My friend and pro photographer, Willie Holdman sent me a photo of the Maples turning red in his beloved backyard, the Wasatch Mountains. I emailed him back, "I'm coming! I'll be there next Wednesday through Friday." and set about making plane, hotel and car reservations.
The day before I was to get on the plane however, the weather report predicted rain starting Wednesday afternoon and continuing through Friday... 100% chance of rain and thunderstorms..." Ugh! I began to worry that the leaves would all be blown off the trees or that it would be pouring hard with dull gray light the whole time. I put a plastic bag on my camera and hoped for the best.
After spending the night at the Best Western Plus in Kimball Junction (just outside of Park City) I went out in the morning and took a few shots, thinking those might be all I could get. Willie had suggested that I go up to Guardsman Pass. He said he could meet me around 3:00 PM.
Welcome to Park City
Heading towards Guardsman Pass - The Aspens are turning!
From the trail above Guardsman Pass looking towards Cottonwood Canyon.
Down into Cottonwood Canyon
View from the creek in Cottonwood Canyon
After circling back through Cottonwood Canyon to Kimball Junction, I had a fabulous lunch at the Loco Lizard. A huge salad of mixed greens, half an avocado, roasted pumpkin seeds, grilled vegetables and cilantro-lime dressing topped with a generous portion of blackened salmon. Yum.
I drove back up towards Guardsman Pass and checked in with Willie. He said to come down Pine Canyon and meet him at the Wasatch Mountain Visitor Center. On the way there I took a few shots. The one below took my breath away.
Heading down Pine Canyon
I met up with Willie near the Visitors Center, got in his truck and headed off on a dirt road up Cascade Scenic Drive. I was glad he was driving as the road was rough in spots. It became decidedly rougher as the day wore on.
We stopped frequently to take shots from the road. Happily, his taste and mine are nearly identical. I have learned from traveling with Willie before, to look wherever he is pointing his camera.
We stopped briefly at Deer Creek campground.
Trail towards Box Elder Peak from Deer Creek campground
Hiking there, I got my first "printable" shot of Aspens and red Elderberries.
Aspens and red Elderberries
We wound our way around the the lone peak wilderness on the ridge trail - another dirt road. By this time, the sky was dark overhead, but the light could still creep in under the clouds from the West.
Light coming in under the clouds
On we go.
The road is not too bad here.
Beautiful foliage along the road.
Interesting seed heads.
We jumped out of the car when we spotted streamers of light away to the NW, framed by Aspens along the road. Another printable shot!
Streamers of light between the Aspens
We arrived at the West side of Mount Timpanogos as the last rays of light were breaking through the clouds. It was lovely.
Maples face the setting sun
The setting sun lights the slope
Getting dark - Now we have to drive back.
We drove back over the rocky and rutted road in the dark to where we had left my car, arriving about 8:30 PM. Willie said, "I'll meet you at 6:00 tomorrow morning at the dirt parking lot by Cascade Scenic Drive".
"OK", I said, thinking about the hour drive back to Kimball Junction and the fact that I hadn't had dinner yet - oh and the hotel breakfast starts at 6:00 AM, so I would miss that too. "How do I find it?"
"Just head towards Soldier Hollow and then head right at the railroad tracks then turn left at the end of the road and an immediate right..."
"I'll do my best", I said, thinking I could perhaps call him if I get lost. By the time he gave me directions back to the main highway so I could return to my hotel, I had forgotten how I was to find our meeting place in the morning.
After finding my way back to the hotel, I decided to go to the nearby Smith's market and get some granola for breakfast and also power bars and water for the next day. No telling if we would stop for food. I got to bed around 10:30 and rose again around 4:00 AM, trying not to think that it was really 3:00 AM Los Angeles time.
Driving in the dark and drizzle at 5:00 AM the next morning, I thought to myself that I would never be out this early on such an unlikely day. I got as far as the railroad track and forgot which way to turn. After a few minutes of indecision, I saw Willie's truck come down the road. I followed him to the parking lot.
Another photographer named Roger was there already. He was there to join us on today's expedition. We all got into Willie's car and took off up the hill on another dirt road until the mud got too slippery to safely take the car any farther. After trudging uphill in the drizzle for about a mile, the cloud we were in began to lighten and the soft shapes of Aspens and Maples began to appear in the fog.
Entering a dark and drizzly world.
What are we doing here?
Wow! In a cloud at daybreak - who knew it could be so good?
Eventually, the light began to break through the fog and a beautiful vista opened up below. I began whooping and hollering in delight. This was a printable shot!
The light kept coming as the clouds broke up.
We returned to the path and head towards to totally socked in viewpoint. We decided to take the ridge trail to the left. Pretty soon, the light returned.
Maples by the path.
After that, Willie suggested that Roger and I hike along the ridge until we could head on down the Lower Deer Creek Trail and meet him at the road. He would take some shots from the ridge and then go back for the truck.
I have to say that Willie runs ahead and up hills like a mountain goat. He also scrambles up boulders like a monkey. I learned that when rafting down the Grand Canyon with him in a photography workshop he led last April. Anyway, whenever I would see a beautiful tree or potential vista, I would find a little path through the brush that would lead to a good vantage point. Inevitably, Willie would already be there, tripod set up and camera pointing towards the thing I had spotted. Thus after he returned to the truck, whenever I found a hint of a path in the brush while heading down the mountain, I imagined that Willie had made that path on one of his frequent trips to the area.
The Wasatch mountains really are his backyard. It seems he knows every tree and flowering bush. As we would near a turn on a dirt road, he might say, "There's a Maple around the corner that always turns magenta". He says that each tree turns the same color, year after year.
The clouds opened intermittently and we had some lovely views of the valley below.
The base of Mt. Timpanogos starts to show.
View towards Mt Timpanogos from Pine Ridge Trail - Printable!
The Ridge Trail was a good suggestion. The clouds let just enough light into the valley between us and Mt. Timpanogos. We then took the South Fork of Little Deer Creek Trail down into a canyon.
Little Deer Creek Trail - Turn left here.
Little Deer Creek Trail
More Pine, less Maple.
Continuing on Little Deer Creek Trail
I don't know how he timed it but Willie arrived at the trailhead within five minutes of us, an hour and a half later.
Where the trail meets the road
We then drove to a meadow surrounded by Aspens and then on to a lovely pair of Maples.
Meadow with layers of color
Two Maples with Timpanogos in background.
As we continued on toward the community of Sundance, the clouds were heavy overhead, partially concealing and partially revealing Mt. Timpanogos. Then, as we drove through Sundance, shafts of light began breaking through the clouds, illuminating the yellows and reds. Willie quickly pulled over. We jumped out of the car and ran up a steep embankment with our tripods in hand. Gorgeous shafts of light illuminated the valley and trees below. More printable shots! I couldn't be happier.
Sunbeams on Sundance!
More sunbeams at another spot
We headed towards Lake Utah and stopped for "lunch" at a Subway around 5:00 PM. Then we headed up another dirt road towards a meadow with a good view of the Western face of Mt. Timpanogos. We stopped along the road for a couple of shots.
On the road towards the meadow.
Sure enough, the meadow was a great pick. Willie scampered off to parts unknown, while Roger and I fanned out across the meadow. We spent a couple hours there, watching the last light on Mt. Timpanogos. As we waited for the clouds to clear to the West of "Timp", we were alternately rained and hailed on. We could hear the thunder roaring, but couldn't see the lightning. It was lovely and invigorating.
Trail down into the meadow.
I got a few shots there that I really love. I should note that I meter for the sky when I shoot, knowing I can recover what looks black on my LCD screen as long as the histogram isn't clipped on the left. The majority of shots I took on this trip had a huge tonal range, so I had to rely on the histogram, rather than the LCD.As a matter of style, I like to let my images go all the way from pure white to pure black. There is more drama in the higher contrast images. I also like to leave room for the viewer to imagine what's in those blacks and whites, rather than making everything explicit. A little mystery makes an image more compelling.
Purple Asters and distant Aspens from the meadow.
The last rays that broke through before sunset.
Heading back to the car as the clouds rolled in.
As we drove back that night in Willie's car, he said to me, "You really should change your flight and stay another day. There's supposed to be a snowstorm coming in tomorrow night."
"Wow. I would love that, but I really can't change me plans."
"I won't be able to get out and shoot it either," Willie said. "I have to show my work at an art show in Sundance on Saturday morning."
"Well," I said, "How about if it snows tonight, so we can both get to see it?"
Willie smiled and said, "See you at 6:00 in the morning."
The next morning, we met again in a dark parking lot. The sky was heavily clouded over in the pre-dawn. As we drove up the mountain again towards Guardsman Pass, the flurries of snow began hitting our windshield. "How about that, Willie! We both get to see the snow!" We high-fived and continued up the road. At Guardsman Pass, we parked and took a short hike to the top of the nearest peak.
Snow on Pines on Guardsman Pass Trail
View towards Cottonwood Canyon.
As usual, Willie charged on ahead, looking for the shot. I was reminded of a t-shirt I saw once that said, "Bomb Technician. If you see me running, try to keep up." In this case though, the worst thing that could happen is that I would miss the best light for the shot.
As usual, Willie is up ahead.
Willie decided that we should come down off that trail and head back down off Guardsman Pass as the light seemed to be clearing towards the East. We found a great spot to stop along the road near a stand of Aspens that were dusted in snow.
Near the top of Guardsman Pass road.
Aspen stand in the snow.
The light just keeps getting better! More printable shots.
Snow covered curled plants make a beautiful foreground.
Sunlight on the Aspens.
Wow! I have to print this one.
We headed downhill and hiked up another trail. As usual, Willie was soon ahead.
Just trying to keep up.
Nice close up of snow on Aspen leaf.
As the clouds continued to lift, we descended into the canyon and took a hike up a drainage full of Maples.
Willie setting up a shot.
Single leaf with mossy branch.
Maples and grasses.
As we returned to my car, we were headed past the golf course by the Wasatch Visitors Center when I said, "You have to stop."
Willie said, "What? Are you going to beat me up if I don't?"
"No," I said, "You'll regret not getting that shot."
So we pulled over and caught some shots of the snow on Guardsman Pass above the Maples, Aspens and Sages in the foreground.
Snow on Guardsman Pass from below.
View from the golf course.
At that point, Willie had to go back to work, preparing for a show in Sundance the next day. I headed over to Sundance myself and got a few shots of Mount Timanogos with snow above and Fall color below. After that, the sky closed in and the rain I had been dreading finally came in earnest. I had no regrets at this point though because I had not only gotten the red Maples, the Aspens had turned early and to top it all off, I got shots in the snow. It was a dream come true.
Timpanogos in snow from Sundance.
Next trip I plan, I will be hoping for bad weather!