The Milky Way at Sprague Lake

It was a very cold, dark night, but we were determined. We had been at the crime scene earlier that day, but wanted, no needed to experience it at night. Okay, there was no crime. But it was cold and dark. Very dark.

Earlier that morning, Alex Santiago and I had experienced an incredible sunrise at Sprague Lake in the Rocky Mountain National Park. When we arrived in the dark, we saw some photographers Alex had met at the lake last year. What were the odds they would be out at the same location, on the same day and tim? Jim Doty and his friends were a great group to join up with too. As we took our sunrise images, they shared how they had been at the lake a previous night and how the conditions were perfect for shots of the Milky Way. Say no more.

However, later that evening, after a long day of shooting, I had secretly wanted us to stay in and rest, but I’m so glad we didn’t. We returned to the lake well after dark to a moonless, clear sky. The higher altitude in the mountains with no light pollution only helped. I remember getting out of the truck and immediately being able to see the Milky Way across the entire sky, and my eyes had not even adjusted to the dark yet. Wow, quite a sight to see for someone living in the suburbs!

The one downside is that it was so dark, that hardly anything would work for a foreground object.  We tried to “light paint” a few trees using flashlights with mixed success. My favorite image was this first image of the star reflections on the lake itself.


Milky Way at Sprague Lake. Photo by Tim Stanley



Milky Way at Sprague Lake. Photo by Tim Stanley

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Pano

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a place like no other. When I first heard that we might stop there on our trip, I was very neutral. I figured it would be somewhere I would just check off my list of places I’ve been too. It turned out to be one of my favorites stops on our trip.

When you first view the dunes at a distance, they seem small and thin, but they quickly grow in size as you drive towards them. They appear as a mountain range of sand, lying alongside another mountain range. With heights of over 750 feet, it is a sight to behold. We arrived a few hours before sunset. When the low sun was still out, it offered great contrast and detail to the dunes. As fate would have it, the clouds got the better of the sun. The shaded light brought it’s own uniqueness to the landscape; not better or worse, just different.

We climbed to the top of one of the smaller and closer sand dunes, and just sat and soaked it all in. The quietness is what struck me as much as the serenity of it all. It makes you realize how small you really are, but in a good way.

I can truly say that I hope to return one day and take the time to hike in deeper and go “sand boarding” down a few dunes. Maybe camp the night and try some night astrophotography there too, as it is one of the darkest parks in the country.  It’s definitely on my return-trip list.

This is one of the panographs taken while there. It turned out to be 34,656 x 3,516 pixels. That is a 12 foot print at 240 dpi. The file is just too large to upload, so I split it into a 3 image series, shown below.



Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Pano - Part 1



Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Pano - Part 2



The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Pano - Part 3


Here is a “thumbnail” version of the entire pano.

Great Sand Dunes pano - lo res

Elk Alert

On my recent trip to Colorado, there were a few animals I was hoping to see. Though I didn’t see any moose or bear, I did have the opportunity to see a number of elk.

On our first day in Rocky Mountain National Park, we heard an elk bugling, then saw it from a distance. It walked out into an opening, which gave me a chance to grab these images. It would later walk behind our truck, but shooting out the window did not prove advantageous.  The following morning, we even drove pass a herd just outside of Estes Park, which apparently is the norm for this time of year. Until you see it in person though, you don’t realize how large and beautiful this animal really is.


An elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Tim Stanley.


An elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Tim Stanley.


An elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Tim Stanley.

Golden Valley

For a guy from the flat lands of the Gulf coast, it seems like everywhere you turn in Colorado, the view is breathtaking. One of the best views is a stretch on Highway 82 between Aspen and Twin Lakes, known as Independence Pass. Our trip took us almost three hours just to drive the 20 miles to the top; not because of traffic or anything, but because we were pulling over for photo opportunities. The day we went, the clouds were clinging to the top of the mountains, like a smokey veil. While the colors may not have been as vibrant as a sunny day, it had a peaceful sense of wonder, yet mystery.

This panoramic scene was taken just leaving Aspen on a small bridge just off of 82. It was a great way to start our trip up Independence Pass.


Golden Valley by Tim Stanley

Colorado Gold

I recently had the great opportunity to travel to Colorado for a week and it came just in time.

It’s been a busy year. Just like most of you, our daily lives have a way of dictating what we do with what little free time we might have. Our jobs, family responsibilities, quality time with the family, chores and even the time it takes to walk the dog, all eats away at our limited free time. For me, it’s been all these and more as to why I haven’t shot and posted as many photos as I had hoped to this year. I felt like a fish out of water. Then came Alex.

My friend Alex Santiago asked if I wanted to travel to Colorado and visit some of the national parks in late September. We would be hitting “color week” when the aspens turn gold. There was only one correct answer.  I’ll share some stories of our trip in future posts, but suffice to say that it was a super week and we had a great time. I have always had a love for the mountains, and this trip only solidified that desire to go back.

While in Rocky Mountain National Park, this view along the one mile path to Alberta Falls was the norm all morning. Gold was everywhere in the mountains.



Colorado Gold