Buffalo in October Snow I

Equipment Info
210mm / f/8 / 1/320 sec. / ISO 64
Nearest Area
The Wet Mountain Valley
Westcliffe, Colorado - about 22 miles away.
Brief Directions

From Westcliffe, CO take CR 69 South for about 22 miles. "Wolf Spring's Ranch" is spread over many miles along the right side of the road and the large herd of buffalo can often be seen (and photographed) with the backdrop of the 14,000 ft peaks of the Rockies.




This photo was taken on October 29th 2019 in the Wet Mountain Valley of Colorado, one of the most unusual places in the country, some people even say in the world. Due to the extraordinary location, tucked between two high mountain ranges - the Rockies with nine 14,000+ ft peaks border to the West side and the Wet Mountains with 12,600+ feet flanking the East side of the only seven mile wide and about 8,000ft high valley, this area is known for some of the most extreme weather imaginable. Storms build literally in a matter of minutes without any warning, and it can snow any day of the year. The conditions on this particular fall day were truly miserable, downright vicious: A cold air mass had rolled into the valley during the previous night, dropping temps by almost 50 degrees, snow and ice particles were blowing sideways hitting exposed skin like little ice bullets, and freezing fog was wrapping everything in a frozen, white blanket. Including camera gear. The Navajo Nation owns the expansive "Wolf Spring's" ranch (50,000 + acres) here in the picturesque foothills of the Rockies and an enormous herd of still fairly wild buffalo roam the land. I live about 15 miles away and occasionally see buffalo wandering in the vicinity of the only road in the area, CR 69. When the conditions got really bad outside on October 29th I packed up my photo gear, got into my trusty 4x4 4Runner and made my way - slipping and sliding in near complete white-out - to the ranch. The drive took about 80 minutes in these crazy conditions and I didn't encounter a single car that day on the icy road. I was hoping that maybe a couple of buffalo might be hanging out near a stretch of rural country road. I envisioned the iconic buffalo, crusted in snow. But when I got to the North-East border of the protected grazing terrain, I might as well have stared into a white bucket - absolutely nothing except for brutal wind with ice pellets and snowflakes zipping by. I couldn't even make out any trees or shrubs anywhere around me. And the outside thermometer in my car registered 12 degrees. Welcome to Indian summer in Colorado. But somehow I decided to stay parked for a while. Because there is one lesson I have learned during my several years of photographing Nature: Patience is probably the most essential ingredient for producing good images. And sure enough: After about a half hour of engine idling, a slightly darker shade of white started slowly to take the shape of a good size buffalo, who came lumbering along. Ice and snow had turned his dark brown fur almost white. This was exactly what I came here for. My vision. I grabbed my Nikon D850 with the 200-500mm attached and moved carefully behind my car. Somewhat protected from the howling wind, I got a few nice shots of his massive head and hump while he moved by - barely visible - about 25 yards from me. Once he had walked past me and all I had in my viewfinder was his distant butt, I thought I had most likely gotten everything I would be able to get. That's when he suddenly stopped and turned his big body sideways to look into my direction. A brief moment of connecting. Barely enough time to focus and press the shutter release. And then he sauntered already on and was quickly swallowed by the Deep White. Time to exhale.
This image of the big guy's glance at me has instantly become one of my favorite photos I have ever taken. You can see every snowflake and piece of ice swirling by. White on white. But this experience proofs again that sometimes it really pays to brave the elements when nobody else wants to venture out, especially when you have a vision. And Patience.

Date Added
November 20, 2019
Date Taken
October 29, 2019