Brainard Lake Recreation Area and the Indian Peaks Range in Colorado

One of the great undiscovered and very picturesque areas of Colorado's Front Range is Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

OK, that's a big joke - about it being undiscovered.

Morning at Brainard Lake. Mount Audubon is shrouded by clouds at its peak. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

Here's how "undiscovered" it is. I had been camping there for a few days recently when I exited the grounds (drove out past the ranger station where fees are collected) and on to an outcrop near the road back to the highway where I could get cell reception so I could check on my kids. I noticed there were a few cars waiting at the ranger station but didn't think anything of it - nor did I notice the throng of cars that passed me as I was checking messages. I returned to a line that was a quarter mile long - and the cars were not being let through.  Parking inside the gate was full and a car would be allowed to pass only when another car left. EVEN IF one was camping there and already had a spot that car had to wait in line along with everyone else. This was on a Saturday morning and the lots fill up completely by 7 or 8 a.m. according to the rangers. Luckily (or not?) I was near a parking lot so I parked there and began walking the two miles back to the campsite so I could meet up with some friends for a 5 mile round trip to Blue Lake we planned on making that morning. I wasn't sure I could make it back to camp in time,  but I kept up a pretty good pace, in cowboy boots.

I did make it back in time and we made the hike to Blue Lake and it was gorgeous. The weather was wonderful, and we made it back before the ever-predictable afternoon storm hit. I spent five days there and most days there were some great photographic opportunities. I'm not going to present them here on a chronological basis, but on a time of day basis.

Mountain Harebell near Brainard Lake. This flower is also known as the Bluebell of Scotland. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

One sight that people expect to see when they go to Brainard Lake is plenty of moose. I have also seen deer there, and apparently bears have been coming to the campsight on a nightly basis, but hardly anyone ever sees one. On the second day of my trip I was on a hike to Lake Isabelle when I ran into some people coming down the trail. They said there was a moose close to the trail -  a large one.  They were going to wait a bit. So, I readied my larger zoom lens and proceeded cautiously. I did find the moose and it was off the trail far enough for me to feel safe continuing on the path.

Moose antlers with velvet clearly visible. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

One morning I did also accidentally run into some deer feeding near Brainard Lake. It was a quiet, sunny, early morning and not but one or two other people around - a very peaceful setting. But the deer didn't find the morning so peaceful-seeming once I came on the scene, so eventually they hopped away ... literally.

A doe near Brainard Lake. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

Boing! Boing! Boing! This deer had been running and then broke into a pogo-like hopping action ("stotting"). (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

On days when I hiked it was usually just before noon that I'd come upon some rivers and rapids and small brooks and waterfalls on the way to the destination. The water always looked so crystal clear. In sight and in sound, water cascading over rocks can cause one to lose track of time.

A stream along the trail past Mitchell Lake towards Blue Lake. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

One of uncountable mountain brooks and falls. This one was on the trail to Blue Lake, near Mitchell Lake. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

Eventually, we reached Blue Lake in the afternoon and the Sun came out. The wind was quite brisk at times, but not too uncomfortable. We had a bite to eat and enjoyed the view. With the Sun out the lake looked not simply blue, but a beautiful rich turquoise. I also noticed a captivating waterfall across the lake. More the rule than the exception, afternoon storms are common in this area. This day was no exception, but we managed to get up and back before the clouds opened up.

Blue Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado. This alpine lake is located at an elevation just shy of 11500 feet (3500 meters) above sea level. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

Snow melt feeds Blue Lake which, in turn, feeds Mitchell Lake, and so on. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

There was a huge variety of wildflowers along the trail but especially at the top. It was hard to know where to point the camera sometimes. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

One day during my trip I went into Estes Park to pick up some new reading glasses and to have lunch at my favorite spot up there, The Grubsteak Restaurant. On the way back I also went into Rocky Mountain NationalPark to get the Interagency Annual Pass - which is accepted at Brainard Lake for the entry fee.

The clouds were looking pretty interesting, so I headed up Trail Ridge Road. I had intended to get a shot of Longs Peak but the fog (or clouds?) rolled in and made that untenable. But it did open up some interesting other opportunities.

Fog rolls in from Estes Park into RMNP (Rocky Mountain NationalPark). (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

I later went back down under the fog on the way back to my campsite at Brainard Lake. The fog got pretty thick. Before I left RMNP I did spy this spooky scene:

Spooky scene under a blanket of fog in RockyMountain National Park. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

Also in the afternoon, but a couple days earlier, I hiked to Lake Isabelle. It's by far one of the more popular hiking destinations in the area.

Lake Isabelle on a day when the weather couldn't decide (at this moment) whether it was going to unleash thunderbolts and torrential rain, or whether the Sun would shine. Later, the thunderbolts and lightning came, and the Sun soon followed. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

Rocky Mountain Columbine - a very interesting flower, visually. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

I didn't stay up late very often at the campsite, but one night I did, so I could get a photograph of the Indian Peaks lit by Moonlight. I also photographed the Moon on the first night I was there.

Brainard Lake and the Indian Peaks, illuminated by the Moon. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography

Our nearest celestial neighbor. (C) 2017 Jon Berndt Photography