Trip Report: Uinta Wanderings

hayden_peak_murdockThe views of Hayden Peak and ridge line from half way up Murdock Mountain. Smoky skies made it hard to get any decent shots on this trip. This was one of my favorite compositions from the trip, and I think will be a spot I visit in the future for some nice evening light.

It seem the more time I spend in the Uintas the more time I want to spend in the Uintas. While not as grandeur or as majestic as other mountain ranges in the west, the Uintas have a unique character that keeps me coming back for me. Arguably the best scenery in the Uintas is deeper into the range, but I continue to find the area along the Mirror Lake Highway beautiful in it’s own way.

On this particular day I decided to hit up some random lakes along the Mirror Lake Highway. My goal was to find a good composition for photographing Hayden Peak. I call Hayden Peak the sentinel of the Uintas. I am always taken with that peak, as you come up and over the summit near Bald Mountain it appears on the skyline as a gnarly and foreboding rock. Some day I want to climb it, but for now I will be content to photograph it.

The Highway was a zoo, I had never see so many people along the Trial Lake area. Cars were lined up along the Highway for a quarter mile up and down from Trial Lake. Ugh. The Uintas amaze me though, it’s very possible to find solitude and peace here, even when it seems all of Salt Lake City is up here fishing. The secret? Walking. A mere 5 minute stroll up any of the dozens of trails in the area will quickly put you on your own.

I started out at Butterfly Lake, a popular and busy lake. The views of Hayden Peak from here were pretty good, and there was a meadow with some incredible flowers just to the west of the Lake. It’s busy though, with a campground just South of the Lake.

butterfly_lake_flowersSome nice yellow flowers found in a boulder field just north of Butterfly Lake. 

Next up was Bud Lake. I saw one person camped on the shores of this lake. The water lilys were impressive, but the views of Hayden Peak was marginal at best.

Next up was Bonnie Lake. I saw no one at this lake the hour that I was here, despite the fact that it was a 5-10 minute walk from the road. There were some nice meadows west of the lake filled with Indian Paintbrush and Elephant Head flowers. The views of Hayden Peak from this area were really nice. There were several really good camp spots around the lake. I will definitely return here at some point, it would make an excellent camping spot with small children.

bonnie_lakeThe view of Hayden Peak from Bonnie Lake. You can see the nice flowers and lilys in this shot. The air was cloudy however and obscured most of the detail of the peak. 

Next up I decided to climb Murdock Peak, the rocky hill just south of Bald Mountain. The views from the top were nice, though the smoky air made it hard to see much of anything. It was a pretty easy climb up the talus slope to get to the wide flat summit. Someone had constructed a nice rock chair at the top. On my way down I found a grassy area that gave some really nice vistas of Hayden Peak.

hayden_peakThe view of Hayden Peak from the summit of Murdock Mountain. 

summit_chairMy summit chair at the top. Someone had a fire up here at some point. 

Next up, Ruth Lake. This is a really nice lake, though quite popular. A short 1 mile walk from the road. Ruth lake was surrounded by wildflowers, every edge of the lake seemed to be thick with Paintbrush, Lupines, and Elephant Head flowers. Water Lilys on the lake had bloomed with their nice yellow flowers.

ruth_lakeThe view from Ruth Lake. I love those lilys. 

Just a couple minutes north of Ruth Lake lies Naomi Lake. Another really pretty lake surrounded by thick fields of flowers. If I were backpacking this is where I would stay. Much fewer people than at Ruth Lake.

naomi_lakeNaomi Lake. I loved this field of flowers, it contained just about every type of my favorite flowers. 

Next I went cross country to an unnamed lake west of Naomi. No people. Next was Hayden Lake. This is a pretty lake. While it doesn’t have the views of  Hayden Peak that Ruth lake has, nor the wildflowers crowding it’s banks, the actual lake is much more scenic. There is a large talus slope to the west of the lake that I climbed and was given some nice views to the east. I saw one random person fishing here, but other than that had it to myself.

hayden_lakeThe view from up on the talus slope west of Hayden Lake. 

hayden_lake_flowersThere were lots of these little guys growing in the talus slope. I had never seen them before and have no idea what they are called. 

Next I hit up an unnamed lake North of Hayden. A pond more like it, but it was pretty with the towering talus slope of Lofty Peak to the South. Next another random unnamed lake to the east. I am starting to think it’s not possible for any one person to see every lake in the Uintas in their lifetime. That was it, 9 lakes, 1 peak, 10.2 miles. Only in the Uintas.

unnamed_lakeThe inlet stream to the unnamed lake North of Hayden Lake. Lofty Peak in the background, there is a lake up there on top…. maybe next time. 


Incredible Light Versus Good Light

albion_paintbrush_webAn example of good, not incredible light. Because of good subject matter and a strong composition I feel it makes an excellent photograph anyway. 

Landscape photographers are always chasing the light. That incredible light that lights up the sky in purples, reds, and oranges; that washes across the landscape and bathes everything in soft colorful light. We live for those moments, but for most of us those moments come rarely. With as much as I go out shooting I only get that type of light 2-3 times a year, and often it comes so quickly that I don’t adequately capture it. Incredible light is rare and it’s why photographers frequently go out in adverse weather conditions, that’s when this type of light is most likely to happen.

Good light on the other hand is much more common. While still not happening every time I go shooting  I probably get good light a quarter to a third of the time that I shoot. Good light is nice light but not mind blowing. It’s light that with the right skills, composition, and subject manner can produce a very pleasing image. With incredible light it seems you can simply point your camera anywhere and because the light is so amazing you have a great shot. With good light the photographer has to rely on their own composition skills and vision to make the shot happen.

In a lot of ways I find myself preferring shots with good light over incredible light. I know that it took more skill to create those shots. The images are also more believable. I look at them and know that if I were to visit that place, it shows a pretty good idea of what I could expect to see. They work because the photographer did their job and found beauty in otherwise pretty normal circumstances. I like that refreshing honesty in an image. I think if most photographers accepted that incredible light is indeed rare, that it is a gift not an entitlement, than we would see a lot less heavy editing, people trying to turn something into something it’s not with heavy doses of Photoshop. We would also see a lot fewer photographers running around grumbling about how the light isn’t good enough and ultimately getting no satisfaction from their photography, only frustration. I’m still chasing that light, but I’m also trying to learn to use the good light when it is given to me.


Trip Report: Horse Flats

serenity_webI’m always amazed how the same place can feel so different under different conditions. I have been here a dozen times, but it felt as unique on this morning as it did the first time I came up here. There is something to be said about getting intimately familiar with a location. 

I get excited whenever I see the weather forecasting a nice storm. inclement weather always provides the most interesting conditions for landscape photography. This last week we had a storm come through. I accordingly planned to hit up the mountains the following day, hoping that the effects of the storm would linger through the following morning. I headed up to Horse Flats on the Alpine Loop. It’s a nice meadow, with a great view of the sunrise, and is a pretty short hike, so I can get there and back and still be to work by 8 o’clock.

When I stepped out of the car at the trail head I was struck by the smell of the mountains after a rain storm. I don’t know what it is with that smell, but it calms my spirits and invigorates my mind like nothing else can. It’s a drug for me, I only wish I could bottle it up so I could take a deep breath of it when I am in the midst of the daily grinds of life.

I had a nice little walk up to the meadow. The clouds looked promising but as I got higher I realized that the horizon was completely blocked off with clouds, thus greatly reducing the chances of me getting a good light show. I wasn’t giving up yet however and I was able to find a nice little patch of flowers, setup my shot, and waited to see what would happen. I didn’t get the light show I wanted, but as has happened before mother nature had something different planned for me. About ten minutes later the meadow in front of me starting quickly filling up with fog. It rolled in within a minute and filled the entire lower portion of the meadow, it drifted around for a few minutes, and then blew out just as fast as it had come. So while I had wanting something dramatic with an explosion of color in the sky, I ended up with something that I think is actually a bit more special, a softer and more peaceful scene.