Spring Sunrise at Sprague Lake

Spring sunrise at Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Spring sunrise at Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The calendar claims that winter lasts only three months, but high in the Colorado Rockies, big snowstorms can bury the peaks anytime from September through May. The winter of 2020-21 was quite dry, and I didn’t shoot a single winter-wonderland image in Rocky Mountain National Park. Suddenly, on April 20th, with the first spring flowers already blooming in Boulder, my hometown, the weather pattern changed. A major spring storm dumped six to eight inches of cold, dry, powder snow on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. I hiked and snowshoed to Bierstadt Lake, still well-frozen, and was privileged to shoot a beautiful sunrise, with pink light bathing snow-laden peaks and trees. I figured that was the end of shooting snow scenes for the year.


Then, on May 4th, another spring storm hit. This time I went to Sprague Lake, which is lower in elevation than Bierstadt Lake, hoping the lake would be partially thawed so I could get a reflection of frosted trees and peaks in calm water. Fortunately, some parts of the lake had indeed thawed. Unfortunately, the clouds didn’t lift off the peaks until well after sunrise. The scene was beautiful, but the images lacked the magic light that would have lifted them to another level. Now I was sure I was done with tromping around in the snow for the season.


I was astonished when yet another major spring storm arrived on May 12th. I returned to Sprague Lake before sunrise to find eight inches of cold, dry snow on the ground and the lake partially thawed. This time the clouds had mostly lifted off the peaks before sunrise and the sky was clear at the eastern horizon. Pink light bathed the peaks and the remaining clouds. A pool of open water surrounded by a thin sheet of ice reflected the snow-laden trees and peaks. As always, the most vivid color lasted only a few minutes, just long enough to allow me to make one of my all-time favorite winter-wonderland images.