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Bear Lake Four Seasons

Bear Lake Four Seasons, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Bear Lake Four Seasons, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

For some years, I have been intrigued with the idea of photographing exactly the same scene in all four seasons. The problem was that few locations are actually of equal interest in every season of the year. Wildflower fields that are lush and vibrant in mid-July are mud flats in spring and brown and brittle in fall. Evergreen forests look much the same year-round unless decked with fresh snow. In mid-September, 2006, I photographed the golden aspen above Bear Lake, in Rocky Mountain National Park, and suddenly realized that the location for Bear Lake Sunrise, as I called the image, might be an ideal place to shoot in all four seasons. When spring arrived, I made an image that featured the contrast of fresh green aspen leaves and the still-snowy heights of 14,259-foot Longs Peak. In late summer, I visited Bear Lake twice more and was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise. I returned in April, 2009, when a powerful spring storm had dumped 44 inches of new snow on Bear Lake, spent 45 minutes snowshoeing a quarter of a mile to my shooting location, and made the final image in the series.

Bear Lake provides evidence of the massive glaciers that sculpted Rocky Mountain National Park in three major glacial periods over the last 700,000 years. The most recent of these glacial advances, the Pinedale Glaciation, named for the town in Wyoming where this advance was first studied, reached its maximum extent only 20,000 years ago ‒ in geological terms, barely a blink of the eye. As these glaciers flowed downhill, they pushed enormous quantities of rock and sand in front of them. When the climate warmed and the glaciers retreated, large chunks of ice occasionally became trapped in the glacial debris. When the ice melted, it formed what geologists call a kettle lake. Bear Lake is one such lake, as is Dream Lake just a mile away. Today only tiny glaciers still exist in Rocky Mountain National Park. Trails starting at Bear Lake lead to three of them: Tyndall Glacier, above Emerald Lake; Taylor Glacier, above Sky Pond; and Andrews Glacier, in a side valley above the Loch.

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