I am always wracking my brain for something interesting to write about. I’ve been writing this blog, Image Colorado for several years now, and prior to that I published another website named “Have Camera Will Travel.” I’m not maintaining as high a profile on the internet these days. Having retired from commercial photography in 2017, I’ve found my peace and pace of life. I don’t have the readership that I used to enjoy but I’ll probably continue this blog for the foreseeable future. I’ve given up on the idea of being a “consumer advocate” and writing gear head articles, though I still get off the rails from time to time. The blog will stay about me and my adventures in photography, however boring that becomes as I grow older.
I began 2021 like everyone else, hunkering down, lamenting the effects of the COVID pandemic, not knowing what, if anything I would be able to accomplish with my photography throughout the year. I’ll finish up the year by writing about my photographic adventures from this past year, 2021. Seems a fitting topic with the New Year rapidly approaching.
My stock photography pursuits were ever present. In 2021 I managed to make 281 new stock photos. Not a very high number when compared to previous years, my lowest stock photo production since 2011 as a matter of fact. I do feel as though I was able to do enough work to keep my sanity and I did check off a few bucket list photography goals this past year.
I wheeled and dealed a lot of photography gear throughout the year and have whittled my kit down to the bare necessities in preparation for my inevitable switch to a mirrorless system. I don’t see that switch happening in the next year or two. The gear I have now will suffice for the time being.
As I do most years, I generally begin my photography pursuits with local outings for wildlife. My most frequent winter venue is the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, northeast of Denver. Deer, bison, coyote, hawks and eagles are the normal subject matter. The Arsenal is also an excellent location to make photographs of skies, which I import in to Photoshop to use on some of my stock photo edits.
I began the year in pursuit of bison at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Photographing bison at the Arsenal is a hit and miss prospect. I normally try to visit the refuge when there is snow. Bison in snow shots seem to sell well so I am always looking to add that subject matter to my portfolio. The fact there was very little snow over the winter of 2020/2021 made for few interesting bison images. It didn’t keep me from trying though.
There is a place near my home called Belmar Park that has two different lakes and it’s often a worthy trip in the winter and early spring to photograph the water fowl and other birds that typically nest there. The park used to have several great blue heron nests, however, time and bad weather has thinned out the trees on the island in the lake so the blue heron pickings are getting thin. I’m going to have to find a new place next year, as things are not improving at Belmar over time.
In March, I was able to make my annual trip to Monte Vista, Colorado with my friend Jim Esten to photograph the Sandhill Crane migration. This year I was concentrating on “blast off” photographs and was successful.
With the exception of an occasional spring blizzard, Monte Vista is consistently interesting when the Sandhill Cranes migrate through the region each year in early March. It has long been one of my staple photography trips that I try very hard to not miss.
After finishing the Sandhill Crane migration, I had a little down time at home. March and April are typically snowy months here in Denver so I had to wait until the snow had melted enough to make a trip into South Park to look for Pronghorn Antelope.
Pronghorn have been another bucket list item for me for many years. I’ve photographed them off and on when given the opportunity, but this year I decided to add them as an annual adventure. I made my first concerted effort with my friend Tim Meseros and we hit pay-dirt.
Where there are pronghorn, there are also other critters. If one is patient enough, one gets a few shots of them as well.
My next photographic trip on the schedule was with the company of my good friend Jonathan Steele of Connecticut to photograph the wild horses of Sandwash Basin and to get some landscape work done in Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado. Jonathan and I have made a number of trips over the last 5-6 years, but the Pandemic cut in to our ability to do much together in 2020.
I’ve been well aware of Sandwash Basin’s wild horse population for many years. I was even in the planning stages of hosting photography workshops at the Basin around 10 years ago, but circumstances prevented me from completing that plan. Still, the wild horses have been on my bucket list in the time since. Jonathan and I were originally going to make the trip in May of 2020 but the Pandemic put a halt to that. 2021 was the year though. Jon and I managed to travel to Northwest Colorado near the town of Craig and finally get it done. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable trips we’ve done together in hindsight.
Our first task on the Sandwash Basin trip was to visit the Cameron Peak Wildfire (2020) burn area west of Red Feather Lakes on our drive to Craig. The Cameron Peak wildfire was the largest wildfire in the history of Colorado and it occurred in the wilderness area where I normally do my moose photography. I was quite anxious to see it and the damage it had done. I needed to assess the damage and my prospects for moose photography later in the summer.
As it turned out, it was bad. Worse than I had envisioned as a matter of fact. The fire burned to within 2 miles of my cabin and the damage done to the wilderness and pristine forest west of my cabin was devastating. About 1/3 of the moose habitat in this area of Northern Colorado was now a wasteland.
Between my trips and outings, I spent a great deal of time relaxing (hunkering down) on my back porch with a camera ready for urban critter activity. One thing I always look forward to is the arrival of the honey bees in my bee garden. This year was a good year for the bees. We had plenty of them and they stayed a long time. And, I took a lot of photos just to pass the time.
We generally have our cabin up and running by the end of May and by late June I’ve already begun looking for the moose. The moose activity this past summer had been disrupted by the Cameron Peak Wildfire, but I did manage to make several trips into the high country and I did figure out where to find them despite the road closures and habitat disruption caused by the fire. I’m happy to report that the moose are doing fine and I was even able to organize a group moose outing in August with my friends. I’m looking forward to 2022 and getting back out into the wilderness. The highlight of my year.
In early September the Union Pacific Railroad broke out their “Big Boy” locomotive and took it on a tour around the mid-western United States. My buddy Tim and I took a couple of days and chased it from Kansas back to Denver across the prairie. I’ve been a train nut since I was a kid playing with HO gauge model trains in my basement. I had a fairly elaborate model railroad in my teenage years. I guess I’ll never lose that little boy in me and I’m happy to report that my grandson Andrew has the same passion I do for the vintage railroads.
Chasing the Union Pacific Big Boy was eye opening for me. The drive across rural Kansas and Colorado revealed the extent of economic distress that parts of rural America are experiencing.
One of the many challenges Tim and I experienced during this particular trip was finding legitimate food. Most of the restaurants along highway 40 from Colorado to Kansas were closed, as in out of business closed. Town after town, nothing. Sharon Springs, Kansas seemed to have the best possibilities of eating a hot cooked meal. Otherwise, one was going to have to eat at gas stations from the selections of microwave delights, or hot dogs rolling on the roller cookers next to the coffee pots filled with 5 hour old coffee.
It being the pandemic and all, we were doing our best to avoid crowded areas but our selections were minimal. One evening after driving around in the middle of nowhere for hours scouting for train photo locations, we had to make the 35 mile run to Sharon Springs to look for what turned out to be about the only restaurant for 100 miles serving hot food from a menu at a table, The Farmhouse.
The Farmhouse deserves mentioning as it was a dining experience that symbolizes most of the dining experiences I had throughout the year while traveling and doing my photography. Almost everywhere I’ve traveled throughout the year, the restaurants that used to be staple stopping points have dried up, gone under, or reduced their hours to the point that they aren’t practical to visit during the hours when I’m most likely to be looking for food. The pandemic has destroyed the rural restaurant world. Those that have survived have turned into over-crowded diners and grills as there simply is no alternative. If one is going to travel in rural Kansas or Colorado, one must be prepared to gorge on a steady supply of cheeseburgers and fries, as that is what turns out to be the most compelling meal for them to serve.
The Farmhouse though, is billed as a family “home cooked meal” venue and their menu selection is far more broad than just cheeseburgers and fries. After a brief wait to be seated, we were escorted to one of the booths at the front of the restaurant, through a crowd of local farmers and truckers, all sitting at tables so close together as to make it impossible to determine where one group turned into another. Nobody in the restaurant was wearing a mask, nor did they seem to even be slightly aware of what social distancing in the throws of a pandemic actually involved. Tim and I quickly realized that if we were going to catch COVID, this would be where it happened.
Following the waitress to our table, I couldn’t help but notice that virtually everyone in the restaurant was being served chicken fried steak. When asked what we would like to eat, I of course said “chicken fried steak. seems to be the favorite here.”
“We’re all out, you’ll have to order something else” she said.
“errr, uhhh, okay then, I’ll take a cheeseburger and fries”
It’s the story of my dining life on the road these days. At least we got our hot meal and we didn’t contract COVID.
In late September, my wife Trudy and I were able to take a road trip to South Dakota together. It’s been difficult for us to do any type of travel together for the past 6-7 years, as we are caregivers for Trudy’s 95 yr old mother and one of us has to stay behind to keep an eye on her. Trudy’s older sister Sharon helped us a bit and came out to Colorado to spend a couple of weeks covering for us, which gave us the chance to meet up with some friends from Red Feathers in Custer, SD.
I promised Trudy that I wouldn’t turn our trip to Custer into a photography trip, it was going to be just us and our friends hanging out together. I did take a camera though. One of our tourist excursions was to visit Mt. Rushmore. So, yeah, I brought the camera and took the photo and sent it to the stock agencies. Trudy was good with that.
My final serious photographic endeavor for the year was to photograph bighorn sheep. My friend Jonathan Steele and I were chatting one day and as is typical, we both tend to get bored around the same times. I suggested he make the trip out to Colorado and spend a few days photographing the bighorn sheep, something he has never really done to a great degree. Jon did come out for a few days in mid November and we struck pay dirt in the mountains west of Denver. It was great to get another trip in with him and the bighorn activity was as good as it ever has been this year.
So now, I’m hunkered down in my office on Christmas Eve, working on this article and formulating ideas for what I’ll be doing in 2022.
I do have a trip to Yellowstone planned for late January and early February. I’m hopeful that the Omicron phase of the pandemic will not foul things up and that I’ll get to spend a little more camera time with my buddy Jon on that trip. I’ll probably be going back to Monte Vista in March, but I haven’t nailed that down yet. 2022 is looking to be another pandemic year and I fully expect it to put a crimp in my activity. But I won’t let it deter me.
So that’s it for 2021. I hope all my readers are doing well and I’ll leave you with this thought.
Happy New Year