19 From '19: My Favorite Photos from 2019

December 2019

2019 has been an active, adventurous, and productive year for me, and as it comes to an end I thought I'd present a selection of my 19 personal favorite photos of the year. I'll talk a little bit about each one below.

Nevada, Pinto Valley Wilderness, rainbow, Mojave Desert, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, photo

Rainbow Over Pinto Valley

Pinto Valley Wilderness, Nevada

A spectacular double rainbow over the Pinto Valley in the Pinto Valley Wilderness of Nevada.

In March, my wife Claudia and I went on a road trip for three weeks in the Mojave desert. We did a number of exporatory backpack trips, including a fantastic uncharted trek through the Pinto Valley Wilderness near Lake Mead in Nevada. On our first evening out there we scrambled up a little peak for sunset and were totally surprised and elated when a massive double rainbow appeared at sunset! I can only speculate how rare such a sight would be in the desert, and to witness it from a high perch like this was quite a treat.

California, Coxcomb Mountains, Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave Desert, photo

Boulder Basin Sunlight

Joshua Tree National Park, California

The sun sets over a super rugged bouldery basin high in the Coxcomb Mountains of Joshua Tree National Park, California.

This photo above from a remote mountain range in Joshua Tree National Park in California is one of my favorites due to the unique ruggedness and isolation of the location. These were the most rugged mountains I've ever hiked in, and the photo shows that essense of utter ruggedness. I love exploring unknown, off-the-radar places like this; there's something so special about hiking someplace where there are no signs of previous visitors, where you might actually wonder if anybody has ever even stepped foot there before.

Arizona, Black Mountains, Cathedral Rock, cactus, cholla, Mojave Desert, photo

Cathedral Rock Dusk Glow

Black Mountains, Arizona

Dusk glow on Cathedral Rock in the Black Mountains of Arizona.

On this evening in the Black Mountains of Arizona I had fun wandering around trying to find a perfect composition of cholla cacti framing the spectacular spire of Cathedral Rock. It's a shame that this exceptionally beautiful desert mountain range is so thoroughly abused by mining operations, off road vehicle trails, and illegal trash dumping. This little zone was one oasis of relatively untrammeled nature amongst the broader blight.

California, Turtle Mountains, wildflowers, Mojave Desert, photo

Turtle Mountains Sunrise

Turtle Mountains, California

A spectacular sunrise over the Turtle Mountains in the Mojave Desert of California.

In the spring of 2019 the "superbloom" was big news in southern California and the Mojave Desert. After an exceptionally wet winter, many desert locations were carpeted with fields of wildflowers (and subsequently trampled by Instagrammers). I wasn't eager to visit the popular spots along with the hordes, and during our road trip I kept joking to Claudia that hopefully we'd stumble upon our own private superbloom. As luck would have it, I got my wish at the Turtle Mountains of eastern California, where we enjoyed several days of wandering around the jagged peaks amongst vast fields of purple wildflowers. This colorful sunrise above the mountains was a highlight moment there.

Colorado, Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, summit, Milky Way, Telluride, photo

Sneffels Starlight

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

The Milky Way as seen from the 14,150 ft. summit of Mt. Sneffels in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The clouds are illuminated by the lights of Telluride, and the horizon glow is from Durango.

The winter of 2019 was one of the biggest snow seasons on record in Colorado, and in June the San Juan Mountains were still totally smothered by snowpack. I had one of my overly-ambitious, slightly hair-brained photo ideas to climb Mount Sneffels in the dark to shoot Milky Way photos from the summit! The effort and lack of sleep was worth it; I ended up with one of my favorite photos of the year (and probably the most difficult to attain of them all).

Colorado, Mears Peak, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, wildflowers, lupine, photo

Stormy Lupines

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Mears Peak, the Sneffels Range, and a field of lupine wildflowers under a stormy sky in June.

The abundant snowpack of 2019 fed a widespread bloom of lupine wildflowers along the flanks of the Sneffels Range in June. I'm fond of this classic scene of the flowers as a spring storm rolled in over the mountains.

4th of July, Colorado, Ouray, San Juan Mountains, fireworks, Milky Way, photo

Ouray Cosmic Fireworks

Ouray, Colorado

4th of July fireworks in Ouray, Colorado, with the Milky Way galaxy above. To create this photo I first photographed the fireworks then left the camera in the same exact position for about an hour after dusk then photographed the stars, and combined the two photos.

The town of Ouray must be one of the most photogenic places anywhere to photograph fireworks, in its deep valley with the rugged mountains towering overhead. I've photographed the fireworks in Ouray from numerous vantage points over the years, but this last 4th of July I tried something a little different, capturing the festivities amongst the cosmos.

Colorado, Engineer Mountain, San Juan Mountains, sunrise, photo

Sunrise on Engineer Mountain

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Sunrise on Engineer Mountain (12,968 ft.).

It wasn't until the end of July that the snow finally melted enough for summer backpacking in the high San Juans. On this morning during a backpack trip through the San Juans near Silverton I hiked up Engineer Mountain for sunrise and photographed the light illuminating its crumbly ridgeline. What better way to greet a summer day in Colorado than from high up on a mountain?

Colorado, Potosi Peak, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, wildflowers, photo

Potosi Peak & Lupine

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Sunrise light on Potosi Peak (13,786 ft.) and the Sneffels Range.

I have a lot of favorite spots around Ouray where I like to go for quick overnight backpacking trips, this spot being one of them, with a view of the rugged south side of the Sneffels Range. While Mount Sneffels is obviously the monarch of the Sneffels Range, Potosi Peak dominates the range as seen from the southeast. I always think of Sneffels as the queen and Potosi the king of the range. This whole side of the range that you see in the photo is proposed for much-deserved wilderness designation by the CORE Act, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019, but is currently languishing in the Republican controlled Senate.

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Wetterhorn Peak, photo

Wetterhorn Peak Sunset #3

Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado

Sunset light on Wetterhorn Peak (14,015 ft.) with thunder clouds in the background.

There are some vistas that I keep coming back to again and again over the years; this epic view of Wetterhorn Peak is one of them. This was the third time I've been up here for sunset since 2007, and I think the result is my best yet, with the giant thunderclouds in the background.

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Wetterhorn Basin, Wetterhorn Peak, wildflowers, photo

Wetterhorn in Candyland

Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado

Rich sunset light on Wetterhorn Peak (14,015 ft.) amidst a glorious field of Indian Paintbrush wildflowers.

The huge snowpack of 2019 took a month longer than usual to melt off, delaying the alpine summer until late July or early August. During my backpack trips I noticed that some places that normally have wildflowers had none, but other places had tons of wildflowers! In this particular basin - one of my favorites in the San Juans - the wildflowers were the best I've ever seen, with dense fields of paintbrush. 

Colorado, Dragonsback, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Wilderness, photo

Dragon Dusk

Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado

A long 20-second exposure captured the dusk glow on a rugged volcanic spire in the Uncompahgre Wilderness.

Over the summer I repeated a lot of old favorite backpack trips in the San Juans, including camping below this volcanic spire in the Uncompaghre Wilderness. But after this time I vowed to never camp here again. I hiked up here with a totally clear weather forecast, but soon after I set up my tent on the tundra high above treeline and miles from the safety of forest cover, thunderclouds blew up and I endured a couple terrifying hours of lightning and thunder booming nearby. Not cool. Eventually the storm rolled past and I ventured up to a high ridge to photograph this spire in the dusk glow light, while watching a huge herd of hundreds of elk down below.

Colorado, Needle Mountains, Pigeon Peak, San Juan Mountains, Turret Peak, Weminuche Wilderness, reflection, photo

Smoky Needles Reflection

Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado

A prescribed burn west of the San Juans caused a smoky sunset on this warm August evening. Pigeon and Turret Peaks show through the haze.

The summer of 2019 was fortunately smoke-free for the most part, with no major wildfires (unlike 2018 which was super dry and smoky). So we were surprised (and a bit distraught) when we were camping here in the Weminuche Wilderness and noticed smoke blowing in over the mountains. Turns out it was just from a prescribed burn, and the haze made for some unique and surreal atmospheric light conditions.

Bridger Wilderness, Cook Lakes, Mount Lester, Wind River Range, Wyoming, photo

Cook Lake Dawn Reflection

Wind River Range, Wyoming

A tranquil dawn at Cook Lakes.

In September I did a 10-day trek through the Wind River Range in Wyoming. This particular morning was perfectly calm, and the photo just reminds me so much of that tranquil and peaceful feeling of being in this place deep in the wilderness. 

Bewmark Lake, Bridger Wilderness, Dragon Head Peak, Mount Bonneville, Nylon Peak, Pronghorn Peak, Wind River Range, Wyoming, photo

Blue Symmetry

Wind River Range, Wyoming

Jagged peaks of the central Wind River Range reflect in a remote, high lake.

Photographing this remote view above was one of my main goals of my Wind River trek. I love the uncanny symmetry not only of the reflection from top to bottom, but of the mountains themselves from left to right - it's like a double axis mirror image. 

Cimarrons, Colorado, San Juan Mountains, aspens, Courthouse Mountain, Chimney Rock, autumn, photo

Cimarron Light Show

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Fantastic sunset light illuminates golden aspens, Chimney Rock, and Courthouse Mountain in the Cimarron Range.

Autumn in the San Juans this year was both good and bad - good because the aspen colors were wonderful, but bad because we were plagued with relentlessly clear blue skies, which are great for being outdoors but not very interesting for photography. But this one evening in the Cimarrons after the first snowfall made up for it, with the most incredibly brilliant sunset light I'd seen all year.

Dolomites, Italy, Passo Giau, Ra Gusela, Tofana de Rozes, October, reflection, Alps, photo

Giau Glow

Dolomites, Italy

Ra Gusela and Tofana de Rozes glow with dawn light, as seen from a small tarn near Passo Giau.

In late October we traveled to the Dolomites in Italy for several weeks. This particular morning was one of the photographic highlights of the trip, with a rich dawn light that illumated the pyramidical peaks well before sunrise.

Dolomites, Italy, Monte Civetta, November, Alps, photo

Civetta in the Clouds

Dolomites, Italy

Sunset light beams through misty clouds below Monte Civetta.

Last but certainly not least, this mindblowing sunset behind Civetta was THE photographic moment of my year, and one of my all time memorable moments in the mountains. After hiking up this sub-peak and waiting in the cold and clouds all afternoon, this mystical scene revealed itself as the setting sun shone through the clouds swirling around the peak.

Dolomites, Italy, Monte Civetta, November, Alps, photo

Civetta Sunset

Dolomites, Italy

A spectacular sunset on Monte Civetta.

The clouds cleared even more at sunset, and with the sunlight and clouds streaming off Civetta... just a ridiculously awesome moment to witness.

I am so grateful for all the time spent out in the mountains and wilderness this year, and for the companionship of Claudia who accompanied me on most of these adventures. I want to also thank all my print collectors for your support which enabled me to do all of this. I wish you all a Happy New Year!!!

Posted in Miscellaneous.