A Ride Above the Clouds

     After spending my entire adult life pondering getting a mountain bike but never actually doing it, this spring I finally made the jump and got myself a bike. It didn't hurt to get a nice discount as well. In shopping for a bike over the last few months, I was drawn to the fat bikes and I was able to get a good deal on a Diamondback El Oso. While the biking itself was something I was interested in as another way to maintain my fitness, I also had a vision of being able to use the bike to take myself to places for my photography that I might not necessarily get to otherwise. I soon had my eyes on one target in particular.

    Many of the National Parks across the U.S. have roads that are only open to auto traffic seasonally, often closing for months at a time during the winter. This usually does not mean that they are closed to all access however. Usually you are allowed access on foot throughout the year, and in some cases they will be open to bicycles for an extended time period before and after the road is open to all traffic. Always be sure and check with the specific park for details. The two such roads in Rocky Mountain National Park operate this way. Both Trail Ridge Road & Old Fall River Road open to bicycle traffic on April 1st, usually weeks or months before opening to autos, and will stay open to bicycles until November 30, almost always weeks past when they close to auto traffic. After purchasing my bike this spring, I wanted to take advantage of this and ride on Trail Ridge before it opened for cars. Now I'm not one of those super fit cyclists that will ride it all the way from the bottom, wind or no wind. Spring can be a particularly windy time in the mountains, so I waited for a Sunday morning where the forecast was relatively calm, and I also waited into May long enough so that the closure point on the road had been elevated to Rainbow Curve to make my elevation gain to the tundra as manageable as possible. The morning of May 20, which as it turned out was just 4 days before the road completely opened for the season, all of these conditions finally came together well enough that I made the decision to go for it.

     As is my usual practice, I wanted to be up in the park for sunrise, both to have the opportunity to see it as well as stay ahead of the crowds. While the forecast for that morning was for very light winds, it was expected to be cloudy with possibly even some rain later in the morning, another reason to be out early. Arriving at the Rainbow Curve parking just before sunrise, it was completely closed in with the clouds. There was no view to be seen here at all. My alarm had gone off at 3:30 that morning, so I was a bit tired to say the least. The thought crossed my mind that if the views were going to be completely closed in with clouds that maybe this wouldn't even be worth it. But, if you've read my blog before you know that one of my driving forces in my photography is to get out there anyway. As long as I feel safe, I'll head out in a lot of less than ideal conditions to try and get some unique photos. It turned out this morning was going to be a spectacular example of that. After spending about half an hour laying back in the seat of my truck, catching a little extra rest and pondering the situation, I finally got myself together, hopped on the bike, and headed past the gate and up the road into the unknown. The elevation, the relentless climb, the bike with the big tires that wasn't quite in its natural environment, the backpack of camera gear that I was carrying with me, all these things conspired to lead me to take a momentary break about a mile or so up the road where a small view of the hillside in the clouds also looked somewhat interesting. All of the sudden, or so it seemed in the moment, the clouds around me started to break up and views of an inversion began to open up all around me. Clouds filled the valleys with mountain peaks poking through. As the sun began to shine through, the white bow captured in the photo above arced across the road. I had no idea what it really was at the time, but I knew it looked amazing and I had to capture it. The first photos I took included my bike where I had left it in the road, the best of those is at the bottom of this post. I had no idea how long this would last, and I didn't want to miss it. After catching that photo, I retrieved my bike and took more, the best of those is above. And then, in a couple minutes, it was gone. Researching after I got home, I discovered that this phenomenon is called a cloud bow, and is alternately known as a fog bow or white rainbow. It is somewhat uncommon. and was something that I had never seen before, but I would see many more examples of this in the inversion throughout the morning. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you've seen more of my photos of this morning, but suffice it to say this was not the only special moment I saw. The experience was mostly all mine as well, as for most of the morning there was no one else around. I rode up as far as the Forest Canyon Overlook, taking in the excellent views there, and then headed back down to return to my truck. It was only in the last couple miles that I began to encounter other people coming up the road as well.

     Being able to find your ways into these areas with limited seasonal access is a great way to have unique experiences such as this, and its not the first time this has happened for me. I'm sure it won't be the last. It's been a busy spring, and I haven't been writing as much here on my blog, but I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things sharing my experiences and my latest news. If you haven't signed up for my email list yet, you can do that by entering your email address in the subscribe box right here. You'll receive a new customer discount code as a thank you for signing up. If email isn't your thing, you can also sign up to receive my updates via Facebook Messenger. Just click that link, and you'll get the same benefit there as well. If you're enjoying following my posts here on my blog, don't forget to follow me on Facebook & Instagram as well. You'll often see my newest photos there first. Thanks for following along!