the base of Longs Peak’s imposing east facing wall (2,400 ft tall) known as the “diamond”.

Longs Peak from the edge of Chasm lake at about 5:30am.That’s the moon if you’re wondering.

I knew I wanted to do the hike, but in order to get really good photos, one has to get there at the right time of day. This meant that I needed to be at the lake no later than 5:45am. So, I set my alarm for 2am, drove to the trailhead and was on the trail by 3, hiking in the dark with my headlamp on, with my photo gear on my back. I know that may sound slightly crazy, but for people summiting Longs Peak, they typically leave between 2 and 3, so I actually passed quite a few people on the trail, even at that time.

The hike went as expected until I reached the tundra. At that point the trees disappeared and a cold wind started whipping across the mountainside. I’m not talking about a breeze, I mean gusts of at least 50 mph. A lot of the people who were trying to summit Longs Peak turned back, knowing the higher they got the stronger and more dangerous it would get. But since I was going to be hiking to Chasm lake, which sits down between several peaks, I figured I’d be missing a good part of the wind. I was wrong. If anything the wind got stronger. It roared down the canyon as I hiked and when I got the the lake at about 5am, gusts threatened to knock me over. I had to be very careful to make sure all of my equipment was weighed down, or it would have been blown away in a minute. Not only was the wind voracious, the temperature dropped. My thermometer was reading 40 f, and that’s not including the windchill. But despite all that I was able to find a little nook that was somewhat out of the bigger gusts and worked on my photos until about 7am, at which point I packed up and headed back down.

Chasm Lake and Longs Peak’s east facing wall.

It was an exhilarating hike, made more so by the weather, but I’m glad I was able to conquer it and get some unique photos in the process. Almost as soon as I was done shooting, some clouds moved in and cover the peaks, so I was fortunate to get the shots I did.

Looking back towards Longs on my descent.

And finally, I just wanted to include a few photos of some of the other things I’ve been seeing. Just a few days left before heading home. Here’s to making the most of them.

Spending time in an Aspen grove

I found these paper wasps near one place I was shooting. Amazing.

This mule deer has a pretty nice set of antlers.He was just having out by the road the other evening.

Up Close and Personal with Wildlife and the Great Outdoors

I’m just about halfway through, which has been just long enough to realize that I’d need at least twice the amount of time I have in order to do everything I want to. The park is incredible, the weather has been amazing (actually, I’m hoping for a good storm or two to come over the mountains…. we’ll see), and even the wildlife has been cooperating. The rangers had all been saying that this time of year the elk would be up high on the tundra, so our best chance would be to head up trail ridge road towards the alpine visitor center. Wednesday afternoon we loaded into the car to do just that, when not a quarter mile from our cabin we spotted a few elk. So we stopped the car and a herd of around 50 elk came strolling by right next to us, and down into Moraine Park, which the cabin overlooks. We could hear all the young, still spotted, elk practicing their bugle and watched the herd as it grazed the meadow.

The first part of the herd, crossing into Moraine Park

Later that evening I did the first of two artist presentations in the Auditorium. It was lots of fun and there was a great turnout of about 70 people! The next day the forecast looked especially good so I decided to do one of the more strenuous hikes I wanted to, from Bear Lake to Flattop Mountain and then on to Hallett Peak, which would have been about an 8 mile round trip with an elevation gain of around 3,000 ft. The hike up flattop and Hallett went great, and after talking to some other hikers at the top I decided to try an alternate way down rather than backtracking. I ended up doing about half of The next mountain over, Otis peak, but decided that for the sake of time and my energy I should just move on to the descent, which was going to be the fun part. Rather than hiking down a trail, this alternate descent involved sliding down Andrews Glacier to Andrews Tarn (glacial lake), and then picking up the trail (which involved lots of boulder hopping) from the lake back down to the Glacial Gorge trailhead.  So what had started as an 8 mile round trip turned into about a 12 mile loop and by the end I was exhausted and on the edge of dehydration. So, this may have been a good lesson in the pitfalls of over exertion, but I’m no worse for wear a day later, and now I’m a little more carefully planning my next bigger hike.

The view from the summit of Hallett Peak, towards Longs Peak.

I was happy to spot a bunch of Colorado Columbine throughout the day

One of the marmots I spotted, posing majestically.
The view Northeast from Hallett, toward Moraine Park

Andrews Glacier

On Friday we decided to actually head up Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor’s Center (The highest continuously paved highway in the US and the highest National Park visitor’s center in the US). There were of course lots of beautiful vistas, and there were some clouds rolling through that added a little drama to the skies, so it was a good day for a relaxing drive and taking in the sights. Jed bought himself a pair of binoculars, which he enjoyed using immensely. At the Alpine Visitor’s Center we hiked up the short trail to the very top of the mountain (12,005 ft.). While we were up there the clouds came in a little heavier, the wind picked up and the the temperature dropped about 20 degrees in the matter of minutes. I was, of course, taking my time taking some photos, but eventually we all hiked down and found some rest from the wind and cold in the cafe, just in time for lunch.

Jed loves his binoculars

Clouds rolling in by the Alpine Visitor’s Center

We’re at the top (and we’re cold!) 
Cloudy skies

Then, on the way back down Trail Ridge Road to our cabin, we spotted a big horned sheep very near the road. We parked and I got out to take a few shots but suddenly he started walking towards me, not in a meandering “I think I’ll walk this way now” kind of way, but more in a “you better move or you’ll be on the loosing end of these horns” attitude. So, I quickly backpedaled, but still managed to get a few closeups for my trouble.

Big Horned Sheep, up close and personal.

 Finally, right by our cabin there are a lot of smallish animals that frequent the porch and keep us entertained in the mornings and evenings. There are ground squirrels, chipmunks, a martin that we’ve heard chewing on the cabin but not seen (the ranger said it’s a martin) and several hummingbirds. Hopefully I’ll be able to gather some good photos of these furry little friends over this next week, but hummingbirds are not easy to keep up with.

One of our neighborhood hummingbirds

Rocky Mountain National Park: First Full Day

The first evening in the William Allen White Cabin

The Artist in Residence program here at Rocky Mountain National Park is awesome. Everyone is so nice and helpful, it really feels like the VIP treatment. I walked into the main, bustling visitor’s center my first day, expecting to have to explain to a couple people who I was and what I was doing there, but instead they recognized me as I walked in and greeted me with an enthusiastic “Hi Ben, we’re so glad you’re here!”. That is a nice way to start, I’ll be honest.

The William Allen White cabin is incredible. It’s spacious and perfectly situated on Moraine Park for incredible panoramic views. I am soaking it all in. You know how special a place is when one of the best views around is from your own front porch.

My First Day:

I got up for an early start today, (5:30) hoping to get a feel for the sunrise (not quite so easy to figure out when there are so many mountains around) and explore a couple of the more popular locations before the crowds. I’m told there’s been some moose around there too, so I’ll probably be back several times to try and catch a sight of some.
Then later this morning Melissa and Jed and I were able to go for a good 3.5 mile hike up a canyon along a picturesque stream. Jed got to ride in the pack most of the way, but we’ll break in his hiking legs soon I think.
So, here are just a few photos to give you a quick glimpse into the incredible landscape and experience. I don’t think I’ll be able to post something everyday, but maybe every other. There are just so many things to see and do in the park, it’s hard to pull myself away and look at a computer screen.
Jed’s enjoying the great outdoors.

Part of the view from the porch.

Sunrise at Sprague Lake 
After sunrise at Sprague Lake


This is the view from the bench at the visitor’s center where I am writing this post…. not too shabby. There is also some kind of swift or swallow (I’m no birder) building a nest right next to me.

Beaver Meadows Visitor Center

The Journey Begins

Very early tomorrow morning I will be setting off for Colorado and the residency that awaits at Rocky Mountain National Park. I am so blessed to have the opportunity (and not just me, my wife and son are coming along as well) and now my mind is racing to figure out how to make the most of the time. I of course have some planned projects, ideas for images I’d like to make and some experiments I’d like to try, but at the same time I know I need to leave myself and my time open for a slow, measured response to whatever the park presents while I’m there. So rather than having projects as a goal, I am instead focusing on how I can settle in, and live as part of the park. I will not be busy or hurried. Rather, I will be observant and responsive.

I’m so excited to be starting this journey (even the 4 day drive). I plan to post as often as possible while in the park, to keep you up to date with my experience.

My 2 weeks begin on Sunday.

Fully Funded Kickstarter Project


Fully funded for a residency in colorado

My Kickstarter campaign is now 100% funded, and it’s all thanks to my generous backers. The time was starting to wind down, I was beginning to get a little nervous, but then several backers jumped in and propelled me across the finish line! This is so exciting and encouraging to have you all on board.

Kickstarter 100% funded
So, I’d like to thank my most recent backers for supporting me in my residency project.
Jim & Ann Panter
Kelly Budesa
Neysa Hardin
Tom Panter
Robbie Reynolds

Thank you all so much (and all my earlier backers too!), I couldn’t do this without you.

Also, remember that I’ll have very limited connection to the internet during the residency, but I’ll do my best to do several updates during my time there to keep you all up to speed on the latest. It’s coming up soon, I’m so excited to begin!