Trail River Ranch and Barn

February 14, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

On the Sunday evening of the Super Bowl, I set out to photograph the Trail River Ranch Barn, hopefully beneath a colorful sunset, and later, a canopy of stars.  Given that the temperatures were in the teens with a clear sky, I knew the cold would intensify as the sun dropped over the ridge. In readiness for the below zero night ahead, I had on more layers than a large onion and felt like the Michelin man.

The trail head is a small parking spot that lies just inside the West entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. I was delighted to see the trail had little use, a single ski track leading back into the woods. My pack was loaded down with camera, tripod, food, tea, and even more clothes, so I welcomed the solid track underfoot.

I soon crossed the old vehicle bridge over the Colorado River. This high up in the head waters, it's little more than creek, especially in the dead of winter. Entering a big meadow, the barn was in sight, now just a few hundred yards away. The snow was quite deep, and only the main track packed, so I had to break trail, following the slight depression of an old track over to the barn.

I picked a spot on the south side of the barn near a bit of fence and a small pine, hoping I could hang my gear, and that the North Star would be over the barn roof. I was a tad late, for I had hoped to shoot a time-lapse video of the sun set. I hurriedly set the camera up and started the program, and got maybe 2-3 minutes of shots before the sun set over the western ridge. Luck wasn't with the sunset, no clouds or color made for a fade to blue video.


I still had the better part of an hour before any chance of shooting the stars, and with the temperature dropping, I figured going for a ski to warm up and possibly get some more shots was a good idea. I headed out across an open meadow towards the main house, where Betty Dick had spent her last summers here in the beautiful Kawuneeche Valley. She and her husband were the last private owners of the ranch, which had been in operation since 1914.

Nestled in the west arm of Rocky Mountain National Park near Grand Lake, the Ranch is now owned and operated by the Park Service as the Trail River Ranch Education Center, whose mission is to educate and attract current and future generations to Rocky Mountain National Park.


The skis rode deep in the old buried track, a silent slide across the meadow to the bridge over Baker Creek.

I noticed several tracks of various critters running along the snow banks, probably out and about on their nightly sojourns.

 The little pole bridge over the creek was completely covered as I slid across, heading towards the main house.

The blue hour, the time of last light, was at its height, the deep blue tone setting the hour for star rise. I turned about and headed back towards the barn, delighting in the silence and awesome wonder, the sliver of a new moon helping to light the scene.

Warmed up and ready for the task of taking the shots to make a composite photo of the barn with startrails, I moved the camera to a point just in front of the barn, hoping I had the north star just where I wanted. As I set up the tripod in the deep powder, I discovered a new fact about bottomless snow. There was no solid anything to be found, the tripod was only held up by the tension and angle of the legs in the powder. No matter how I packed it, a stable set up was just not happening. I settled for the best position I could get, started the sequence, and crossed my fingers as I gingerly slipped away to wait the 15 minutes until the star shots were done.

Thirty 30 second shots later, I came back and used my big Ryobi flashlight to paint the barn and the small trees for the final exposure. By now, the cold was intense; the camera was covered in frost, and only the LED flashlights still worked. I hurriedly packed my gear, and skied back at a brisk pace, hoping to generate at least enough heat to bring feeling back into my frozen toes. Back at the trail head, my truck and it's promise of heat was a most welcome site. I drove home, warmed by both the truck heater and the wonderful time spent in the snow and silence, hoping the shots had come out, and that my friends in town were enjoying a Super Bowl win by their team, the Denver Broncos. The photos turned out ok; Broncos, not so much :)

Hope you enjoy the photos!







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