I can't find my slippers, so I step outside barefoot, picking through crusty patches of snow, toes stinging as I scramble for just the right angle. The colors are swirling in all directions, and though I've seen a thousand Colorado dawns before (I have small children; I get up early), this one is different, I tell myself. I've got to get it.
Something urgent pulls me across the cold wooden deck, the light and clouds changing with each picture I take. Colorado is easy like that, or at least seems that way to me -- feeding photographers a steady, nourishing stream of grand skyscapes, wildlife, colors, textures and people to strengthen the portfolio of amateurs and professionals alike. Since I am definitely a member of the former group, I decided to reach out to a pro to find out if it was just me.
"The diversity that we have in our state is what makes us unique," says nature and wildlife photographer Don Mammoser, author of Wildflowers of Colorado Field Guide (Adventure Publications, 2007) and The Photographer's Guide to the Colorado Rockies (Countryman Press, 2008) when I contact him with my state-specific questions.
"From the prairies of the eastern half of Colorado to our national parks to the habitats of the mountains, including high tundra, to the desert canyons in extreme southwest and northwest Colorado -- other places have some of what Colorado has, but we have it all" he says.
Mammoser keeps a battered DeLorme Colorado Atlas and Gazetteer filled with notes, marks and sketches from his years of shooting. Although I've traveled a bit in my adopted state, Mammoser's miles put mine to shame.
"The San Juan Mountains certainly stand out as a favorite," he says, after first giving me the expected "there are no bad places and I love them all, even Denver" answer. "Specifically, the area around Ouray is just fantastic for scenic photography. For native Colorado wildlife, hardly any place beats Rocky Mountain National Park. There are large and small mammals, lots of birds, and much more there."
Mammoser's favorite time of year to shoot is "an easy one," he says. "Autumn. Typically the third or fourth week of September, anywhere near Telluride or Ouray, or in the central Rocky Mountains, near Aspen or Crested Butte, is just a great time to be a photographer. When we get a blue sky, combined with brilliant yellow aspen leaves and snow-capped peaks, it can be overwhelmingly gorgeous."
Of course, he adds, nothing beats "a good flower year," which comes in mid-July in most of the mountains, or a little earlier around Crested Butte.
I take a couple more shots, tilting the camera, trying to capture as much of the sky as I can, then hurry back inside.
"Daddy, what were you doing?"
My 5-year-old stands in her pajamas. I blow into my hands, stomp my feet and, before I can answer, she says, "Were you taking a picture of the sunrise again?"
I nod, take her little hand, and we walk over to the window to watch the rest of the show.