Tag Archives: Rocky Mountain photography

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: Magic Morning (Part 3)

I’ll take fog over sun any morning. Perhaps I say that because I was born and raised in Colorado, where fog is uncommon and usually gone before I’m out of bed.

Well, I now have an infant in my life (as I seem to mention in every post), which means 6:30am kinda counts as sleeping in. On the Fourth of July, we had a wet and very cold evening that made the prospect of fireworks with our little girl even less appealing. We watched Return of the Jedi on Spike TV and crashed. Upon waking up at 6am, I discovered a soupy fog had descended on the Yampa River Valley. After brewing a pot of coffee and changing into jeans and a sweatshirt, I was off, leaving my two girls sleeping soundly at the condo.


Varenna was born on a day that started out foggy. I remember that weather distinctly because it was so unusual and I knew this was it — Hailey having contractions seated in her rocking chair … me seated on a stool next to her with a stop watch …  the world outside muffled by a thick veil of fog.

And that’s what it is about fog: it is intimate. Broad landscapes become contained, virtually indoor, and the richness of the world’s color comes through.


This was a heavy, heavy fog. Driving down Walton Creek Rd. toward U.S. 40, I was in limbo about where to head for my shots. There were two barns that immediately came to mind. One of them I had photographed a ridiculous amount of times; the other was the one everybody photographed. But I opted for the latter instead because it was close (above two photos). It’s behind a few stores, off a rather unassuming road, and on top of a hill by a construction site. It’s a bit of a let down at first. And yet, it has graced magazine covers, tourism websites and postcards as the emblem of Steamboat. An old Western barn, set in front of the ski area. Perfect dichotomy of old and new, the Wild West and the Recreating West, right?

As a photographer, those postcard shots are nice and exciting for a few years (and clearly, they are marketable), but there is something electrifying about shooting an icon in unexpected conditions. It forces the viewer to reconsider the whole scene. That’s what art is all about.


The fog wasn’t lifting and my coffee wasn’t cold yet. I decided to head for the second barn and see what I’d find. That was when things got magical…

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The Moment: Mud Season in Colorado

Silence. An earth-rocking, soul-stirring realization in the middle of bitter-cold ranch country outside Kremmling, Colorado. Exactly what a new parent needs: Fresh air and a deafening absence of sound.

It was a Friday afternoon, the last day of April. I’d left work early, and the three of us — me, Hailey and our little daughter Varenna — had made our way to the mountains through sun, snow and their indignant cross-breed, the sunny-blizzard. Our venture would take us to the usual place — Steamboat Springs — for some needed rest and relaxation. But for the moment, I was on the side of the road, hands in pockets and facing the wind, staring at the empty land while Hailey fed our groggy little girl. Getting out of the car meant getting in touch with things. It meant shooting a few frames on my camera.

In the grassy field were a pair of sandhill cranes — perhaps my favorite birds in Colorado. Gawky, golden with a red patch between the eyes, they poked about the grass and lifted elegantly on short breezes, their wings expanding to make use of the wind for a few seconds. What I would have given to have them unleash that awkward, clamorous call of theirs … but they never did. They poked for bugs.

And then, a different calling: over Rabbit Ears Pass by dark. Back in the car, on the road, and five frames in my digital camera. It was good to be back traveling and shooting.

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Summer’s Loose Ends

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Ah, summer. You roll in all seductive and lazy in early June and spoil us with rain, greenery, bursts of sunlight and the desire to barbecue everything in sight. You treat us well, and then seemingly overnight you abandon us to the moodiness of fall. We didn’t know what we had until we lost you.

Summer’s end is certainly weighing heavily on me these days. Not that I can’t handle the cold — it’s that I can’t handle the torrid pace of life. September: it’s next week. My God.

It’s been a snap-happy time for me and my shutter release. There was the trip to Steamboat Springs for the Balloon Rodeo, the remarkable reunion of the Reitzugs, a portrait session with Michaelanne Dehner, and three weddings (only one of which I’ve had time to post just yet). In the midst of it all, I managed to go backpacking zero times. I’m fairly certain I won’t even get a chance next summer either, but “woah is me.” I live in Colorado, one of the world’s most beautiful places, and I’m healthy and so is Hailey, and the future: oh, it couldn’t be brighter.

So, without more rambling, here are summer’s loose ends of photographs — little spare bits that didn’t quite fit into the story line of any blog posts, whether past or future. At the top, glacier lilies near Buffalo Pass. In early July, I went hiking with Tim Lamberton (below right) and bagged my 21st wilderness area — the midway point to bagging all of them in Colorado.

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At left is me at my favorite place in Colorado — Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. We stopped there en route to New Mexico for the family reunion. My cousin Nick, his wife Guilia and their adorable son Lorenzo (below) paid us a visit for a few days before hand, and since they were coming from Rome, well, how could you not see the Great Sand Dunes? We had to go, and Lorenzo had to fulfill his playing-in-the-muck quotient for this trip to America.

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Once in New Mexico, we did countless things — among them the ambitious white seamless project, but we also did a half-day bug hunt with the fourth generation. That’s my nephew Isaiah (below right), pointing at the grasshoppers. The Nuggets jersey? His favorite piece of clothing. He doesn’t know who the Denver Nuggets are, let alone the first thing about basketball. He loves it because his favorite food is chicken nuggets. I love that boy.

And finally, a few golf shots from our recent trip to Idaho for Adam Huggins’ wedding. That’s Adam (below left), teeing up on the eighth at Sun Valley’s amazing golf course.

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The views from the course — like this one from the second tee — were astounding. I love Idaho. Plan to go back when we have kids.

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And as for golf course photography … yeah, I could definitely get into that.

Thanks for letting me have an indulgent and aimless blog post. Coming up: more from Adam and Tess’ wedding, a trash the dress shoot with Jodi and John, and a whole slew of great shots from Jacqie and Ken’s wedding.

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The Reitzug Family Reunion (The Cousins)

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(Click on each photo for a larger version)

Last week I was able to get a post up on my Mom’s amazing family, The Reitzugs — mainly, generations 1 and 2. Well, they’re back on the blog, this time, generations 3 (which I belong to) and 4. Rather than try to make sense of this massive family tree, I’ll just do this.

ABOVE: Elsa, daughter of my cousin Holly Rydel … I think I’ll entitle this sequence After Effects of a Blue Raspberry Lollipop.

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ABOVE: Aidan, Jimmy and Nick Reitzug, sons of the oldest cousin in my generation, Joe Reitzug and his wife Stephanie.

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ABOVE: Mark, Peter and Damian, three of the four Leonard boys (their brother Andrew, couldn’t make it to the reunion due to his house selling). As you can probably note from their choice in sunglass styles, they’re all outdoor-active types. Mark and Peter schooled me in soccer on the final night and they were, um … well, my teammates.

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ABOVE: Mr. Andrew Gunnison Day. My nephew, my bud, and popular star of such previous blog posts as Us Kids Know and Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitchers.

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ABOVE: Byron Lillie and Kate Balerud. Kate took the 40D from me at the tail end of the photo shoot and did a sequence of shots of Hailey and I jumping in the air in front of the white backdrop. Through no fault of Kate’s, they will not be posted on this blog. Let’s just say that I look like a complete bozo.

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ABOVE: Alex Reitzug, son of Aunt Maria, trampoline extraordinaire and a fellow photog.

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ABOVE: Isaiah and Jeremiah Day, my nephews. See also Us Kids Know and Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitchers.

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ABOVE: Amy Bierman and Randy Rydel (left); Rebecca Reitzug (right). Amy and Randy are roughly the same age as Hailey and I, and we spent a good deal of time hanging out with them at the reunion, including two memorable meals in downtown Santa Fe. I also got to know Rebecca better this go around … we’re about 10 years apart, but with each reunion, those age gaps matter less.

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ABOVE: Quinlan and her mom, Mary Beth TeSelle. At left, Quinlan is showing off her fabulous Fourth-of-July-themed rub-on tattoo.

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ABOVE: Nick and Guilia Reitzug with their son Lorenzo (left); Stela Reitzug (right). Nick and Guilia live in Rome, and were kind enough to host us for a few nights when we visited last year. This year, we got a chance to reciprocate in Denver, and carpool down to the reunion in New Mexico (with a stop at the Great Sand Dunes). My cousin Stela is headed to Kosovo right now for missionary work. She’s originally from Albania, so the trip is holding great significance for her.

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ABOVE: Elsa with her grandpa Mat (left); my mom Angie with her oldest brother Henry (right). OK, so this isn’t generations 3 and 4 as promised, but I had to include them because they are two of my absolute favorite shots. If you are wondering where my preoccupation with cameras comes from, look no further than the ‘Zugs.

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And finally, I have to include a shot Hailey took of me with my mom Angie and brother Ben. Dad had to return to Denver the day before, so we’ll have to do a reshoot to get the true family portrait.

As soon as the family book and family tree are done, you know me, I’ll get another blog post up. I loved this gig, and am looking forward to shooting more family reunions, especially with the white backdrop.

Contact me if I can offer this service at one of your own family reunions.

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Steamboat Springs’ Balloon Rodeo

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I am absolutely inundated with photo work right now, which is a great problem to have. Thought I’d jump the queue a bit here and upload some images from two weekends ago up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

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We were there for the weekend of the Balloon Rodeo, a festival devoted to all things colorful and filled with hot air. What’s a balloon rodeo you say? Well, I’m not sure entirely, but based on attending the event, I think it goes like this: 30 balloons take flight during the first 90 minutes of daylight, and if the wind doesn’t send them down the valley, they compete in goofy games like a beanbag toss. Cattle, broncos and clowns have nothing to do with it … and PETA is no where to be found either.

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Many of these shots were taken by my lovely wife Hailey, as she attended both Saturday and Sunday mornings’ festivities. (I went hiking all day with my buddy Tim Lamberton on Saturday…pics of that to come later).

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As you’ll notice from many of my posts, Steamboat Springs is becoming a go-to hangout for us. We have access to a condo up there, and since its a good three hours from Denver, it’s right in that sweet spot: close enough to be convenient, far enough away to fully unplug.

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Along for the trip were Hailey’s parents, our good friend Jenny Jordan (minus her husband Matt, who was at U.S. Nationals for Fencing) and the Lambertons. We drove up Friday, looked for moose on Rabbit Ears Pass, dined downtown, hiked Saturday while everyone else went to the Balloon Rodeo and the Art Fair, and then Sunday we all went tubing down the Yampa River. Sunday night’s drive home was a bit mournful — I’m increasingly having a harder time leaving the mountains after a weekend like that.

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So anyway, back to the rodeo.

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The balloons’ mass ascension takes place in a field just south of town. One of the “rodeo tasks” is to lift off, then dip the basket into this lake and lift back up again.

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We also learned that the Upper Yampa River Valley is ideal for ballooning because of its “box winds.” At lower elevations, the winds take you down valley, but as you get higher up, they take you back up the valley. Doesn’t always work, but when it does, it saves gas for the chase vehicle.

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OK, coming up I’ll have images from my day hike with Tim, photographs from John and Jodi’s wedding, plus a very personal project that involves the white seamless and almost everyone from my mom’s side of the family.

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Engagement Photos: Jacqie + Ken

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Yesterday, we did an engagement shoot with Jacqie and Ken, a delightful couple whose wedding we’ll be photographing on August 12. I know Jacqie through my good friend Stu, who is her older brother. Me and Stu go back 10+ years, but only recently have I gotten to know Jacqie. Well, it’s about time … she and her fiancé are super cool.

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They met back in September, and both go to a music academy in Boston. Jacqie plays viola, Ken plays the trumpet. On Friday night, I gave Jacqie a call to see if they’d brought their instruments along on Spring Break. Thankfully they did, and we were able to incorporate this common bond into their shoot.

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We met up at Commons Park in Lower Downtown Denver. It’s a spectacular spot — probably the most photogenic in the city — but on this day, our famous Colorado climate decided to throw some schizophrenic conditions at us. Sunny in the morning (yay!), but cloudy in time for the shoot (boo!) with a late-afternoon shamal thrown in for good measure. Welcome to Colorado, Ken. It’s more reliable in August, I promise (I hope, I knock on wood…).

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Perhaps I exaggerate a bit on the weather, but we made the most of it and started the shoot by the Millennium Bridge, where they have this cool brick wall.

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From there we moved into the park and shot at a few settings, including this random staircase to nowhere (above).

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Jacqie and Ken are headed back to Boston today after a week of wedding planning. Congrats to them both — Hailey and I are looking forward to their wedding in August.

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Pastoral Barns and An Acid-Trip Rabbit

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Where the hell have I been? Over two weeks since my last blog post, and — I hate to say — there are very few excuses to levvy. I’m just a negligent blogger. Have I been busy? Yes. Have I been sick? No, but I’m getting there tonight. Have I been traveling? A smidge.

This past weekend, Hailey and I headed up to the family condo in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and had ourselves a little fun on 65-inches of packed powder. We even bought some skis. Yes, hard to believe, but this native Coloradan of nearly 30 years has never owned a pair of skis. Sad, shocking, sacrilegious even (to some). Alas, I’m now official. Funny thing is, I have always loved skiing. I’ve loved it since I started taking lessons with the Eskimo Ski Club in sixth grade up at Winter Park. But I’ve always rented, and until this family condo came within reach, I’ve conveniently put off buying skis because I didn’t see myself skiing often enough. Chalk that up to the exorbitant price of lift tickets and the horrific traffic on I-70.

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Anyway, the weather over the weekend was splendid. Endless, uninterrupted blue sky (just look at that sky above left…photo credit goes to Hailey on that one), highs in the 40s and zero wind. While I haven’t yet figured out how to juggle skiing with photography, I did come up with a good strategy for shooting Steamboat this weekend. If I have a problem with shooting up there, its that I’m getting too familiar with the place. I need to see it new again, each time, which gets harder with each trip. So, my new plan is this: less is more.

Rather than drive all over the place looking for new things to capture, I’m just going to pick one or two spots and really work at them. In the case of MLK weekend, I picked the iconic Rabbit Ears Motel sign and the famous Steamboat barn, one at blue hour, the other in mid-morning when the ski area has emerged from shadow.

2009-01-19steamboat-5260The heart was a nice touch and not done by us. Thanks to whomever drew it in the snow ahead of our visit.

Things are a-brewing for Hailey and I. We’re piecing together a vacation, one that promises to be ever-so-photogenic. I’ll let you know where we’re headed once we’re confirmed.

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Picture Perfect – Colorado Vacation Guide Debuts

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Way back in July when I started this blog, I did a quick “sneak peek” on my first photo editorial assignment, which would publish in the Colorado Official State Vacation Guide, a magazine with a circulation of 800,000 that’s distributed by the Colorado Tourism Office to promote the state. Hailey and I were sent to Crested Butte and Aspen to cover the wildflower season, and I shot and wrote the entire article.

Well, this week it came off the press and I’m thrilled with the result. Here’s where the article begins. Click on the image for the full view!

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And here is the second spread:

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The guide won’t be in circulation for another two weeks or so, but once it is, you can request a copy through Colorado.com. For an online gallery of the trip, visit my portfolio site, TanagerPhotography.com, and click on the Travel galleries.

Special thanks go out to Kelly Faigin (the graphic designer who did such a great job picking out photos and laying out the photo essay…she even used one of my food photos), Hannah Pierce (the guide’s editor), Andrea Golod (head of the photo department) and Dusty Demerson (who conducted the photo class in Crested Butte that was the subject of the story).

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