2015 Year in Review: Keeper of the Plains, Big Sur and more!

Posted on December 30, 2015 by Mickey

2015 was a great year for photography! I managed to take three major trips this year! In March and April, my wife and I visited Seattle, Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the southern coastal mountains of British Columbia near Whistler. We stayed in Ucluelet, British Columbia to tour western Vancouver Island’s enchanting Pacific Rim National Park, where the Pacific Ocean crashes into the raw coastline of this enchanting and rugged national park. We drove up the Sea to Sky highway and viewed a number of waterfalls, along with spending a day or two checking out Vancouver and the surrounding areas.

In July, we took a roadtrip from Wichita to Phoenix. We didn’t just drive down the interstate though. We traveled through southern Colorado, crossing the mountain ranges of the Sangre de Cristos and the San Juans. We visited the iconic Monument Valley and Grand Canyon National Park amidst some unseasonably chilly weather in the desert.

And in September, I took my annual autumn colors trip out to Colorado before boarding a plane in Denver with my wife, sister-in-law and friend to California. While in California, we drove the length of Lake Tahoe and celebrated a wonderful wedding in the mountains north of Lake Tahoe. We also explored San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, along with the communities in the mountainous and foggy regions to the north of the Golden Gate Bridge including the John Muir National Monument where the towering and mysterious redwoods still live. My wife topped it off with a couple of days down in Monterey and Big Sur, where every sunrise and sunset seemed to light up the sky in beautiful and vivid colors every morning and night!

I also spent more time exploring the eastern half of Kansas than I’ve ever explored before. I made it a personal goal to try to find as many of the many Kansas waterfalls I hadn’t seen yet this year. As we had a number of good rainfalls, I’ve expanded my list of waterfalls to 80+ and counting in the state of Kansas. I’ve also traveled many of the scenic byways of Kansas in recent months including the Glacial Hills and Frontier Military Scenic Byways. 2015 was a year of exploration close to home to visit many of the beautiful hidden gems here in Kansas.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that 2015 wasn’t just a great year for me personally as a photography, but also my wife, who started a business as a wedding and lifestyle photographer! Check her out at ValerieShannonPhotography.com!

I also wanted to mention that all the top 15 images of 2015 are currently on sale until January 15th, 2016 at 10% off!

With that said, here’s my top 15 photos from 2015 Year In Review:

15. Moody Trout Lake

Moody Trout Lake
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Moody clouds drift through the mountains above Trout Lake

I had hoped to get a beautiful sunset on the night I shot this. Unfortunately the clouds never lifted, but the scenery was still beautiful! Wildflowers dotted the hillside on the west of Trout Lake, giving a great foreground to the moody background above Trout Lake in the San Juans of Colorado.

14. Pacific Rim Coastline

Pacific Rim Coastline
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The Pacific Ocean crashes into the coastline of Pacific Rim National Park

This shot just screams Pacific Rim to me. Both rain and sun seem to show their heads every half hour as storms come in from the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Vancouver Island. This was shot just to the south of the lighthouse in Ucluelet, British Columbia. With the rocks being battered by raging waves and the rain coming inland once again, this photo sums up my experiences on the west coast of Vancouver Island and Pacific Rim National Park.

13. Stormy Kansas Sunset Panorama

Stormy Kansas Sunset Panorama
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Panorama of storm clouds at sunset near Minneapolis, Kansas

This is just one of many great shots I actually got on the night I shot this. My wife and I were visiting her grandparents in Minneapolis, Kansas over Memorial Day weekend when a thunderstorm rolled through the area. This was the first shot I took, stitching together multiple images to create a panorama of the large storm cloud spread out on the horizon. As sunset was just beginning, the colors in the clouds added to the beauty of the storms.

12. Atkinson Lighthouse

Atkinson Lighthouse
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A kayak is left on the rocks below Atkinson Lighthouse

One of my favorite shots from my trip up to Vancouver and Vancouver Island back in April, this shot was about half an hour before sunset. A few other groups of people were enjoying the views as well. Atkinson Lighthouse is situated in West Vancouver and overlooks the Howe Sound. On a clear day, you can see down towards Vancouver Island.

11. Friends University Winter

Friends University Winter
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A winter storm brings heavy snow to Friends University

A sunset was attempting to shine through at the beginning of a snowstorm on the campus of Friends University. I chose this scene out of four shots I took down there as it had a sort of Thomas Kincaid feel to me, due to the slightly purple sunset hues and the lampposts and lights on the campus.

10. Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park

Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park
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Beautiful Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park

One of my favorite stops on Vancouver Island was the beautiful Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. Surrounded by ancient forest, the river that ran through this park that created multiple beautiful falls was so vividly aqua-blue and green. Vancouver Island in general was such a mysterious and enchanting place, and Little Qualicum Falls only added to that feeling!

9. Keeper of the Plains Fiery Sunset

Keeper of the Plains Fiery Sunset
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A beautiful and fiery sunset at the Keeper of the Plains

The second of two amazing Keeper of the Plains sunsets I managed to shoot in one night. The sunset first started off extremely yellow and orange, then turned to bright red before showing off a multitude of colors in this scene!

8. Sunflower Sunset

Sunflower Sunset
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A beautiful sunset gives a great backdrop to the classic Kansas sunflower scene!

I spent quite a bit of time trying to find a sunflower field near Wichita that was at peak. I managed to find one just a few days past peak up near Lindsborg and captured this sunset over the field of yellow sunflowers!

7. Swissvale Falls

Swissvale Falls
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One of the many beautiful waterfalls I’ve found in Kansas this year

I went on a number of Kansas waterfall runs this year, in an effort to map out all of the 80+ waterfalls I’ve found in Kansas so far. One of my favorites is this little known waterfall southeast of Topeka called Swissvale Falls. It lies on a rails-to-trails hike called the Landon Nature Trail. This photo is one of my favorite because of the lush green scenery that complimented Swissvale Falls perfectly!

6. Keeper of the Plains Winter Illumination

Keeper of the Plains Winter Illumination
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Snow falls while illuminating the Keeper of the Plains

I loved the way the snow became almost texturized in this shot at the Keeper of the Plains. The shutter speed was set in a way that captured the wavy motion of how the snow was falling.

5. Sangre de Cristos Double Rainbow

Sangre de Cristos Double Rainbow
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An intense double rainbow stands high about Blanca Peak in the Sangre de Cristos mountains

As I traveled with my wife from Wichita, Kansas to Phoenix, Arizona back in July, we drove down a scenic route that took us to the Great Sand Dunes National Park for sunset. Shortly before a vivid sunset, this beautiful double rainbow popped up over Blanca Peak and the Sangre de Cristos mountains!

4. Kansas Sunset Thunderstorm

Kansas Sunset Thunderstorm
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A beautiful sunset illuminates ominous looking thunderstorm clouds

This insane thunderstorm rolled through the Minneapolis, Kansas area in late May. My wife and I grabbed the camera and tripod and tried to follow ahead of the storm. The clouds were rolling through right at sunset as well, so they lit up very spectacularly!

3. Vivid Keeper of the Plains Sunset

Vivid Keeper of the Plains Sunset
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An extremely vivid orange sunset lights the clouds behind the Keeper of the Plains

I shot this image back in May during one of the most insane sunsets I’ve ever seen! In fact, there are two Keeper of the Plains sunsets on this top 15 in 2015 list from that very night. It was just that good. This was the first of the two, and had me running back and forth from various spots around the Keeper of the Plains for different vantage points. There was even a rainbow behind me when shooting this. You know it’s a beautiful sunset when the sunset itself takes precedence over a rainbow! The sunset really felt like fire was rising out of the sky behind the statue.

2. Teter Rock Winter Milky Way

Teter Rock Winter Milky Way
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The Milky Way sets in the western skies above Teter Rock

This shot was taken in November as the Milky Way was setting in the western sky. Teter Rock is my go-to spot. Especially for night scenes, as the Milky Way usually shines bright in the sky over it.

1. Big Sur Sunset

Big Sur Sunset
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A fiery and colorful sunset lights up the spectacular Big Sur coastline of California

This photo easily topped my list this year! I’ve been two Big Sur twice now. The first time I witnessed an insanely beautiful sunrise back in January of 2012. I had the pleasure of visiting it with my wife back in September, and was treated to two spectacular sunsets and an amazing sunrise! This was shot on the second sunset of our Big Sur adventures. We had driven the length of Big Sur and were driving back. I really wanted to get a sunset picture at McWay Falls, so we stopped and admired the view of the falls to the south. However, to the north and out over the ocean, this magnificent sunset was unfolding. I turned my camera in that direction and shot the scene that’s before you.


Looking ahead to 2016

As I look forward to 2016, I don’t have any planned major trips out of the state of Kansas. However, most of my trips this year were planned mere months in advance at best, so I would imagine my camera will lead me somewhere!

However, I do plan to travel the state of Kansas really extensively with planned trips out to western Kansas to finally visit places like Monument Rocks, Castle Rock, Wilson Lake, Scott City State Park and the Cimarron National Grasslands. I also hope to finish visiting the rest of my waterfall list if we’re blessed with enough rain in 2016. My hope is to publish a book about the beauty of Kansas in late 2016 or early 2017 showcasing all the awesome places I’ve visited in the past six years!

Thanks for a great 2015 and here’s to an even better 2016!

Posted under: Kansas, News & Updates

Moraine Lake to Waimea Canyon: My Top 10 Photo Spots

Posted on December 9, 2015 by Mickey

Everyone has those favorite places they love to visit. Whether it’s hiking in Switzerland, walking in the sand at the Pacific Ocean as waves roll in on a wild beach, or watching buffalo roam the tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills, we all have our special places! My favorite places to photograph have evolved dramatically over the past 6-7 years as I’ve picked up a camera and photographed the places I travel to. I wanted to share some of these favorite places to photograph with you. This list only consists of places I’ve been too. If I had been hiking in at Torres del Paine in Chile, traveling the countryside of New Zealand or photographing under the stars at Monument Rocks in western Kansas, I would imagine this list would be even harder. But I’m only going off of places I’ve been to over and over again! I really struggled to decide this list. The top three in particular kept changing places as I was writing this. If you were to ask me to name my favorite spot to photograph in any given week, it would probably change weekly.

Also keep in mind that this list is based of my favorite places to photograph, not visit. There are undoubtedly a few spots I would have much higher on this list (Chamonix-Mont Blanc in France, Vancouver Island, the Chateau de Chillon in Switzerland) had my photography plans in those places worked out better. Poor lighting, lack of time and more kept these places off this list. These are simply the top 10 places I’ve had the pleasure of photographing.

1. Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Moraine Lake Sunset
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A beautiful Moraine Lake sunset

When I visited the Canadian Rockies back in 2012, the place I tended to always gravitate back to was Moraine Lake. While driving up and down the beautiful Icefields Parkway, I probably visited Moraine Lake 5 times in 3 days. It’s a special place, and easily the most beautiful alpine lake I’ve ever seen.

2. Keeper of the Plains, Wichita, Kansas

Keeper of the Plains Lightning Bolt
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A lightning bolt frames the Keeper of the Plains

This is my go-to spot for photography. It’s treated me well. A lot of my best images are from this Wichita icon, and while the mountains are always my favorite terrain, the Keeper of the Plains has become a constant subject in my work that no other place has filled. I’ve shot more images at the Keeper of the Plains than any other place in the world, and I keep going back for more and more!

3. Wengen, Berner Oberland, Wengen, Switzerland

Dusk In Wengen
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Twilight settles at dusk in Wengen, Switzerland

Much like Moraine Lake, the view from the bench at the church in Wengen, Switzerland was a spot I continued to return to on my trip through the Alps for photography. It’s also the spot I long to go back to most in Europe someday.

4. Dallas Divide/Sneffels Wilderness, Ridgway, Colorado

Colorado Wildflowers
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A field of wildflowers on the slopes of Mount Sneffels

The Dallas Divide on the north side of the San Juans in the Colorado Rockies have become my favorite place in all of Colorado to visit. There’s a two-fold reason. My hike in 2011 to Blue Lakes in the Sneffels Wilderness produced some of the most beautiful wildflower displays I have ever seen! Second, Dallas Divide is easily my favorite spot to return to for autumn colors, as the vistas along it’s many backroads are unforgettable!

5. Big Sur, California

Big Sur Sunset
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A beautiful Big Sur sunset

I’ve now visited Big Sur twice. Once was for a brief morning in early 2012 that produced a spectacular sunrise. The second was in autumn of 2015, which also produced some of the best sunrises and sunsets of the entire year for me. One particular sunset was one of the best I’ve ever photographed! My favorite spot along Big Sur: McWay Falls. Not only does it have a beautiful tidefall waterfall that drops directly into the ocean at a gorgeous beach, but the view back towards the north is also spectacular!

6. Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado

Maroon Creek
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The Maroon Bells tower above a wildflower lined Maroon Creek

I’m not sure why it took me so long to visit the Maroon Bells in my years of visited Colorado, but I’ve been back almost every year since! Once for wildflowers, but mostly for the beautiful fall colors. Pro-tip: Droves of people will line the northwest shore of Maroon Lake to get the classic reflective Maroon Bells shot, but I find walking to the far side of the lake and photographing the various angles there far more rewarding. I don’t know how many times I’ve shown up for a sunrise with 200 other people fighting for rock or something in their foreground at the edge of the lake, only to find views along Maroon Creek completely deserted.

7. Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Mystical Dream Lake
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A foggy Memorial Day morning at Dream Lake

If you had asked me in the years prior to taking my photography as seriously as I do now, Rocky Mountain National Park would be #1 without a shadow of a doubt. I’ve since visited some amazing places in the world, but I’ll always hold a soft spot for Dream Lake in Colorado.

8. Waimea Canyon, Waimea, Kauai, Hawaii

Waimea Canyon Rainbow
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Waimea Canyon is graced by a vivid rainbow near Waipoo Falls

There were a few places on Kauai that I kept returning to in the week I spent on the island. The one that produced the best images was the Waimea Canyon. I continued to drive up that road to the canyon and into Kokee State Park beyond. Other spots on Kauai that almost made this list include the Kilauea Lighthouse, Hanalei Bay and the Napali Coast.

9. Teter Rock, near Cassoday, Kansas

Teter Rock Winter Milky Way
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The Milky Way shines bright above Teter Rock

Teter Rock has become my go-to spot for shooting Milky Way and star scenes in recent years. Far enough away from city lights, but within an hour and a half drive from Wichita, it makes for an easy getaway to get out under the stars. It’s also a great place to photograph a good Kansas thunderstorm as it rolls across the prairie.

10. The Old Mill, Little Rock Arkansas

Old Mill Gardens
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Spring blooms at the Old Mill

I’ve only visited the Old Mill once, but the shots I got for the little time I spent there rank up there as some of my favorites. The one pictured here was a particular favorite. While most of Arkansas is probably inundated with images from the Old Mill (it’s a Little Rock icon), for a tourist looking for a great place to photograph, it was the perfect spot!

Other spots I loved photographing at:
Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, Canada
Kilauea Lighthouse, Kauai
Lauterbrunnen Valley Floor, Switzerland
Hanging Lake, Colorado
Peyto Lake, Banff National Park, Canada
Murren, Switzerland
Spiez, Switzerland
Mer de Glace, France
Cowley Falls, Kansas
Moraine Park, Colorado
Bear Lake, Colorado
Geary Lake Falls, Kansas
Kalalau Overlook, Kauai
Napali Coast, Kauai
Hanalei Valley, Kauai
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Boulder Brook, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Posted under: Kansas, News & Updates, Switzerland