Tag Archives: Denver photographer

Switzerland: Desaturated, and in Black and White

A banner cloud drapes around the summit of the Matterhorn near Zermatt, Switzerland.

(Click on images for a larger view)

I recently spent two weeks touring around Switzerland with my wife and our one-year-old daughter. It was a magnificent trip — one of those get-it-out-of-my-system-now kinds of trips while Varenna is young and portable. Ha! That’s at least what we thought when we booked the trip in January. She’s a bit more … mobile, shall we say.

But we had a very good time, and ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised with the images I returned home with. In the moment, we both were a bit distracted trying to keep our daughter entertained, engaged, and safe. We worked hard every hour of the trip, just not on photography. Or so it seemed.

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Headwaters Content

Kevin Day (Principle/Content Strategist; Headwaters Content) and Hailey Day (President/Digital Artist; HeyDay Creative)

You should never start a blog post with an apology for not posting recently. It’s just bad form, and truthfully, who reads this blog regularly anyway? Even if you did, you’d notice that I haven’t posted anything — anything — since January.

But I feel the long absence is worth noting, if for no other reason than the major personal changes I’ve undergone since my last post.

I’ve started my own company.

Not a hobby company. Not a dabble-in-it-and-see-if-it-fits company.

A livelihood. A bona fide “wow, this is what I ought to be doing in life” company.

My business is called Headwaters Content, and its one of Denver’s first content strategy firms. What brought this about is a long and probably boring story (I think it’s interesting. You probably don’t). But needless to say, maintaining a photo blog has been a free-time activity, and since February, setting Headwaters up has been rather consuming, both from a labor-intensive and mentally fatiguing perspective.

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10 of Kauai’s Best Beaches

Footprints in the sand at Kalihiwai Beach, Kauai(Click on the images for a larger view)

So remember how a few posts ago, I said that I wasn’t much of a beach person?

Well, I’m back from Kauai, and you can consider me converted: I love beaches … if by “beaches” you mean the stunning, drop-yer-jaw, how-could-God-design-such-a-perfect-thing beaches that seem to be nestled into every corner of the Garden Isle. In fact, after visiting Kauai for eight days, it may be safe to say I’m forever spoiled. The bar will be high for any future strips of sand I encounter (sorry, Chatfield Reservoir).

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Fall Color at the Maroon Bells

The Maroon Bells in fall color outside Aspen, Colorado(Click on images for a larger view)

I’ve struggled to photograph the Maroon Bells in the past. Struggled because of two things: (1) everybody has photographed them and an original angle is getting more and more rare, and (2) they perfectly face to the east and, as a result, are often 2 stops more bright than their surroundings, making an even exposure especially tricky.

A six-month-old girl plays near the Maroon Bells outside Aspen, Colorado

But then my wife took our daughter there for a day trip this past October (I was attending the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism in nearby Snowmass) and she returned with a series of astonishingly original photos of the Bells. How did she overcome my two stumbling blocks?

Solution #1: visit the Maroon Bells with an adorable baby and let her eat the dirt on the shore of Maroon Lake — original photos abound — and …

Solution #2: visit in the fall when the sunlight is slanted and the exposure is more even.

The Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake in fall color outside Aspen, Colorado

Our daughter’s middle name is Autumn, and this being her first fall, well, it was especially meaningful to have the two of them join me in Snowmass for the conference. After the day’s sessions, I’d take Varenna off of Mom’s hands for a little bit, and go for a short jaunt through the aspens with her near the hotel. She’d squeal and kick with delight at being outside, at facing forward in the Baby Bjorn carrier, and at the sights and sounds and smells of the woods. She’s a Coloradan by birth, and already she is acting like one.

Enjoying the Maroon Bells in autumn, Aspen, Colorado

So when the conference ended and I had a little freedom to wander, we returned to Maroon Bells as a family and spent a few hours in the aspen glades and along the lake shore, watching a blizzard of leaves flutter over the lake as autumn had one last gasp before winter.

Close-up of the Maroon Bells outside Aspen, Colorado

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Mesa Verde National Park – Cedar Tree House and Long House

(Click on images for a larger view)

Mesa Verde National Park has long been on my list. Located near the Four Corners and home to an extensive network of abandoned dwellings from the Ancestral Puebloan Indians, it is a magical place I should know well. After all, it is in Colorado and its an UNESCO World Heritage site (so is Macchu Piccu, the Roman Coliseum, and the Pyramids of Egypt).

But time and distance had conspired in my head to keep me from going. Why? It is 8 hours by car from Denver … so is Billings, Montana.

I last visited when I was two years old. Naturally, that shouldn’t count as “having been there.” However, one of the earliest memories of my life is from when we went into the kiva at Cedar Tree House (below). I think it stands out to me because we descended a ladder into a hole in the ground. That’s got to mess with your head when your that young.

So we arrived at Mesa Verde after another long afternoon in the car. Varenna had slept for much of the uneventful journey, but by the time we weaved through the emerald gambel-oak forest that covers the mesa just inside the park entrance, she was kicking and screaming. Emotionally, I kept feeling like we were being selfish for going on this trip, but the wonderful thing about six-month-olds is how short their memory is. One stop, one good break to roll around on a blanket, and everything is right with the world again.

After checking into the underwhelming Far View Lodge (run by ARAMARK, a hospitality company that only works where it has no competition: like stadiums, national parks, college campuses, etc., explaining why the standards for food and bedding are so low), we gently buckled Varenna back up and drove 20 minutes south to see the only dwelling we could reach before sundown — Cedar Tree House (left in second photos above), considered the best preserved dwelling, and home to the reconstructed kiva that you can climb down into.

By the time we reached it, however, it was closed for the day, gated off across the grotto, with a phalanx of 50 to 60 vultures watching vigil over it from the trees above. It appeared that a forest fire had at one point reached the top of the dwelling and been beaten back. The sky burst into lavendar and pink, and an eerie silence permeated the whole scene. No wonder the Ute Indians didn’t like this mesa after it was abandoned. There was definitely a haunted vibe. The only sign of life came from a family of turkeys on the rocks above the dwelling who humorously chased the vultures.

The next day, we traveled to Wetherill Mesa, which practically comprises half the park but only sees 20% of the park’s visitors. There we took a hiking tour to Long House with a nasally, patronizing guide who — despite her smarter-than-you tone — provided an impressive amount of information on the Ancestral Puebloan Indians, their way of life, and their subsequent disappearance from the mesa. Long House was especially fascinating because of the seep spring at the back of the dwelling, which filled cups chipped into the stone drip-by-drip (above right). How they were able to keep the entire population of the dwelling hydrated off this meager faucet is mystifying, amazing and admirable.

There was also an amazing structure hanging above the dwelling (below), apparently reserved for food storage.

Taking photos on a guided tour can be a little awkward (“uh-huh, uh-huh <click> … I’m listening <click>”) but its the only way to gain access to the dwellings, and for good reason. They would certainly get trashed (accidentally by the klutzy and intentionally by the greedy) if they weren’t heavily policed and patrolled. Even backing up to frame a shot, I had to be careful not to bump into an ancient brick wall.

Maybe if you gave tours to people like me, you’d take on a patronizing tone over time.

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Time Out … Fall Color Preview

Going to briefly interrupt the Southwest Colorado trip with a quick preview of this past week’s trips to Steamboat Springs, Snowmass and Aspen for fall color in the Rockies. We usually have an autumn trip to Steamboat, but this year we added another to the middle part of the state. It’s pretty cool when you can compare and contrast fall color locales in the span of a week. Steamboat was a bit past prime, and a little less vibrant than previous years (but still gorgeous), while Vail (which we only passed through) had all the colors of the aspen spectrum.

We were in Snowmass so I could attend the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism. I spent much of the time in conference rooms, banquets and exhibit halls, while Hailey and Varenna got to explore. By Friday, however, I was liberated from the indoors and allowed a few hours to see Maroon Bells (above), the most famous mountains in Colorado, if not North America. They were stunning.

More to come … but first I’d like to plow through the rest of Telluride, Mesa Verde and Pagosa Springs.

And for the record, after these past three months, I am more in love with Colorado than ever before.

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Telluride, Colorado – Part 1

The New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride, Colorado(Click on images for a larger version).

There is something to be said for living in a fantasy world. Check that: there is something to be said for visiting a fantasy world … for a few days.

Telluride defies description — at least one without hyperbole. Such as “the prettiest town in the United States.” (OK, there. I said it.) But for all of its majestic grandeur and quaint homeliness, it is a not a place that one would call “down-to-earth,” “approachable,” or “realistic.” We toured an open house — a 2500-square-foot Victorian two blocks off main — that was going for $3.2 million. I witnessed a morning rush hour on quiet little Lizard Head Pass that consisted of commuters driving in from Rico (28 miles south), and maybe even Dolores (67 miles south) — all flocking to this enchanting little town to work in the wine bars, day spas and five-star hotels. How this community functions is a bit of a mystery, but it does function. It functions magnificently. I want to go back. I’d put it on top of my U.S. destination list all over again.

Hotel room in the New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride, Colorado

And incredibly, in late August, it wasn’t too steep. We stayed at the New Sheridan Hotel on Main Street (that’s Varenna in our room, above) for less than $175. In the middle of winter, that would go for about $335. We ate a superb dinner, one of the best meals of the year, at 221 South Oak Restaurant for the same price as pretty much any nice sit-down restaurant in Denver. Hey: we were on vacation. Why not? And when you consider the crappy room we paid more for in Mesa Verde (not to mention the regrettable $13 “Navajo taco” Aramark doled out there), Telluride seemed like — gasp! — a great value.

Main Street in Telluride, Colorado

Still, this thought about people actually living there would not leave my head. Maybe it was because the night before, while eating dinner in an empty dining room at the Chipeta Sun Lodge, I told Hailey I could retire to Ridgway. It is gorgeous there as well, but it also felt cozy, livable, and … realistic. Telluride? It just didn’t add up how you could get to a point in your life where that was attainable.

Full moon over Telluride, Colorado

But ask me now what the highlight of our late-summer trip was, and I wouldn’t hesitate. It was this place. I’m a sucker for massive mountains, waterfalls spouting off in every direction, lush greenery everywhere you go. I like my scenery without subtly, and if I can have a medium-rare elk chop with asparagus and lingonberries for dinner beneath that landscape? Sold.

Panorama of Telluride, Colorado under a full moon(Hello, I’m a great big panorama … click on me for larger version)

Night one concluded with an amazing scene on Main Street. A full moon rising over the San Juan’s at the end of the valley. It was one of those stirring scenes you can’t turn away from. They happen all the time in Colorado, but this one was especially gripping. I stood out in the middle of the street with my camera on a tripod, firing off exposures trying to get it just right. Trying to put in perspective the magnificent beauty of these mountains … until a drunk stumbled out of the New Sheridan and asked me for a good burger.

Like I said … it’s nice visiting a fantasy world for a few days.

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I Love Colorado

(Click on images for a larger version).

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting a lot of new imagery of my home state of Colorado. Last Saturday to this past Friday, Hailey, Varenna and I did a swing through Southwest Colorado — our little girl’s first true vacation. We saw some of the few places we have not experienced yet (Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado National Monument) plus some old favorites (Telluride, Ridgway, Ouray, Pagosa Springs).

Southwest Colorado is God’s country. I don’t say that lightly or because its late at night and I am out of words. It is simply a staggering place. The landscape is a beautiful dichotomy: overwhelming and intimate at the same time. When you are not picking your jaw up off the ground because of the vaulted peaks, plummeting waterfalls and sheer canyons, your finding yourself in a cozy valley or by a fresh gurgling river, thinking about retirement because the place is so livable.

Mesa Verde, Square Tower House, cliff dwelling, Colorado, Ancestral Puebloan, Anasazi

On this trip we visited Mesa Verde National Park for the first time since we were kids (Hailey was 7 when she visited with her family, I was 2). Until now, the context of Colorado’s indigenous people was little more than knowledge to me. As an editor and as a writer, I knew quite a bit about their civilization and its rise and subsequent migration away from the mesa. But knowing and understanding are two different things sometimes. You have to go there to truly visualize and appreciate the systems that connected the dwellings and people of the mesa.

Here is a Google Map of the entire trip’s itinerary:

I’ll have more — plenty more — to come in the next few weeks. Lots more Colorado travel coming up (fall color in Steamboat and Snowmass) and then the year’s big trip around Thanksgiving: Kauai.

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The Indian Peaks Served Two Ways

My whole life, the Indian Peaks have been my playground. Some of my earliest memories take place on the mucky shores of Long Lake. Back in the early ’80s, there was a decaying cabin in the shallows there, and a tiny beach about 20 square feet in size lay tucked in the grasses and willows right by it. My brother and I would spend hours drawing in the wet dirt with sticks while my Dad fly fished from a belly boat, the jagged peaks — Pawnee, Shoshoni and Navajo — rising above the valley that stretched to the west.

Years later, when I was in high school, my Mom and I finally ventured beyond Long Lake to Lake Isabelle, and the thundering waterfall that pours out of its eastern outlet. Here, down among the bluebells and shooting stars, I thought how nice it would be to have a child some day, perhaps a daughter, and show her the wonders of nature — like how the wildflowers below Lake Isabelle grow out of rocks, their persistence a testament to a higher power at work.

Maybe I’d name her Isabelle.

Fast-forward to this past year, and Hailey’s pregnancy, and those closest to me (including my Mom and my best friend Matt) were convinced that if we’d have a girl, she’d be named Isabelle.

Of course, it didn’t end up that way. For one, Twilight or some damn thing made it one of the most popular girl names of the moment. For two, Hailey and I went to Lake Como in 2005 and found a little town that meant a lot to both of us, and here we are, with a girl named Varenna.

Nonetheless, the meaning and the feeling of the Indian Peaks and sharing it with my daughter, is something that has been top of my mind this summer. She’s five months old, so that “higher power” is a bit over her head, but she loves the woods and the fresh air. A few weeks ago — on a Friday off that I truly earned — Hailey, my mother, Varenna and I, went for a short hike to Mitchell Lake, one valley over from Long Lake and Lake Isabelle. It was short and sweet, but to walk with the three women of my life through fields of wildflowers for the better part of a day is something I will cherish forever.

Two weeks later, I returned to the Indian Peaks with my best friend, Matt. He probably needs little introduction since he’s been on this blog so many times, but it was another unforgettable hike in the Indian Peaks — because of equal parts terrain and time and stories with a man I’ve known since I was 4 years old.

Matt and I experienced the Indian Peaks in a very different way than I did with my girls. Starting at 9am, we climbed up the valley that stretches from Eldora Ski Area to Arapaho Pass. Dipping into the valley base to cross the North Fork of Middle Boulder Creek at a waterfall, we looped back and up the ridge to Diamond Lake, before continuing through the woods and up through amazing meadows to an unnamed ridge at 11,400 feet that faced south to Mount Evans.

Matt was his usual enthusiastic self, up there. “Awww, man. This is awesome!” Me? I kept making HD videos of the tundra and the clouds, which were moving across the mountaintops at a pace I’ve never seen before. For better or worse (most likely worse) I approach video like a still composition, and have no editing skills. I’d upload them here, but they’re 100MB each and I don’t have the patience.

We reapplied sunscreen and descended the mountain back through hip-deep wildflowers. At Diamond Lake, we scrambled onto some boulders that jutted out from the creek outlet and watched the clouds roll by. Not a bad way to pass a summer Sunday in Colorado…

Speaking of which, Hailey, Varenna and I are about to embark on a 6-day odyssey through Southwestern Colorado: Colorado National Monument, Ridgway, Telluride, Mesa Verde and Pagosa Springs. Should have a ton of updates in the coming weeks.

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Steamboat Springs: Lupine, Heather and Burn Off (Part 4)

From the iconic barn — where the fog submerged everything in a cold veil — I drove up the Yampa River Valley to my favorite barn. Things were getting brighter, but the fog remained stubborn and thick. By now, my coffee was gone, and it was tempting to return to the condo for more, but something palpable was in the air. The fog was going to bust wide open.

Just by the barn, I discovered a few clumps of lupine, their crisp leaves and candy-like blossoms at their most perfect.

By now my jean cuffs were soaked to the knee from walking through the tall heather, but I was genuinely loving every minute of this. It wasn’t just the freedom to wander and shoot images, but the conditions were exceptional, too. Any kind of photographer dreams of moments like this where all the elements converge in a beautiful way — light, shadow, color; nature, architecture, highway. Everything looked magical, and I had the whole scene to myself.

To photograph the lupine and grass pods, I crouched low and shot into the sun with two prime lenses — a 50mm f/1.8 and a 24mm f/1.4. With less glass than a zoom lens, I find the compositions simpler and less prone to nasty flares.

As I trudged through the thick grass back to the road, the burn off was beginning. Fog strands were peeling back and revealing a remarkable summer blue sky. A robin perched on a nearby fence post, swallows wheeled in the air eating mosquitos, and an occasional pickup truck drove by at 10 mph. Surely the drivers were savoring the remarkable moment, too, unwilling to do the posted 25 mph.

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