Best of 2021

For the past few years, I have done a countdown at the very end of the year of my Facebook & Instagram accounts of my most popular photos of the year, based on the engagement I have gotten when I have posted my new work throughout the year. While I did do that again at the end of 2021, I decided to put together a video for my YouTube channel to share those as well and share a little bit of the stories behind them. For those of you who would rather read the stories, I've put together this blog post as well. I hope you'll enjoy these great memories from 2021. Let's get started!

Many Parks Milky Way

This photo came in at #10, I call it Many Parks Milky Way. It was captured on a summer evening in late July at the Many Parks Curve Overlook in Rocky Mountain National Park. This view looks across the valleys of the eastern park of Rocky towards Longs Peak in the distance. Light from Estes Park creeps in from the left reflecting off of some thin clouds as well as a layer of wildfire smoke hanging in the air. We were fortunate to have a pretty quiet wildfire season in Colorado in 2021, but some from fires in other locations across the west still drifted into our airspace throughout the summer. I did find on summer nights that by heading up into the high mountains of Rocky I could get above the smoke layer in the air and still get views of the stars like this one.

Moving on to #9, this photo is called Under the Stars in the Land of the Earthborn Spirits. This is from a weekend I took my whole family up to an area in southern Wyoming called Vedauwoo. Located between Cheyenne & Laramie, it is an area with many large rock formations, many of them jumbled together and piled up in interesting ways. The Arapaho called this place the Land of the Earthborn Spirits, and so I used that in my title as well. I took this photo right from behind our tent in our campsite. Despite its close proximity to I-80, this place has very dark skies that showed the pink & green airglow very well. It's a beautiful spot that I will definitely return to again.

Looking Out from an Island in the Sky

This photo comes in at #8, I call it Looking Out from an Island in the Sky. This was captured at the Green River Overlook in Canyonlands National Park. It is a composition that I had been wanting to try for a couple of years, but even though I had made trips out to Moab during that time circumstances had just never worked out. Coming up to the first weekend in October I was looking at the weather and found less than ideal conditions along the Front Range, but clear skies in the forecast for the Moab area. I decided to get in my car for a blitz across the mountains to take advantage of the opportunity. I left home in the morning, made the drive out to Moab arriving as the sun was going down, got the shot out at Canyonlands, found a place to camp to sleep for a few hours, and the back across the mountains home the next day. It was a bit exhausting, but I was able to capture the shot that I was hoping for so I think it was worth it.

Colorful Colorado Sunset

We continue on with #7, a Colorful Colorado Sunset. This photo was captured on a beautiful spring evening in May at one of my favorite hometown spots, McIntosh Lake in Longmont, CO. This lake has beautiful views of the mountains, including Longs Peak, and on this evening the peaks had a layer of fresh snow on them that added to the glow of the sunset color. This is often a go-to spot for me when I see the clouds developing in an advantageous manner for sunset, and on this evening it all came together. I even had a duck swim by on the lake during an opportune moment. I love it when a plan comes together!

Under the Stars on Mount Evans

Moving on to #6, this one is Under the Stars on Mount Evans. This is another composition I have had my eye on for a few years, but it can only be done late in the summer and in 2020 Mount Evans was closed to cars altogether during the pandemic. The summit of the mountain is a popular place to photograph the night sky, there even used to be an observatory up there. The composition I had been planning was instead from the shore of Summit Lake about 1,300 feet below the summit, looking back towards the top of the mountain with the Milky Way ideally looking like it was shooting straight out the top. If we were fortunate maybe we would even get a calm night to get a reflection in the lake. Finally, over Labor Day weekend, I saw what looked like a good weather forecast and the opportunity to try was here. I ventured up to the summit with friends for sunset, and then back down to the lake to try the shot. While we did not get the calm needed for a reflection, the clarity of the night sky at that high elevation was noticeable to all of us. It was a beautiful night up in the mountains, and another goal (mostly) accomplished. I'll just have to keep trying for that reflection....

The Mountain Hunter

Moving into the top 5, we arrive at this photo of Orion I call the Mountain Hunter. This was one of my first photography adventures of the year, and like others here largely steered by the weather. I had been chasing a composition of Orion up in Rocky Mountain National Park, but the weather there looked poor and so I changed direction to an opening in the clouds that was appearing down by Buena Vista, CO. Only that window of opportunity was appearing on the night of the Super Bowl.... What was I to do but head up into the mountains immediately after the game to chase the composition. This wasn't actually the first plan I had in mind that night, but my first location had too much light spilling into the sky from Buena Vista so we had to move on to this spot that I had identified as a plan B just in case. Although a bit rushed as Orion was slipping towards the horizon behind Mount Antero, this still came out well and became a popular shot. It's amazing how much detail you can capture in the night sky in a place that is really dark.

A Path to the Stars

Moving up to #4, this is a photo I call a Path to the Stars. It was captured on another summer night up in Rocky Mountain National Park, the peak night of the Perseid Meteor Shower in August. While in years past I had traveled farther for the peak of the meteor shower, in 2021 I decided to stay close to home and just head up into Rocky for the evening. I have found that even in strong meteor showers trying to captures of the meteors can be a tricky thing, so I've pivoted to just finding compositions of the Milky Way that I like and if a meteor decides to sneak in all the better. On this night I didn't end up having that happen, but I still found this composition that I liked of this hiking trail heading towards the galaxy in the frame. There's a hint of that wildfire smoke on the horizon again, but the dark skies above show off a bit of airglow in this photo too.

An Autumn Morning at the Chapel on the Rock

Arriving at #3, this photo is An Autumn Morning at the Chapel on the Rock. The St. Catherine's Chapel on the Rock in Allenspark, CO, is a place I had photographed often. I'd been there for many sunrises before and even photographed it at night, but I had never quite gotten a photo there that was representative of the spot for me. Driving past on an afternoon last fall, I noticed that the brush around the chapel had turned bright yellow for fall, so I decided to make another morning trip up for a sunrise again. Instead of shooting from the roadside as I had often done, I decided to get down lower by the little stream to try and add a reflection to the foreground of the scene. Then it was just the waiting to see if the sunrise light would manifest itself. Sure enough, at the moment of truth the warm glow of the rising sun lit up Mount Meeker in the background as well as casting its warm glow on the stones of the chapel. And I got my reflection too. It was a beautiful scene.

Night in the Black

Nearing the top, here we are at #2. This photo is called Night in the Black. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is another place that I had been wanting to visit for a few years, and this was the composition I had always had in mind. In 2021 I decided to save the space in my calendar to visit there with some friends at the most advantageous time for this capture, over Memorial Day weekend. It turn out that even the least visited National Park in Colorado can still be pretty busy over a holiday weekend, but that was hardly our biggest challenge. Cloudy weather brought a lot of doubt as to whether this shot would be possible, but we decided we had come all this way so we might as well try it. There was still some patience required, and the clouds never did fully clear away as you can see in this photo, but I still think it turned out well. The memory if standing on the edge of the abyss in the stillness, with the roar of the Gunnison River roaring through the canyon far below, is not one I will soon forget.

Painted Wall Sunrise

We've finally arrived at #1, with this photo I call Painted Wall Sunrise! This is from my trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park as well, but came with less advance planning than the Milky Way photo. As the time neared for the trip I used my planning apps to work through what might be some good sunrise or sunset options in the park. I ended up settling on the Painted Wall, viewed from its main viewpoint on the South Rim, to be the most advantageous spot for this time of year. After scouting the day before, we headed back out to the overlook in the peacefulness of the early morning to try and capture the scene. This photo was actually captured during the warm pre-dawn glow before the sun actually breaks the horizon, and it ended up being my favorite from the morning. It also became an overwhelming favorite for my most engaging photo on my social media in 2021.

I'm also including my YouTube video embedded at the bottom of this post so you can share the experience that way as well. If you enjoy watching it I hope you'll subscribe to my channel so you don't miss all the great experiences I have coming up to share soon. If you enjoy sharing in the experiences of adventures like these, I hope you'll sign up for my email newsletter if you haven't already. You can subscribe right here on this blog post, or click my newsletter signup link at the top. New subscribers get a new customer discount coupon as a thank you for signing up. Don't forget to follow me on Facebook & Instagram too. Thanks for checking out what I do, and I hope you'll keep following along!