This past June I woke up determined to catch first light in the Flat Tops Wilderness. Located 1 hour south of Steamboat Springs, the Flat Tops Wilderness is the 2nd largest wilderness area in the state of Colorado with more than 200 miles of trails, towering mesas, waterfalls, and sheer cliffs hundreds of feet tall! Typical to photography missions, this adventure began with a 2:45 am wake up call. Exhausted and sleep deprived I convinced myself to get out of bed based upon the premise of regret.
Due to unfortunate events and mistakes (Escalante post) my vehicle “The Beast,” (a 1994 Ford F150) was less than trustworthy. I had arranged to pick up my sisters vehicle to avoid a stranding dilemma. With that said, I was on my way at 3:45am in a light rain. The previous night I checked the forecast and it was certainly promising. I am not one to check forecasts or trust them unless it’s a dedicated mission such as this. One thing I do rely upon is the NOAA “sky cover percentage graph” with hourly plots. The graph said 80% cloud cover at 5am…and diminishing to 60% by 7am, this was ideal. As a photographer your best and worst friends are clouds. A listed 80% forecast is basically telling you it’s going to be an all-time sunrise/sunset if there’s a slight gap in the clouds where the sun will rise or set. However at the same time, if that gap closes…you’re skunked once again. That outcome is a common experience, however when you’re in the right spot at the right time…and it goes off, there’s no better feeling!
After 30 minutes of driving you pass through the quaint Colorado agriculture town of Yampa (where the Yampa River begins) before hitting a dirt road. As my confidence grows I’m stoked to start hiking in the dark up a hillside to find the perfect spot. Rallying…a bit to fast, I ironically blow a tire before sunrise. As a set of events naturally proceeds, it started to pour while I changed the spare tire, and I would eventually miss the 3 minutes of extraordinary light as a direct result.
I could only help but laugh during the whole scenario. My laughter soon turned into thoughts of “oh nooo!” as I realized my sisters vehicle has all wheel drive! Thus if you replace one, you have to replace all of the tires. After a call to the local tire shop in Steamboat the estimate came in at $700, with only one option (to be responsible and replace them all, even though I didn’t have the cash to fix my own vehicle). I returned my sisters vehicle and off to work I go, 11 hours and it will all be ok. “There’s nothing I can do now” I thought to myself as I penetrated the skin of the avocado I was cutting and deep into my hand as I prepared lunch. Ha ha…yup this is how it goes…
During my shift at Catamount I would receive a phone call from the tire store informing me they could fix the 1 tire for only $17 instead of $700! Relieved and now only exhausted, I finished my shift and to my surprise there was plenty of moisture in the air. Usually when the light is unreal and the golf course is vacant, you’ll have a few remaining souls that keep you until dark. This time was unpredictably different. It couldn’t have been more beautiful, yet no one was on the course. Shit! If I can leave in 10 min, I may just have enough time to boogie 30 min through town and out “20 mile road” to a beautiful barn I had scouted the previous week! On a side note, this is the exact reason why a photographer needs to scout. Moments of surreal beauty arise and disappear in a matter of minutes. Often the light is different and that is why having at least 10 “Go to spots” are necessary, because only one of them will be close enough and in the right position to guarantee the light you need.
As I race westward, the sun has yet to illuminate the clouds. To my surprise I arrive in time…just as the sun starts to exploit a small crease in the clouds. With only 10 minutes to spare, I quickly sprinted up a hillside to get in position. For quite some time I have wanted to capture a rustic barn setting…. A barn that isn’t iconic as the Steamboat poster barn, or the two barns on Mormon Row outside Jackson Hole. I just couldn’t believe my opportunity to shoot this barn would come only a week after finding the location!
Sure enough, the clouds lit up with deep blues and a vibrant pink!
After freaking out trying to get there and get set up, everything was perfect, and one dream unfolded before my eyes…surreal…time to relax and enjoy this godly moment as it unfolds. Everything that is and should be is here, everything I am…completely present.
Sometimes you can plan all you want and the most unlikely circumstances will take their course. I retired for the night with images I had pursued for quite some time. If anything the sunrise was my only option for shooting that day. Although it didn’t happen as I predicted, you couldn’t have wrote a more ironic script. These experiences happen to me constantly. Sometimes they are unwanted, but they sure do make a great experience and something to look back and laugh at!
My day appeared as if it was horrible and it would have been more than acceptable to emit negative energy that consumes both your mind and other bystanders. You never know how things are going to unfold, and I’m not always one to be positive and not let things get to me… This time I did, laughing everything off, and I would like to think that I was rewarded in the most unpredictable fashion!