Favorite 15 Photos of 2015

During the New Year’s holiday, it’s a tradition among shutterbugs who are members of online communities like Rocky Mountain Nature Photographers and Front Range Wildlife Photographers to share lists of their personal favorite images from the previous year. Thank you to all of the friends and family, new and old, who have made this year’s rather diverse list possible for me. This is especially dedicated to you. Here are my favorite 15 photos of 2015, plus five more, making the list equal 20. Hmm, 20,15, get it? Enjoy!

Dallas Divide, San Juan Mountains

Dallas Divide, San Juan Mountains

The San Juan Range near Ridgway, Colorado rarely disappoints when it comes to fall colors. Even though I arrived late to the party (the start of the second week in October) there was plenty of autumn goodness to capture with my camera in 2015. This was the only morning I had any clouds to work with at sunrise during my shoots in the region, however. When I took this photo, I was surprised to have had this particular overlook to myself. Of course, about a minute later two large vans pulled over, parked, and an outpouring of photographers from a workshop scattered around me to set up their tripods. For five minutes the group frantically clicked their shutters as the clouds turned from the pink color you see here to a deep yellow. Then, just as the sun rose from over the peaks to the east, the group packed up their gear and sped away, leaving me again alone to photograph the light beginning to shine on the aspen trees below the mountains – which also produced some shots as amazing as this one that the dozen or so workshop attendees would have also witnessed if they had just spent a little more time at the location.

Downtown Denver from above Interstate 25

Downtown Denver from above Interstate 25

Even since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated with the tall buildings of downtown Denver. I got to work on a photo essay about the city’s skyscrapers this year which led me to research some of the best spots to see and photograph the skyline. This bridge over the Interstate isn’t exactly a secret (some photographically-inclined visitors strategically cut holes to poke lenses through from a chain-link fence lining the bridge) but it does provide one of my favorite views from north of downtown to look toward the central business district, and use a long exposure to blur automobile headlights and taillights. It was also a lucky circumstance to have a game going on at Coors Field that night which provided more light.

Dean Coombs, Publisher of the Saguache Crescent

Dean Coombs, Publisher of the Saguache Crescent

The Saguache Crescent, a weekly newspaper in the San Luis Valley, might be the world’s last publication printed with antique Linotype machines. For those who aren’t print media nerds like me and don’t know what Linotype is, check out this video to get a sense of how it works. It’s a labor-intensive process to put out a paper to say the least, as CBS Sunday Morning also found out, but the residents of Saguache sure appreciate getting their local news paired with breakfast at the 4th Street Diner & Bakery. Getting to spend a morning watching publisher Dean Coombs work on the machines his family has used for generations was a rewarding experience… especially when I think I have tough deadlines to deal with.

Black Footed Ferret Recovery Center

Black Footed Ferret Recovery Center

Black Rhinos, Bengal Tigers, Mountain Gorillas and other species get a lot of deserved attention for their critically endangered status, but there are few creatures in the world as endangered as the black footed ferret, a denizen of the Great Plains right here in our own country. The good news is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as a partnership of museums, zoos, state wildlife agencies and private landowners have worked together in less than 30 years to breed 18 individual ferrets found in a Wyoming colony (before the 1981 discovery of the colony, the species was thought to be extinct) and begin reintroducing a growing population into the wild. It’s a miraculous story of survival. I had the good fortune to witness a release of ferrets at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge east of Denver last fall and visit the Recovery Center in Northern Colorado where ferrets are bred and trained to hunt in the wild. I hope to be visiting there again for more images this coming year.

Butterfly Pavilion

Butterfly Pavilion

Break out the 105mm macro lens. Yay! I visited the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster for a story about how Colorado residents can bring the weird bugs they find in their gardens to entomology experts who will help identify the insects or arachnids. Colorado Life Magazine published a photo of a tarantula in the palm of one of the expert’s hands but I also got the opportunity to just roam the Butterfly Pavilion for shots of children joyfully chasing butterflies or simple close-ups like this one.

Bent's Old Fort

Bent’s Old Fort

After spending the night in La Junta following an assignment, I got up early the next morning to visit Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site nearby. First light made the adobe walls of the reconstructed fort glow with a beautiful orange hue. Plus, the park service likes to park a photogenic array of carts and wagons just outside, which doesn’t hurt when it comes to adding drama to the photo.

Canada Geese at Fossil Creek Park, Fort Collins

Canada Geese at Fossil Creek Park, Fort Collins

In late winter and early spring I spent a few weekends messing around with a 400mm f/2.8 lens I bought on eBay. I was mostly testing its autofocus speed on wading and flying waterfowl, getting some photos of iridescently-feathered ducks during trips to local lakes. This one of common Canada Geese stood out because the varied phases required for the birds to make a water landing somehow harmoniously all appeared in a single photo (these are different geese, not a multiple exposure of one). As a bonus, the focus of the lens had locked on quickly during this test.

Charles Rockey, Manitou Springs

Charles Rockey, Manitou Springs

Artist Charles Rockey is one of the most interesting characters I met during my travels this year. There’s no guessing why he’s one of the most recognizable individuals in Manitou Springs. Even within the large mural inside the entrance to the city’s public library, you can catch a glimpse of a painting depicting him walking his dog. In his studio, I got the chance to peruse his new book Love Songs of Middle Time, which has taken more than a decade to produce and is a magnificent collection of artwork and prose. It fits the genre of the illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages more than anything printed in the modern era, but if you’re a lover of fantasy, fables or science fiction, you’d love his book. Manitou Springs has definitely influenced Rockey’s work and appears in impressionistic fashion in many of his paintings, like the one in the background of this portrait.

Estes Park Clouds

Estes Park Clouds

I’ve had an unusual daily commute over the past few years. Driving between Loveland and Estes Park exposes a motorist to construction zones to repair roads torn apart from the 2013 floods, bighorn sheep that like to lick salt from the middle of the highway and tourists who ride the brakes out of fear that every curve might send them careening into the Big Thompson River. Once in a while,  arriving to the gateway town of Rocky Mountain National Park pleasantly surprises. Here’s a photo of fog perfectly framing Fairchild Mountain and Sundance Buttress; one of those few and far between moments when enduring the voyage with white knuckles clenching my steering wheel actually seemed worth it.

Dillon Open Regatta

Dillon Open Regatta

The one day I was able to attend the Dillon Open Regatta in Summit County this year was cut short by an intense thunderstorm. Bummer, since all the sailors I talked to said the previous day had amazing weather with the perfect amount of wind and some dramatically competitive finishes. Despite that, I still got a really neat shot of racers maneuvering around a mark just before the darkening sky and swirling winds stopped the race a few minutes after this was taken.

Steamboat Springs Town Story

Fly Fishing on the Yampa River, Steamboat Springs

Timing, timing, timing. This year in Steamboat Springs I rode a gondola in a lightning storm, stayed at the shadiest hotel in town and was never able to connect with a ridiculously busy rancher who was a central part of the story I was working on. I also met a lot of cool people, especially the proprietors of the F.M. Light & Sons store and Howelsen Ice Arena. Here’s one of those cool moments. I noticed this fly fisherman while I was walking on a bridge over the Yampa River just before sunset. I watched and waited, taking a few photos along the way, to see if maybe, just maybe, he might catch something, even if the river wasn’t giving him much to work with.

Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Paint Mines Interpretive Park

This is probably my favorite place to photograph the Paint Mines, a still relatively undiscovered geological formation in El Paso County. It gives an expansive view of the weird hoodoos, unlikely carved from the earth under this prairie east of Colorado Springs. There’s even a bench to rest your legs and drop your pack of camera gear here. It’s fitting that the lead hiker was wearing a tie-dye shirt when I took the shot. Wondrous color. Just watch out for the horned lizards that squirt blood from their eyes.

San Luis

San Luis

While working on a story about San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado (it says so on the mountain), I woke up just before sunrise one morning to get a photo of La Vega, a communal pasture that dates back the Spanish Land Grant days, on the outskirts of town. I stopped at this spot where Culebra Creek makes a striking snake-like curve. When the sun started to eclipse the summits of the Sangre de Cristo Range, east of where I was standing and began lighting the foreground grasses, a cattle herd loped into the area almost on cue. One of the cows appropriately made it into the corner of the lower right frame of this image.

Trinidad, Highway of Legends

Trinidad, Highway of Legends

Trinidad is the terminus for the Highway of Legends Scenic and Historic Byway. It’s an extremely interesting Colorado town where Bat Masterson once patrolled the streets and bootleggers built underground tunnels to transport booze undetected. Even though the actual road that is part of the designated byway is barely seen here, and Interstate 25 dominates the view, I wanted to get a new version of the iconic overlook of Trinidad with Fishers Peak in the background for a scenic byway story. The variegated cloud cover and sunset on that particular evening provided serendipitous stripes of light highlighting Trinidad’s downtown and the summit of the peak, to my delight.

Rocky Ford Grilled Watermelon Recipe

Rocky Ford Grilled Watermelon Recipe

Rocky Ford in Southeastern Colorado is famous for its yearly watermelon crop and plentifully-stocked highway fruit stands. To accompany a Colorado Life Magazine story we published about the town and its agricultural heritage, we included a section of recipes contributed by local residents. With the generous help of some family members at home, I visualized a recipe of grilled watermelon slices with a honey and lime zest drizzle for a very colorful photo shoot evoking the feeling of being at a summertime picnic.

Crested Butte

Crested Butte

I’ve been to Crested Butte many times in my travels. It’s always been one of my must-do locations for wildflowers and fall foliage. Going there this year was different though, since I was instead visiting to attend the Governor’s Tourism Conference and photograph the town’s distinctive historic downtown (something I hadn’t done much of on my previous trips there). Recently, I’ve been putting a bigger focus on street photography in my work, and it’s a fun challenge since this adds a need to practice composing images quickly (and with a little bit of cloak-and-dagger to prevent your subjects from changing their natural routines) to get a shot with the right timing. The light and shadow on the bicyclist and Mount Crested Butte in the distance made this one of my favorites from the visit and I began to use more street photography in assignments at towns like Telluride and Morrison this year. It also helps to illustrate the fact that in some Colorado towns like Crested Butte you’re more likely to get run over by a Schwinn than a Chevy.

Pawnee Buttes Aerial

Pawnee Buttes Aerial

It’s not easy to appreciate the true vastness of the plains unless you see them from the air. When seen from above, the Pawnee Buttes in Weld County are accented by windmills, grazing cattle, sprawling fence lines and a wind turbine farm. It was good to have an opportunity to fly over this place, especially in a year where early summer rains kept the grass green.

Brown Palace Hotel, Denver

Brown Palace Hotel, Denver

Reflections are a great tool for photography. I admired how the reflections from the windows of adjacent buildings cast their glare on the historic Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver. This image was part of the skyscraper photo essay I worked on this year. It wasn’t published due to a very similar photo printing in the previous issue, but it still just has something about it that draws me in.

Woods Lake, near Telluride

Woods Lake, near Telluride

Even though I make trips to the San Juan Mountains yearly, this is a specific spot I hadn’t visited for ten years. After photographing this image on a crisp autumn 2015 afternoon to support a story about Telluride, I definitely wondered why. I don’t think my photos from before came close to the glorious reflection and accents of puffy clouds I saw this time. What took me so long to get back to this location west of Wilson Mesa? Perhaps the other more extravagant viewpoints of the beautiful region seduced me on previous visits? I’m not sure, but this photo is a good reminder to remember places that I, perhaps, have missed.

Lake Dillon near Frisco

Lake Dillon near Frisco

I spent a December Saturday in Frisco filling myself with Christmas cheer while photographing Wassail Days and the Ugly Sweater Challenge. After a significant snowfall, the next morning I photographed sledders, tubers and cross-country skiers at Frisco’s Adventure Park then headed home on Interstate 70. I didn’t plan on it, but I had to stop on the scenic overlook above Lake Dillon to get a photo of the newly-fallen snow still clinging to the needles of the foreground conifers and the majestic white peaks of the Front Range beyond.

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