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.
19 From '19: My Favorite Photos from 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!