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: Canada, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, News & Updates, Switzerland

Exploring Wengen: Alpine Magic Part 6

Posted on March 16, 2015 by Mickey

In the previous Alpine Magic blog post, we explored a lot of the Berner Oberland. We took the train to Kleine Scheidegg, and up to the Jungfraujoch (also known as the Top of Europe). We also hiked to the Bachalpsee and toured the beautiful town of Grindelwald. Today’s post centers around what I consider my favorite mountain town in the world: Wengen, Switzerland.

A Magical Evening in Wengen

In the last Alpine Magic blog post, we had just gotten back to Lauterbrunnen from our hiking above Grindelwald. After an early afternoon-nap, I was refreshed and ready to explore Wengen fully. I had already visited it the day before for a nice sunrise, but really wanted to walk up and down many of the little streets and just see the entire town. However, I still had quite a bit of daylight, so I decided to walk around Lauterbrunnen a little more, shooting the image below.

Lauterbrunnen Panorama
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Panorama of the beautiful town of Lauterbrunnen

At one point, I considered walking up to Wengen from Lauterbrunnen, but didn’t feel like I had enough time to do that and fully explore Wengen before the sun went down. So after shooting the above shot, I hiked back down to train station and boarded the train up to Wengen again. I could tell there would be a beautiful sunset based on the clouds in the sky, and was excited to see what kind of photos I could get from this amazing mountain town. When I arrived, I walked east from the train station towards the east side of town, which featured a lot of beautiful fields of spring wildflowers starting to bloom.

Fields of Wengen
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A path through the beautiful wildflower-filled fields of Wengen

I walked further to the north back into the various houses on the northeast side of Wengen. At one point I turned around and saw the sky was just beginning to light up in the background.

Wengen Sunset
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The last remnants of a beautiful sunset in Wengen, Switzerland

I continued down the various roads until I looked back and saw the clouds really starting to light up at this point. It was hard not to just set the camera up in the middle of the path and start shooting photos. Every corner had another beautiful view of Wengen and the stunning Swiss Alpine scenery!

Beautiful Wengen
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Color starts to light up in the mountains above Wengen, Switzerland

I walked around the various little pathways towards the north side of Wengen. I looked back to the south again and saw the clouds hovering over the Jungfrau were turning to vibrant pink! This was one spectacular sunset! I stopped to take the following photo between some houses in Wengen.

Vibrance Over Wengen
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A vivid sunset lights up the mountains above Wengen, Switzerland

Back to the north, the clouds were also lighting up in vivid reds and pinks, but I couldn’t find a good composition to shoot from, as the trees on the north side of Wengen blocked a lot of the sky where I had walked to. Eventually the intense sunset started to subside and I continued exploring the little roads all around Wengen. I decided I wanted to just sit down and enjoy the views, and so I headed back to an area I had found the morning before when searching for a good sunrise location. The little church that’s just above the train tracks has an amazing view of the Lauterbrunnental Valley below. Even though it was getting to be night time, there was still a little post-sunset color in the sky. I always like this time of night, called the blue hour, when shooting more low-light scenes can wield interesting photographs. I managed to capture one such amazing shot below.

Dusk in Wengen
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Post sunset color lights up a beautiful night in Wengen

After shooting this image, I sat on the benches next to the Wengen church and just admired the amazing view. I knew this was my last evening up in the Berner Oberland and I didn’t want it to end. Eventually I made my way back to the Wengen train station and down to the Hotel Oberland in Lauterbrunnen where I was staying to get some sleep. I still had the morning to go back up to Wengen and on to the Mannlichen for an unforgettable hike!

Day 10: Sunday, May 31st, 2009 – Hiking the Mannlichen!

My plan for the final morning in Switzerland was to get high up into the Alps for a nice alpine hike. I also wanted to spent a few more minutes in Wengen before leaving the Berner Oberland. Our afternoon would consist of visiting Spiez on our way back to a night in Zurich before our morning flight home the next day. My brother and his girlfriend decided they would rather visit Trummelbach Falls further down the Lauterbrunnen valley, while I would hike to the top of the Mannlichen on my own. I had originally wanted to hike from Kleine Scheidegg to Mannlichen two days before, but the route was difficult due to snow for someone in a pair of hiking shoes, shorts and a t-shirt. So I felt like at least taking the cable car up and seeing the view off both sides of the Mannlichen towards Grindelwald on the east and Wengen/Lauterbrunnen on the west side would be a great end to my time in the Bernese Alps!

I awoke early, stopping at the Lauterbrunnen bakery for some breakfast. As usual, the bakeries in Switzerland never disappoint! I enjoyed the views from the train from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen while eating my breakfast. I got to Wengen around the time the Mannlichen aerial cableway was opening. The original line from Wengen to the Mannlichen station was built in the early 1950s, and was replaced in the early 1990s after an avalance buried the lower station. This renovated aerial cableway starts near the main street from Wengen, not too far from the train station.

The hike from the cable car station to the top of the Mannlichen is only a 15-20 minute walk. I took my time to shoot photos. Unfortunately clouds really covered the views to the east towards Grindelwald and had completely blocked views of the famous Berner Oberland mountain trio of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. However, the views back down towards Lauterbrunnen, Murren and Wengen still looked great!

Mannlichen View
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The beautiful view from halfway up the Mannlichen

Looking down to the Lauterbrunnen and Wengen below, it’s a marvel of technology that a train ride and an aerial cableway can take you from Lauterbrunnen’s elevation of 2,608 feet at the valley floor to over 7,500 ft at the cableway station on the Mannlichen. All this in about 20 or so minutes! I took my time shooting photos and enjoying the scenery on my way up to the Mannlichen summit.

Walking the Mannlichen
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View from the hiking trail up the Mannlichen

At the top, the views were phenominal, if a bit cloud covered. The clouds had been rolling in even thicker than they had been when I started at the cable car station a half hour before. You could make out the area where the Thunersee and Interlaken were. We would be continuing in that direction to Spiez later in the day. The views back towards Wengen still looked great, as you can see in the photo above. But the views to the east and towards the towering peaks were still blocked by clouds that were rolling in fast and furious. I knew we needed to get moving to have any time in Spiez, so I started heading back down to the summit while chatting with a Swiss mountain climber who was planning to do a climb up the Eiger in the coming weeks. Apparently he was training for an ascent up Mount Everest later that year! That was pretty awesome just to hear his climbing stories.

I arrived back at the Mannlichen cable car and rode back down to Wengen, saying goodbye to this amazing town before taking the train back down to Lauterbrunnen. We packed our stuff up, and got ready to visit the town of Spiez on our way back to Zurich for our plane home the next morning. I was sad to leave Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, Murren, Gimmelwald, Grindelwald and the entire Berner Oberland. I’ve dreamed of going back ever since! But I still had an afternoon to spend on the shores of the Thunersee at Spiez and it’s gorgeous castle! Check back in a day or two to read more about that adventure!

Posted under: Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen, Murren & Gimmelwald: Alpine Magic Part 4

Posted on March 11, 2015 by Mickey

In the last post for Alpine Magic, we visited the Chateau de Chillon. We knew we needed to be to our next location, Lauterbrunnen, by late afternoon. The reason? The Champion’s League final between Manchested United and Barcelona was being played, and we needed to find a place to watch it! We really wanted to take the Golden Pass scenic train, but timing didn’t allow it, so we boarded the train back to Martigny, and eventually to Interlaken, where the train would take us up into the Berner Oberland and Lauterbrunnen! I still remember seeing the first of many famous waterfall’s in the Lauterbrunnental Valley on the train and being in awe. I will say up front, while the rest of my Switzerland and France trip was fantastic, this area was, hands down, the best. Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, Murren and Gimmelwald are a mountain-lovers paradise. All of it is amazing. From the culture and way of life to the scenery and the hiking, it’s hard to find a place anywhere in the world that compares! I’ve been dreaming of the day I can visit Lauterbrunnen, Murren, Gimmelwald and Wengen again! It’s the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen in my life!

When we got off the train, we grabbed an easy dinner of cheese, bread and fruit at the bakery and dairy shops. The bakery, dairy, butcher, COOP and train station were all just a few short steps to the place we were staying, at the Valley Hostel of Lauterbrunnen. I normally don’t stay in hostels while traveling. This is mainly because I’m lugging expensive camera equipment and honestly, I just like my privacy. I like to work on photos in peace in my downtime. Thankfully, as we were there in the off-season, there were a number of private rooms available for a really good price. It didn’t come with breakfast or anything like many hotels do, but I was more interested in getting breakfast at the local bakeries by this point anyways. When many people think of hostels, they think of a dormitory style room with a bunch of beds stuck together. While they did have shared rooms, the upper floor had private rooms, of which I had one with a small balcony overlooking Staubbach Falls. The view was amazing, and the price was perfect!

We inquired from the Valley Hostel owners where we could watch the Champions League as the rooms didn’t have a TV. They suggested going down to the Horner Pub, as they would have the game on. So we walked down the main street, and entered the pub. We took the only open table left in the place, and listened to the elderly Scottish and English gentlemen talk about how great the game would be. We were ready to watch Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United take on Leo Messi and Barcelona, live from Rome for the coveted Champion’s League final! The only problem? We didn’t see a TV in the place. When a waitress finally came around, we asked about the game, to be told that they were showing it in a room in the back of the pub. “Bloody ‘ell, lads, we better get back there before we miss the kickoff!” I’ve never seen a group of elderly guys move so fast in my life. The English, Scottish, and, well, most of Europe live for their football. I felt right at home! The only thing that could have made it better was if my beloved Arsenal had made it into the final. But to just watch a Champion’s League final with a lot of British and Scottish folks in a place as beautiful as Lauterbrunnen was an experience! We filtered in to a few of the last seats in the back of the big room right in time to hear that famous Champion’s League anthem.

In many Swiss restaurants, ordering a beer is cheaper than water or a coke. That would be great, if I drank beer. However, I don’t. So I ordered a $4 bottle of Coke, and sat back to enjoy the experience. When I tried to tip the waitress/bartender for my Coke, she proceeded to explain to me how American culture tips more than Swiss culture, and I was giving her too much money. The honesty was nice! Another interesting thing I remember about the game was that most non-British tourists in the place were die-hard United fans. But almost all the British and Scottish fans were rooting for Barcelona. I suspect it wasn’t so much that they wanted Barca to win, but rather, United to lose. Many of them probably were fans of their local teams in England and Scotland, and so by principle couldn’t support the red half of Manchester. In the end, Barcelona won rather convincingly by 2-0.

As we left, we followed the older Scottish and English gentlemen towards the hostel as they bantered back and forth about Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo, the vision of Xavi and other players and moments of the game. I crashed pretty quickly that evening, excited for the hike through Murren and Gimmelwald that was planned for the morning!

Day 7: Thursday, May 28th, 2009 – Hiking Murren and Gimmelwald

We awoke the next morning ready to visit Murren and Gimmelwald! When I was first researching where I wanted to go in Europe, the entire Lauterbrunnental Valley kept coming up. A friend’s parents lent me some Switzerland travel guides and DVDs where I had first read about Gimmelwald. I researched the area, and knew I had to visit myself. So we grabbed breakfast at the local Lauterbrunnen bakery. Like Fuchs in Zermatt, Lauterbrunnen’s bakery was amazing! With breakfast in hand, we were ready to hike Murren and Gimmelwald.

There are three ways up to Murren and Gimmelwald, which sit perched atop the massive cliffs on the west side of the Lauterbrunnental valleys. One is to ride the bus from Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg and then taking the cable car up from there to Murren. The second option is to take the funicular from Lauterbrunnen up the Grutschalp, and then board a scenic train that follows the top of the cliff to Murren. The third option is to hike one of the trails up from the valley floor, up and around the cliffs to Murren or Gimmelwald. We decided to take the second option, riding the funicular right down the street from the bakery, and then taking the beautiful train ride to Murren. We would then hike down from Murren to Gimmelwald, then down to Stechelberg and back to Lauterbrunnen. When we arrived in Murren, we saw a Swiss mountain town at it’s finest. Murren sits at almost 5,500 feet above sea level, whereas Gimmelwald is at almost 4,500 feet. We walked through Murren and it’s many hotels. It’s said that there’s 4 times as many hotel beds in Murren as their are permanent residents in the village. It’s a beautiful village, with an amazing view across the Lauterbrunnental valley and the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau trio of famous Alps in the distance.

Village of Murren
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Murren and it’s amazing view!

We walked through town, admiring the views at every turn. Eventually, we got to the edge of town, where various farms take over the scenery from the hotels of Murren. We eventually came to the outskirts of Gimmelwald, where it’s said the cows far outnumber the people!

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One of the resident cows of Gimmelwald

Gimmelwald has been made famous by Rick Steves and his Europe books and videos. It’s a beautiful town, with tourism and farming the main gigs for permanent residents. It didn’t take long to move from one side of the town to the other, as beautiful as it was. We had already dropped a good 1,000 feet since Murren, and would be hiking down around the cliffs to Stechelberg another almost 1,500 feet below. We began the hike, which continued with it’s beautiful views of the valley below, but eventually turned back to the west and became more forested. Views like the one below dominated the landscape.

Deep in the Alps
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The view higher into the Alps on the hike from Gimmelwald to Stechelberg

As we walked deeper into the forests and started turning back towards the east, lots of small hidden waterfalls came into view. The entire Lauterbrunnen valley is sometimes referred to as the “Land of 72 waterfalls”. Beautiful waterfalls pour off the cliffs everywhere, and this stretch of the hike between Gimmelwald and Stechelberg contained a good number of them! The waterfall below might be my favorite from that hike because of the way the sun was directly overhead, hitting the water just right!

Swiss Waterfalls
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One of many waterfalls in the Lauterbrunnental Valley

When we got to Stechelberg, it had gotten quite warm outside, and we were getting really hungry. We decided the evening would be spent walking the valley floor between Lauterbrunnen and Stechelberg, so instead of walking back to Lauterbrunnen, we hopped on the bus that took us back. We stopped into the bakery, dairy store and COOP to pick up food for lunch and snacks for the next few days. Many of the little stores in Lauterbrunnen were fun to visit. I bought more chocolate than I should have, and enjoyed a LOT of cheese while I was there. At one point, I read that some people in Switzerland can tell you what region the cheese came from by it’s taste. We scarfed down a quick lunch then took a much needed powernap.

An amazing evening hike

I awoke after a short while and worked on some of the photos I had taken in the morning. By late afternoon, I decided ventured out into the Lauterbrunnen valley on my own. This easy hike through the valley is one of those memories I remember vividly. The weather was as perfect as it could be, and I started my walk down Lauterbrunnen’s main street towards the church.

Lauterbrunnen Church
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Lauterbrunnen’s beautiful church with Staubbach Falls in the background

Passing by the church, I stopped in the Lauterbrunnen cemetery and shot the photo below. Vivid flowers adorned the perfectly manicured grave-sites.

Life and Death
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Lauterbrunnen’s cemetery with Staubbach Falls in the background

I continued walking down the road that went to Stechelberg. Towards the edge of town was Lauterbrunnen’s Camping Jungfrau which is highly rated for it’s facilities. A little further along, a stream that came from Staubbach Falls crossed under the road. Right next to the stream was a driveway leading to the house in the photo below. If there was ever a house that I could call my dream house, this is it. Having a beautiful cascading mountain stream run right by your house, and a famous, 1,000 foot waterfall in your backyard for scenery would be a dream come true!

Lauterbrunnen Stream
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My dream house!

I continued on through the valley, and realized just how many flowers were starting their spring bloom. There was color everywhere, and the trees were so green! This was typical of all of Switzerland, but on this night, it stood out even more! Every direction I looked, I either saw colorful flowers, towering cliffs, massive waterfalls, or amazing views of the surrounding Swiss Alps.

At some point, halfway to Stechelberg, I decided to follow a small walking path between the various fields that eventually turned and followed the main river. The sunset was showing some good light in the distance. I tried grabbing some good photos of it, but nothing came out well. Or so I thought. The light had mostly gone in the distance towards the north, but as I was passing back by the church in Lauterbrunnen, I looked back to see the most vivid purple hued post-sunset glow I’ve ever seen.

Purple Lauterbrunnen
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A vivid purple-glowing sunset in Lauterbrunnen

Come back in a few days for the next few parts, where I explore Wengen, Grindelwald, hike the Mannlichen and take an amazing train ride to the Top of Europe station!

Posted under: Switzerland