Posted by: kerryl29 | February 19, 2018

Colorado Day 9: Transitions

This was to be the day that I relocated to Ouray, back in southwest Colorado, for the remainder of my trip, but that wouldn’t happen until I spent one final morning at Kebler Pass.  Having spent some time in the Lost Lake area of the pass on Day 8, I had decided to return there for sunrise, photographing (conditions permitting) daybreak at Lost Lake Slough, then making the two-mile round trip hike to Lost Lake itself, in the hope of finding more photogenic circumstances than I had encountered on the previous day.

So, I got up extra early, given that it would take at least an hour to drive to Lost Lake Slough from Gunnison.

During the previous day’s scout, I had decided exactly where I’d go for sunrise–the west side of Lost Lake Slough.  Many people prefer to photograph first light on the peaks to the southwest of the slough and, therefore, set up on the eastern shore, but while I liked the backdrop from that locale well enough I didn’t much care for the foreground.  The west end, however, includes a number of foreground options–reeds in the water, as well as rocks.  It’s a bit marshy on the west side, and perhaps that keeps many people away, but I had my trusty rubber boots (which I had used during the prior day’s scout to find just the right spot).

Headlamp in tow, I made my way to my desired location and waited.  There was a bit of breeze, which caused some rippling in the water, but it calmed down in time.  There was a fair amount of cloud cover to the east, so the sunrise wasn’t a breathtaking one, but it was nice enough.

Lost Lake Slough at Sunrise, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I moved to the north end of the slough after the sun came up and turned my attention to the southwest.

Lost Lake Slough Morning, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Lost Lake Slough Morning Black & White, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Lost Lake Slough Morning, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Then I made the hike up to Lost Lake.  Indeed, the conditions were far more favorable for photography than they had been the previous afternoon.  The lake was mostly free of ripples and the sun was making an occasional appearance early this morning.

Lost Lake, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Lost Lake, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I hiked back to the trailhead and made my way on the Three Lakes Trail along the west side of Lost Lake Slough, to a spot I’d found the previous day in the rain.  I thought this location made for an interesting intimate.

Lost Lake Slough Reflections, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I went back to the car and, as I headed back down Lost Lake Road in the direction of the Kebler Pass Road, I stopped near a small meadow that I’d taken note of the previous day.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make some images now that the conditions were better.

Aspen Meadow, Lost Lake Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

For the second of the images from this location, I set up very low to the ground, with the camera no more than a foot above ground level.  Windless conditions allowed me to fire off four focus stacked frames to obtain the desired depth of field.

Aspen Meadow, Lost Lake Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The images that had first attracted me to this spot–as seen from the road–were all made with a telephoto lens.

Aspen Isolates, Lost Lake Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Isolates Black & White, Lost Lake Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The sky had just about completely clouded up before I reached this meadow, which was actually good news because there was one more spot at Kebler Pass that I’d hoped to explore and imagery there demanded soft light.  It was the location on the south side of the Kebler Pass Road, in the thick aspen forest where I’d photographed mid-afternoon of the previous day.  While I’d photographed the aspens on the north side of the road from the shoulder, the forest on the south side was above road level, on a fairly steep hillside.  These aspens beckoned me to join them and I obliged, wading into the forest.

I climbed the hill and, after several hundred feet, the terrain leveled out a bit.

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I love places like this.  While it can be hard to tease out compelling images, due to all the “clutter,” I find these locales to be incredibly peaceful when no one else is around–which was the case on this occasion.

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I wandered around in this aspen forest for about an hour by which time it was mid-morning.  It was now time to begin the ride to Ouray.  I got to the far western part of Kebler Pass–an area I’d passed through on the way to and from McClure Pass back on Day 6–but this time I stopped at an unofficial pullout across from an overlook that had a wonderful view of the valley below.  I ended up spending a good 45 minutes at this spot; there were so many interesting compositions.

Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Conifer, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The overlook covered a fairly large amount of ground–roughly 500 feet–which allowed me to move around quite a bit to pick out different perspectives.  I also used a wide variety of focal lengths, ranging from roughly 50 mm to more than 300 mm.

Conifers, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

West Overlook, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

As a result, this overlook–unlike so many–was no one trick pony.

Conifer, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

West Overlook, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

West Overlook, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

West Overlook, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Conifer, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The road winds down into the valley as it approaches CO-133.  Within a couple of miles of the junction with the state highway I was presented with a sidelong perspective of a mountainside covered with a tapestry of fall color produced by native scrub oak, contrasted by the occasional conifer.  I stopped one more time to take advantage of the opportunity.

Scrub Oak Mountainside, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Scrub Oak Mountainside, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I reached Ouray by mid-afternoon, by which time the sun had made another appearance.  After checking into my lodging I decided to explore the Owl Creek Pass area, the access for which is about 15 miles north of Ouray.  The road up to the pass is unpaved, but in pretty good shape for the first six or seven miles.

Owl Creek Pass Afternoon, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

After that, it deteriorates significantly.  It’s theoretically (and probably practically) accessible to passenger vehicles but as the road got rockier and rockier I started flashing back to several of of my not-so-enjoyable experiences with flat tires.  So when I reached the access spur to a vista point, I pulled off to check it out.

It was quite windy at this spot, but the views–overlooking a mixture of colorful scrub oak and stands of aspen–were interesting.  The light was getting better and I decided to use the opportunity to make some images.  Besides, the road above this point appeared to be even less forgiving than the approach had been.

Courthouse Rock & the Chimney Black & White, Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Courthouse Rock & the Chimney, Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Courthouse Rock & the Chimney, Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

There were some unofficial trails at this location that provided access to some different perspectives and I wandered around on a couple of them before finding one I liked.  There I set up and, despite the wind (it was quite gusty) I set up and pulled out the telephoto lens.

Scrub Oak & Aspens, Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Scrub Oak, Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Scrub Oak & Aspens, Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

 

Scrub Oak, Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Courthouse Rock & the Chimney, Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

This location didn’t work well for sunset–it was facing the wrong direction–so I began the trek back down the rutted road in hopes of finding something better.  I wasn’t particularly successful.  While the sky was highly compelling–as in the north-facing scene below–I was striking out in terms of compositions.

Owl Creek Pass Sunset, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

I stopped several times and finally found something I thought was halfway decent (but only halfway).  It was still windy, which was a real problem as shutter speeds were becoming quite long.  The setting sun, however, was too exceptional to ignore.

Owl Creek Pass Sunset, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The light show faded quickly from this point, bringing the day’s photography to an end.

The next day would be spent on an extensive investigation of the areas between Ridgway and Telluride.

Advertisements
Posted by: kerryl29 | February 13, 2018

Colorado Day 8: The Best Laid Plans

Thing didn’t go quite according to plan on Day 8 of last fall’s trip to Colorado, and the end result was less photography than, I believe, any other full day I was on the ground in the Rockies.  There were two principal problems, the first mostly of my doing.  After arising at the usual god-forsaken hour, I made the roughly 45-minute drive in the darkness and arrived at my designated sunrise spot along the Kebler Pass Road.  I was fairly disappointed that the sky was completely clear, but figured I’d make do.  I opened the trunk to pull out my gear…and noticed that my tripod wasn’t there.  I’d left it in the motel room.  [Expletive deleted]  That’s the first time I’ve ever done this (and hopefully it will be the last).

I knew I was facing a 90-minute round trip to retrieve the tripod, but what choice did I have?  So, back in the car I went.  The only saving grace was that it wasn’t going to be a great sunrise anyway.

On the way back to Kebler Pass I stopped along the highway to photograph a ranch scene.  There were at least a small number of cirrus clouds in the sky at this point, and a bit of lingering valley fog, neither of which had been present up at Kebler Pass.  I continued to note this, as I convinced myself that the Great Tripod Debacle (TM) hadn’t been that big a deal.

Frosty Morning, Gunnison County, Colorado

The light was actually still pretty nice when I got back up to the pass.  And the sky was a whole lot more interesting than it had been near daybreak.

East Beckwith Mountain, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Maybe I’d actually somehow benefited by having left the tripod in the room, because without the delay I wouldn’t have been at this wetland when the sky was so nice.

East Beckwith Mountain, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I made my way west on the Pass Road, slowly, stopping whenever I saw something interesting.

The Dyke, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The Dyke, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

My plan for this day was to hike the Three Lakes Trail–on the western side of Kebler Pass, near the Lost Lake Campground.  I had scouted this area, briefly, on Day 6, when I traversed the entire length of the Pass.  It was becoming increasingly cloudy, and a bit breezy, when I reached the day use parking area at Lost Lake.  The maintained unpaved road to the lake runs for about five miles and I noticed several spots that might make interesting photographs under different conditions as I drove toward the campground.

The Three Lakes Trail is a fairly easy loop hike of about three miles–not including several spur trails, which altogether probably added about two miles to the excursion, with some significant elevation gain and loss.  It starts out at Lost Lake Slough, then reaches the edge of Lost Lake itself, and finally leads to a spur to Dollar Lake before returning to Lost Lake Slough.  I started out by making some images near the Slough, at the beginning of the hike.

Lost Lake Slough, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

As you can see, it was starting to cloud up significantly as I began the hike.  After a mile or so, mostly a gradual uphill climb, I reached Lost Lake itself.  It was interesting, but the conditions weren’t becoming.  The lake was choppy and the wind was also blowing the foliage around.  I decided I would try to come back the following morning, perhaps for sunset, before I bugged out of the area back to the San Juans.

The next stop on the trail was a spur that took me past an unnamed waterfall, which I deemed well worth a stop.

Waterfall, Three Lakes Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

From here it was all uphill in the direction of Dollar Lake.  Before I got to the spur trail that leads to the third lake, I stopped to photograph an overlook of Lost Lake Slough, in the direction of Marcellina Mountain.  It was an awkward setup as I had to perch myself on a steep slope, just above the narrow trail, to make the image.

Lost Lake Slough from the Three Lakes Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I took the roughly one-mile round trip spur to Dollar Lake and poked around there for a bit, but didn’t make any images.  The conditions were much as they had been at Lost Lake–windy, and it seemed to be getting darker as the clouds grew ever thicker.  I moved quickly, to complete the circuit (I was probably a bit more than a mile from the starting point, and it was a fairly steep downhill grade for the first half of that distance, when I got back to the main trail).  At this point, it started to rain.  I was in thick forest, and somewhat sheltered, but the rain went from light to moderate and began to become a factor.  I was prepared for this, to a degree, but I had to keep my eyes on the trail as the footing became quite iffy as the ground got wet.

I emerged from the forest on the east side of Lost Lake Slough, a good half-mile or so from the starting point and it was still raining.  It stopped just as I got back to the car, and it partially cleared up.  I used this opportunity to retrace my steps on the back end of the Three Lakes Trail as I’d noticed a spot or two, while hiking through the rain, that looked interesting.

Lost Lake Slough, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I then returned to the car and made my way back down Lost Lake Road in the direction of the main Kebler Pass Road.  Some of the spots I’d noticed on the drive in weren’t worthy of photographing under these conditions; I made note to check them again the following morning.  But a couple of locations I deemed worthy of image-making, so I pulled off on the shoulder of the road and engaged in the process.

Lost Lake Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Stand, Lost Lake Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I got back to the main road and returned to the east.  This is the section of Kebler Pass that is covered by thick aspen forest, for several miles on both sides of the road.  It was getting darker again, but the rain held off, at least briefly, and I hastened to photograph on the north side of the road for as long as possible.  The wind was a factor, but patience was rewarded with the occasional lull.

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The road surface was a muddy mess, but I scarcely noticed at first.

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I began to notice, however, when the puddles on the road indicated that the rain had resumed.  At first it was light and I continued my image-making.

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

But after a few minutes the rain increased in intensity and I scurried to get myself, and my gear, back in the car.  I hadn’t had the opportunity to explore the forest on the south side of the road and, decided I would return when the rain stopped.  I drove a few miles to a location where I could pull the car into a parking area, adjacent to the road, and wait out the rain.  It was about 2 1/2 hours before sunset at this point.  After an hour of waiting, the rain not only hadn’t stopped it had, if anything, gotten harder and I decided to bug out.  It was unclear if the rain would stop by nightfall.  I drove back through Crested Butte and by the time I’d reached the outskirts of Gunnison, about 30 miles to the south, the rain had just about stopped.  It was now less than an hour until sunset and I decided to poke around the rural area west of Gunnison on US-50 to see if I could find any interesting scenes before the light disappeared entirely.

After nearly 20 minutes of aimless searching, I more or less randomly turned off on a side road and, by pure luck, stumbled across a scene I quite liked.  Standing before a fence along the side of this little-used back road, with a distinctive barn in the background and at-peak box elder trees in the mid-ground, with a small creek running through the frame, I made a series of images.

Ranch Evening, Gunnison County, Colorado

Ranch Evening, Gunnison County, Colorado

Ranch Evening, Gunnison County, Colorado

I moved back to US-50 and, with another storm wave about to blow through, I found one last seen that intrigued me.  I ran across the highway and made one last image on this day.

Lone Tree, Gunnison County, Colorado

I liked the color version, but from the moment of making, I thought about this as a black & white.

Lone Tree Black & White, Gunnison County, Colorado

Less than a minute after this image was made, just seconds after I stored my gear back in the trunk, it started to pour.  I made the roughly 10-minute drive back to the motel, by which time it was raining moderately.  It stopped after another couple of hours, at which time I was able to fetch my things from the car without getting drenched.

It was an interesting prelude to my last partial day in the greater Kebler Pass area.  I’d photograph at Kebler the following morning, after which I’d make the drive back to the San Juans.  I would be based in the town of Ouray for the duration of the trip.

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 7, 2018

Thematic Interruption: Ignorance is Bliss

It was almost mantra-like in Colorado last fall:  “it’s not a great color year.”  As I noted in the introductory post that served as a lead-in to this series of Colorado reminiscences, I heard this statement so many times when I was on the ground in Colorado during the last week of September and the first week of October that I lost count.  In fact, I heard it so many times, from so many different people, in so many different places, that I’m inclined to believe that the statement is objectively correct.

And yet…

Aspens & Conifers, Ohio Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

There are two essential points I would make.  The first should be obvious:  “not great” might still be pretty good.  That was certainly my impression.

Aspens Forever, Coal Bank Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

The second point is the key to the theme expressed in this post:  while this may not have been the best color year in the history of Colorado autumns, I was blissfully unaware of any such benchmark.  This was my first fall in the Colorado Rockies so I didn’t have a standard of comparison upon which to base my observations.  While everyone wants to experience the very best a region has to offer–like the phenomenal color conditions I found in New England during my trip there in the fall of 2016–when you don’t have prior experience you have a much greater margin for avoiding the “failed to meet expectations” syndrome.

Scrub Oak Mountainside, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The fact of the matter is that it’s natural to draw comparisons.  I’m as guilty of doing so as the next person.  When I photograph a location I’ve visited before I inevitably, and unconsciously, measure what I’m seeing in real time with what I’ve seen at that spot before, be it the quality of the dogwood blossoms in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the rhododendron bloom in the coastal redwoods of California or the depth and quality of fall color in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  But a first time visit…there’s really no comparison to be made.

Dallas Divide at Dawn, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Though I routinely extol the advantages of photographing places that have been experienced before, this is one of the benefits of bringing a truly fresh pair of eyes to a location–you don’t have enough personal history to be a jaundiced cynic.

Fall Color Majesty, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The vast majority of my time on the seventh day of my trip to Colorado last fall was spent hiking the seven-odd miles of the Dark Canyon Loop Trail.  This may be the most photogenic trail I’ve ever hiked, anywhere.  It’s certainly in the top two or three.

But before I hit the trail head I began the day at the same spot I started Day 6:  the Kebler Pass Overlook.  And this time, there was an actual sunrise.  One of the nice things about this overlook is that, in addition to the classic view–looking southwest, in the direction of East and West Beckwith Mountains–there are shots to be had in other directions as well, including more or less in the exact opposite direction of the “classic view.”  You just have to be willing to look around every so often.

Kebler Pass Dawn, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Sunrise Light, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The view to the northwest is nothing to sneeze at either.

Sunrise, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

But there’s a reason why what I’ve termed “the classic view” is…well, classic.

East & West Beckwith Mountains at Dawn, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

East & West Beckwith Mountains at Dawn, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

East & West Beckwith Mountains at Sunrise, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

East & West Beckwith Mountains at Sunrise, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

East & West Beckwith Mountains at Sunrise, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I hung out at this spot for some time, just watching the light show play out across the sky and into the valley, impacted by the copious drifting clouds.

East & West Beckwith Mountains, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

East & West Beckwith Mountains, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Eventually I moved on.  It’s only about five minutes from this spot to the Dark Canyon Loop trailhead, but I paused along the way to make another image or two.  The light–and subject matter–was too enticing to ignore.

Sun-Splashed Aspens, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Morning Light, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Layers, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Morning Light, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Color, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

It was still quite early in the morning when I reached the trailhead and began the hike.  I would spend all but the last ninety minutes or so of the day hiking and photographing on the Dark Canyon Loop.

Marcellina Mountain, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

There’s plenty of elevation change over the course of this hike, interspersed with extensive sections that are more or less flat.  But image opportunities–particularly on a day of mixed clouds and sun, like this one–are just about everywhere you look.

Marcellina Mountain, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

One of the best things about this trail is just how varied the photographic opportunities are.  If you like broad vistas, there are plenty of them.  If you prefer meadow and forest intimates, there are countless such scenes.  Tight closeups?  There are endless such images to be made.

Aspen Intimate, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

As a means of illustration, the images in the below set were all made within roughly 200 feet of one another.

Meadow Color, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Cluster, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Morning Meadow, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Saplings, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Cluster, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Mountainside, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Much of the hike is made up of a series of transitions from meadows to deep, thick forests to the occasional scree slope.  This, of course, contributes the diverse photographic options.

Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Morning Meadow, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Into the Forest Black & White, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Forest Floor Intimate, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Autumn Overlook, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Autumn Overlook, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Fallen Aspen Leaves, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Hillside, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Threatening Skies Black & White, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Trunks, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

On the back end of the loop–about five miles into the hike, I’d estimate–you reach an overlook covered with boulders, with a vista overlooking the same Beckwith peaks that I’d photographed at sunrise.

East and West Beckwith Mountains, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

East and West Beckwith Mountains, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

East and West Beckwith Mountains, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Storm Light, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Moving on from this overlook the trail plunges into a thick aspen forest for the final couple of miles on the way back to the trailhead.

Forest Path, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Forest Path, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Forest Path, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Beckwith Mountains Forest View, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Understory, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

There’s one final meadow to cross, less than 1/4 of a mile prior to the return to the trailhead.

Aspen Grove Light, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

When I reached the parking area for the trail there was something like 90 minutes left in the day before sunset.  I decided to make the most of the light that remained by heading a bit west of the trailhead area on the Kebler Pass road.  The first stop of the early evening was an overlook, facing more or less back toward the Dyke.

Kebler Pass Afternoon, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Kebler Pass Afternoon, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

From here I made a stop in the thick aspen forest, in an area absolutely filled with ferns that I had originally found on Day 5.  It was dead calm in this grove which was helpful given the delicacy of the fronds and the long shutter speeds required given the relative darkness under the aspen canopy.

Fern Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Fern Forest Black & White, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Fern Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Fern Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Further along the Pass road, additional scenes made themselves apparent.

Conifer Isolates, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

It was mostly cloudy at this point and there didn’t appear to be much possibility of a sunset, but since I had to backtrack to the east on the road anyway, I set up at the same location that I had visited for sunset on Day 6.  Above a beaver pond looking toward the Beckwith peaks I stubbornly waited to see if anything would penetrate the cloud cover.  To my surprise, the sky lit up above East Beckwith Mountain.

East Beckwith Mountain at Sunset, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

East Beckwith Mountain at Sunset, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

East Beckwith Mountain at Sunset, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

And within minutes, it was all over, capping off one of the best days of exploration and photography I’ve ever had, anywhere.  I hoped there wouldn’t be a letdown on Day 8…

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 23, 2018

Colorado Day 6: Three Passes

As I mentioned in the previous post, I didn’t have much time at Kebler Pass on Day 5, due to vanishing daylight, but I did have the opportunity to seek out a spot that I thought would work for sunrise on the following day.  It was unclear whether the sky conditions would cooperate on the morning of Day 6, but I put myself in position to find out.  This overlook, near an unofficial pull-out on the side of the road, looking west and facing the peaks of East and West Beckwith Mountains, struck me as a good spot to catch first light.  (It turned out to be a somewhat popular spot as a photo workshop, with about 10 participants, showed up not long after I put myself in place.  I hadn’t been aware that I had stumbled across such a highly desirable location.)

East & West Beckwith Mountains at Sunrise, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Low-hanging clouds obscured the view of East Beckwith Mountain, but eventually some of those clouds lit up as a crack in the overcast to the east allowed sunlight to penetrate the scene.

East & West Beckwith Mountains at Sunrise, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

It was not an epic sunrise experience by any means, but it was still worth the early wake up, I think.

East & West Beckwith Mountains at Sunrise, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Conifer Silhouettes at Sunrise, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

When it was clear that things weren’t going to get any better, I backtracked east on the Kebler Pass road until I reached another unpaved thoroughfare, leading to Ohio Pass.  Ohio Pass lies only about a mile from Kebler Pass and I thought I’d be making a mistake not to explore the opportunities there.  That turned out to be correct; it would have been a shame to miss Ohio Pass.

When I reached the high point of the pass down the somewhat-maintained road, I found myself in a snowy high altitude meadow surrounded by a swirling mist.

Snowy Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

There had been rain in the Crested Butte area overnight, but at the top of Ohio Pass the precipitation fell as snow.

Snowy Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

After a mile or so, the Ohio Pass road begins a steady decent.  The snow disappeared fairly quickly along with the drop in altitude, but low-hanging clouds remained.  Nevertheless, the views along the road heading south, for the next mile or two, were breathtaking and I stopped the car frequently to check them out.  This area of the pass was rich with aspen color.

Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Along with the heavy low-hanging cloud cover, there was a fair amount of valley fog that was slowly lifting.

Ohio Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Ohio Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Ohio Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The road wound around and down the mountainside and as the views opened to the south the sheer extent of the aspen forest was revealed.

Ohio Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Ohio Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Ohio Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Ohio Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

After another mile or so further along, the road dips into a beautiful aspen forest.  This dichotomy points out one of the best things about the Kebler Pass area (I’m including Ohio Pass as part of the Kebler Pass region, since it’s right there):  there’s a marked interspersing of marvelous views and thick forest, where more intimate images can be made.

Aspen Forest, Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

There were no formal trails in this part of the woods but I did see some paths resembling game trails–deer is plentiful in the Gunnison National Forest–and I utilized some of these to wade into the forest for image-making opportunities.

Aspen Forest, Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The fern understory, already a rich copper-toned brown, was a major attraction in this part of the aspen forest.

Aspen Forest, Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Forest, Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Briefly emerging from the woods, I came to another open area that produced a wealth of photo opportunities of varying sorts.

Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Ohio Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Forest, Ohio Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Back in the car, in a matter of a minute or so I found myself in the forest once again, staring at yet another collection of photo ops, just as the clouds were beginning to burn off.

Aspen Forest, Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Isolates, Ohio Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Forest, Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Isolates, Ohio Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Forest, Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Following the sunrise shoot I had spent the duration of the morning exploring Ohio Pass and I’m certain I did little more than scratch the surface.

I spent the first half or so of the afternoon making my way west along the Kebler Pass Road.  There are countless photo opportunities along the route; much like the Ohio Pass experience, the road runs through relatively open areas with jaw-dropping scenic views before plunging into the densest aspen forest I’ve ever seen anywhere.

The Dyke, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The Dyke, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Grove, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Since the skies had cleared considerably by the time I dove into the forest, I simply scouted this area–which I wanted to photograph in even light–but I marked numerous locations on my GPS for future reference.

On the other end of the thick woods–which runs for miles along the Kebler Pass Road–things open up again.  There are still aspens in this part of the region, but they’re much less numerous and there’s far more scrub growth, vaguely resembling tundra.

East & West Beckwith Mountains, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Afternoon, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

East & West Beckwith Mountains, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

From here, it’s about a 20-minute drive to CO-133 which, when followed to the north, leads the driver to McClure Pass in the White River National Forest.  It’s a long uphill climb of about 30 minutes from the Paonia Reservoir, near the junction of CO-133 and the Kebler Pass Road, to McClure Pass.  The scenery at the pass is impressive, but there aren’t many places to pull off the road and view it.  Still, I managed to find a couple of spots that allowed me to set up and photograph as the sky began to cloud up.

McClure Pass, White River National Forest, Colorado

McClure Pass, White River National Forest, Colorado

As early evening descended, I made my way back down to the Kebler Pass Road and began to retrace my steps in the direction of Crested Butte.  I stopped several times along the way before the sun descended all the way to the horizon.

Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

West Beckwith Mountain, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

West Beckwith Mountain, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

West Beckwith Mountain, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Marcellina Mountain, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I set up for sunset amidst the undergrowth of a meadow wetland, back on the east side of East Beckwith Mountain, only a couple of miles from the spot from which I had photographed at daybreak.  The low-hanging clouds of the morning were gone, revealing the edifice and peak of East Beckwith.  The sun descended behind a cloud bank on the western horizon, minimizing its ability to produce a memorable sunset.

East Beckwith Mountain, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Despite the relative ho hum nature of both sunrise and sunset the day had been packed with wonderful photographic opportunities.  The following day would, if anything, be even better.

I’ve written about this subject before:  producing black and white images in the colorful world of autumn foliage can be challenging.  While most of us see in color all the time, some natural environments are more colorful than others.  Honesty compels me to report that, when in especially color-rich fall locations–the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and New England come to mind–I have traditionally produced relatively few images in black and white.  When the main point of the visit is color, monochrome treatments are rarely easily recognized.

Bear Creek Black & White, Bear Creek Trail, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

This largely describes my time in Colorado.  While I wasn’t treated to the rainbow of hues that are part of the North Woods autumn experience–the vast majority of the deciduous trees turn yellow in Colorado–it’s still a highly colorful landscape in the fall.  And, accordingly, the vast majority of the images I made during my (approximately) two weeks in the mountains of Colorado are of the color variety.

Molas Pass Black & White, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

But a surprisingly–to me, anyway–percentage of the photographs I ended up making are black and white images.  Why is that?

Little Molas Lake Black & White, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

There are a variety of reasons, I think, and many of them are presaged by an entry I posted six years ago.  Despite the prevalence of fall foliage, there were places I visited, definitely worth of image-making in my estimation, that were relatively light on color.

Ohio Pass Black & White, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Red Mountain Creek Black & White, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Other places were rich with patterns and graphic appeal (and, sometimes, also relatively colorless).

Snowy Conifers Black & White, Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Fern Forest Black & White, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Lines and textures were the principal appeal in other settings.

Aspens Black & White, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Box Elders Black & White, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado

And some scenes, without a classic explanation, just seemed to work better in monochrome.  Perhaps a combination of factors are at work with these images.

Plains Black & White, Gunnison County, Colorado

Lost Lake Slough Black & White, Three Lakes Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Gunnison River Black & White, Montrose County, Colorado

Dark Canyon Loop Black & White, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The moral of the story?  There are always monochrome image-making opportunities, but sometimes a form of sensory deprivation may be helpful in order to discover them.  For those of us who naturally see in color, it’s always comparatively difficult to recognize scenes that work best in black and white and it’s even harder when rich color is such a predominant element.  But the opportunities are there; you may simply have to work harder to find them.

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 9, 2018

Colorado, Day 5: A First Look at Kebler Pass

Day 5–the fourth full day on the ground in Colorado–represented my transition from the San Juan Mountains to the Elks Range, from a base in Silverton to Gunnison, about three hours away.  But before I decamped, I spent the early morning in the same general area that I experienced daybreak on Day 4:  the South Mineral Creek Road.

It was another frosty morning, both literally and figuratively.  Again, the air temperature was around 20 (F) and frost was covering all of the vegetation.  At sunrise, there was enough of a thin, cirrus cloud cover to minimize any chance of pyrotechnics in the eastern sky.

South Fork of Mineral Creek at Daybreak, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

My principal interest this morning was photographing the waterfalls that I’d had to forego the previous day.  The falls were near the end of the road but I did stop a couple of times along the way when something caught my eye.

Twin Sisters Peak East from the South Fork of Mineral Creek, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Conifers and Clouds, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Before long I was at the end of the road and hastily donned my rubber boots and waded into the tributary stream that included the first waterfall.   The spot was in even light, as anticipated.

Tributary Waterfall, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

The water was extremely cold and there were occasional icy spots, so I had to watch my step even more than usual.

Tributary Waterfall, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

From this waterfall it’s a fairly short walk–no more than 10 minutes–to the second cataract, which is on South Mineral Creek itself.  Accessing this second location, my earlier scouting sessions had shown, was considering more difficult than getting up close and personal with the first waterfall.  To reach creek level below waterfall #2 requires a bit of rock scrambling and then traversing a substantial and rather unstable pile of debris.  I didn’t really have the footwear for all of that and by the time I got to the waterfall the sun–which had found plenty of holes in the now dissipating cloud cover–was beginning to encroach on the upper reaches of the scene.  I determined that, given the time it would take to overcome the impediments, by the time I would have been able to get myself into position at creek level to begin the process of finding specific compositions, the scene would be littered with sun-inspired hot spots.  So, I settled for photographing the waterfall from several spots along the upper cliff face that I’d found when I first scouted this area late on the sunny morning of Day 3.

Mineral Creek Waterfall, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

The advance scouting of this location had served me well; there’s no official trail that leads to this location and finding workable vantage points to photograph the waterfall requires a considerable amount of investigation.  Had I not known exactly how to get to the spot and where to set up in advance I never would have been able to shoot at this location in even light on this morning.  And, given my itinerary for the rest of the trip, there wouldn’t have been any practical opportunity for a return under good conditions.

Mineral Creek Waterfall, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

When I was done at the waterfalls I returned to Silverton to load up the car and begin the trip to the West Elk Mountains.  I did make some stops along the way.  The first was not long after I had crossed Red Mountain Pass.  I’d photographed the Yankee Girl Mine from an overlook on the Million Dollar Highway on Day 2, but that was in harsh light in windy conditions.  The light was better this morning and there was almost no wind, so I stopped at the overlook again.

Yankee Girl Mine Site, Red Mountain Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Yankee Girl Mine Site, Red Mountain Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Yankee Girl Mine, Red Mountain Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Red Mountain Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Before I cleared the area entirely, when I reached Ridgway I detoured roughly 12 miles on CO-62 West to check on the status of things at the Dallas Divide.  I would be back in this general area in a few days and I wanted to see the progress of color change in the area.  While there, I couldn’t help but make an image or two despite less than entirely favorable sky conditions.

Dallas Divide, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

I also stopped several times after reaching US-50, heading east from Montrose on the way to Gunnison.  The first stop was simply a roadside location along the Gunnison River that caught my eye.  I pulled over to the shoulder and made the below images.

Gunnison River Black & White, Montrose County, Colorado

Gunnison River, Montrose County, Colorado

My final stop before reaching Gunnison was in a section of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, a federally protected string of land that runs along the Gunnison River.  The box elders and cottonwoods in this area were close to peak and I spent a bit of time poking around in search of (comparatively) intimate images.

Gunnison River, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado

Box Elders, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado

Dealing with the ever-changing lighting during this relatively brief stretch of time was an ongoing challenge.

Box Elders, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado

Box Elders, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado

Box Elders, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado

Box Elders, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado

Box Elders Black & White, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado

I reached Gunnison and found the motel I was using as a base of operations while in the area, then made the roughly 30-minute drive to Crested Butte.  Ideally, I would have stayed in Crested Butte, which is really the jumping off point for Kebler Pass, just to the west of the town.  But the cost of lodging in Crested Butte was more than double that of Gunnison so I reluctantly decided to deal with about an hour of additional driving (round trip) each day.  Given that, at this time of the year, there was about 12 hours of daylight, such an arrangement would be manageable if less than entirely desirable.

It was completely cloudy by the time I got to Crested Butte and began the ascent to Kebler Pass.  The route follows Gunnison County Road 12 which has a couple of short paved sections but is mostly a graded unpaved road that stretches roughly 45 miles over Kebler Pass from Crested Butte at the eastern end to CO-133 at the western terminus in the West Elk Mountains.  During the prelude to this trip when I was discussing Kebler Pass with Nye Simmons he told me at one point that, if the conditions are right, “you can spend weeks up there.”

I only had a few hours of daylight left when I reached CR-12, but I soon began to get a tiny taste of what Nye meant.

Aspen Trunks, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Kebler Pass is home to one of the largest aspen groves in North America.  Technically, given that the entire colony shares a single root system, this massive forest of trees covering thousands of acres is a single organism.  Regardless of the biology, as an aesthetic display it’s unforgettable.  On this day of “flat” light, with threatening skies, intimate images presented themselves to me just about everywhere I looked.

Aspens, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The color when I arrived at Kebler was a mixed bag.  I saw stands of aspens at peak color and others that hadn’t even begun to change.  In a few spots–not many–I saw groves that were blown clean of all leaves.  There was something for everyone.

Aspen Trunks, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

There was just enough wind to be an annoyance.  It made multi-image photo stacking difficult but, with patience, not entirely impossible.  The below image, for instance, is a four-frame stack.  I had to shoot the sequence–made with a telephoto lens at a focal length of roughly 100 mm–several times due to between-frames movement but eventually I caught several seconds of dead calm and was able to complete the stack successfully.

Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

While sky conditions were poor for vista photography, this kind of even light is, in many respects, preferable to me because intimate shots that work best in soft light are just about everywhere and, at least theoretically, can be made at any time that daylight persists.  Even shots without the seemingly omnipresent aspens could work in this light.  The meadow understory was putting on its own autumn display.

Meadow Mountainside, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Meadow Mountainside, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

But while aspens may not cover literally every square inch of the Kebler Pass area, they’re undeniably the star of the show, often beautifully accented by their staid conifer supporting cast.

Aspens & Conifers, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers Black & White, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

One indicator that my image-seeking sensors are in tune with the landscape is when I find myself routinely and naturally moving back and forth between relatively wide and extremely narrowly focused compositions, as illustrated by varying focal length choices.  That was happening on this afternoon.

Aspens & Conifers, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Meadow Mountainside, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

There was never a hint of a possibility of a sunset on this day.  The cloud cover, from the moment I arrived at Kebler, was heavy and it never began to lift.  At some point, it became difficult to see as the hour of the rumored sunset arrived and I called it a day.  I had poked around just enough, between photography sessions, to have found what I considered a viable spot for sunrise the next day (assuming there would be a sunrise) and I made a point of checking to see how long it took to make the drive from that spot back to Gunnison so that I could have a sense of how much time to leave the following morning when I would resume my exploration of the greater Kebler Pass area.

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 3, 2018

Colorado, Day 4: The Bear Creek Trail Experience

My third full day (fourth total) on the ground in Colorado was to be my last based in Silverton.  The following day I would relocate to Gunnison, about three hours to the northeast, as my base point for exploration of the Kebler Pass area, to the west of the town of Crested Butte.

On this day, the weather forecast was for more of the same–a very cold, clear morning, followed by a warmer, still mostly clear, afternoon.  Based on my exploration the preceding day, I decided to spend daybreak along the South Mineral Creek Road, just north of Silverton.  After that, I thought I’d spend most of what remained of the day hiking the Bear Creek Trail, high up into the San Juan Mountains near Ouray.  I’d found the trailhead the day before and knew that this longish (close to nine miles round trip), steep (elevation gain of roughly 2600 feet to a point more than 11,000 feet above sea level) hike would be grueling, but I figured I could use the exercise.

It was brutally cold when I went outside in the pitch dark, a bit more than an hour before sunrise, but fortunately I didn’t have a long drive this morning.  It’s just a few miles along the Million Dollar Highway from Silverton to the junction with the South Mineral Creek Road.  From there, this graded unpaved road more or less follows the creek all the way to a national forest campground, about eight miles to the west.  The spots I had in mind for sunrise were at most halfway down this road, but I figured that, after shooting what sunrise there would be (remember, the forecast was for almost literally no cloud cover), I’d make my way to several other places I’d marked on my GPS during my Day 3 late morning exploration of the area.  I’d finish by checking out the waterfalls I’d found the day before, near the campground.  If they were in even light, I’d photograph them on this morning.

During my scouting session the day before, I’d found a couple of spots along the road where, from a high perspective, an S-curve in the creek could be observed, looking in both directions.  I started out at this spot.  The air temperature was about 20 degrees (F) when I arrived, with frost coating everything.  It wasn’t much fun standing out for any length of time under these conditions but I waited and had the bonus of the lone cloud formation in the sky drifting right into place as the sun rose in the east.

South Mineral Creek at Sunrise, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

South Mineral Creek at Sunrise, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

While the view to the west from this spot lacked clouds, I liked the composition enough to photograph it anyway.  I adjusted my position by several hundred feet (to the right) to take advantage of different foreground elements.  The top of Twin Sisters Peak East was just beginning to catch the first rays of morning sun as I was shooting.

Twin Sisters Peak East, South Mineral Creek, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Twin Sisters Peak East, South Mineral Creek, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

I then continued my drive toward the campground.  Ostensibly I was trying to get there as quickly as possible to give myself the best chance of photographing the waterfalls in even light, but I kept catching glimpses of potential compelling images as I proceeded, and I kept stopping.  This meant constant ventures back out in the chilly air to find the shots, then grab my gear, fine tune the compositions and make the final images, but–as I’ve mentioned previously on this blog–under circumstances like this I subscribe to the bird-in-the-hand theory of image making.  So, indeed, I kept stopping and investigating (and frequently photographing), even though I knew that this meant that I wouldn’t be able to do anything with the waterfalls on this morning.  (I kept telling myself that the next morning would do just as well.)

Twin Sisters Peak East, South Mineral Creek, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

The area along the South Fork of Mineral Creek, is quite beautiful.  Most of the tree growth is coniferous, but the entire drive from the highway to the campground runs through meadows pocked with undergrowth, beaver ponds and, of course, the creek itself.  There is, as a result, no shortage of compelling elements from which image-making inspiration can be drawn.

Twin Sisters Peak East Reflections, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

By the time I got within a mile or so of the campground, I’d been at it long enough that a healthy chunk of the facade of Twin Sisters Peak East was lit up with direct sun.  This actually worked to my advantage.  There was a section of the creek where the mountain’s reflection in the water was particularly strong, and the contrast of the brightness of that reflection with the relatively dark, subdued tones of the rest of the scene, in open shade, is striking.

Twin Sisters Peak East, South Mineral Creek, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

South Mineral Creek Reflections, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

When I reached the campground I took a few moments to investigate the two waterfalls I wanted to photograph.  As expected, both scenes were already significantly impacted by direct sunlight so I didn’t shoot either one.  Instead, I made my way back to the highway and began the trip over Red Mountain Pass to the Bear Creek Trailhead.  I was delayed for about 20 minutes by an unexpected temporary closure of the road–presumably to allow some construction vehicles to pass, but it was never made clear to us exactly what was going on.  Regardless, I ultimately made it to the trailhead by late morning and geared up for the long hike.

Aspen Trio, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The Bear Creek Trail is an experience.  I hiked up to the edge of the Yellow Jacket Mine (the second abandoned mine site along the trail), which is more than four miles one way and gains nearly 2700 feet of elevation.   The hike itself is relatively easy–in the sense that there’s no scrambling or anything of that nature involved, though you do have to cross several talus slopes over the first mile or so.  But it’s steep and pretty relentless.  I, of course, was “aided” by carrying my personal boat anchor–a full pack of gear and a tripod (about 30 additional pounds).  The other factor is the altitude;  the trailhead (i.e. the bottom of the trail) is roughly 8500 feet above sea level.  The first mine site–the Grizzly Bear Mine–is just under 10,000 feet; the Yellow Jacket Mine is approximately 11,100 feet above sea level.

The trail is not, in my opinion, a “must do” from a photographic point of view and, yes, I knew this to be the case before I decided to make the hike.  In fact, had the conditions–in terms of the sky and the status of fall color in the area–been different, I probably wouldn’t have made the hike this day.  But given that it was essentially a blue sky day, that I’d pretty thoroughly covered the area from Ouray south to Durango and that I had it on good authority that peak color wouldn’t come in the area between Ridgway and Telluride for the better part of a week, I decided that spending the “bad light” hours of the day on a (somewhat) challenging hike would be a good way to spend some time.

Whenever I decide to do something like make an 8.5 mile hike, at altitude, on a steep trail, I remember why engaging in a vigorous, hour-long daily cardio workout for the last 30 years has been a good idea.  Without the boat anchor, I’m sure that this hike wouldn’t have been all that big of a deal for me, even considering the altitude.  With the boat anchor…well, it still wasn’t all that challenging but it was a bit of a slog at times.

Bear Creek Trail, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The first segment of the trail–the first mile or so–is a steady uphill climb along a mountainside; there’s roughly 1000 feet of elevation change during this segment.  At that point, the trail flattens out and follows a path that’s cut right into the rock as you enter the canyon containing Bear Creek, which you can hear (and occasionally see) far below the trail.  After about 1/3 of a mile of this, there’s another, somewhat less steep, steady incline (roughly a mile in length) until you reach the remains of the Grizzly Bear Mine, which is located in the midst of a mixed forest.  There’s not all that much left of the mine–a couple of overgrown (and in one instance, collapsing) buildings and some rusted implements.  Given the lighting conditions and breeze, I didn’t make any photographs there.

Traffic on the trail was extremely light.  I saw, perhaps, a total of a handful of groups of people on the way up–and not a soul above the Grizzly Bear Mine, either way.  On the way down, which was late in the afternoon, perhaps two hours before sunset, I never saw another person over the entire (nearly) 4.5 mile hike.

Aspen, Bear Creek Trail, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

From the Grizzly Bear Mine it’s about two miles to the Yellowjacket Mine site, and it’s a steady and somewhat steeper route to get there, with the trail gaining about 1600 feet of elevation over this stretch, through a mixture of forests and meadows.  During this last segment, there are several spots where it’s possible to access Bear Creek at water level and I did so–on the return trip, by which time there were extended areas in open shade.  On the hike in, these areas were in full sun.

Bear Creek, Bear Creek Trail, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Bear Creek, Bear Creek Trail, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

I also photographed the creek from a higher perspective from several spots.  This was difficult on occasion due to the trail being very narrow and the drop-off into the canyon being fairly steep.  It never felt dangerous to me, but there were spots where setting up the tripod was a bit of a challenge.

Bear Creek, Bear Creek Trail, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Given the elevation, it was interesting to see just how much green there still was in the aspens in these high alpine meadows that I came across, between the Grizzly Bear and Yellowjacket mine sites (i.e. well over 10,000 feet above sea level).

Bear Creek Trail, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Bear Creek Trail, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

When I made it back down to the trailhead it was after 5 PM, only a couple of hours short of sunset.  Just a mile or so up the road from the Bear Creek Trail parking area, the Uncompahgre River flows beneath the highway.  On both sides of the road there are waterfalls.  I’d scouted them back on my first full day in Colorado, and this was my opportunity to photograph them.

The two sets of falls are very different; to the east of the road is a smallish cataract in a bit of a grotto.

Upper Falls, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

This waterfall has a lot of compositional possibilities connected to it, provided that the photographer is willing to climb down to water level and rock hop a bit.

Upper Falls, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Upper Falls, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Upper Falls Black & White, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Upper Falls, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

On the west side of the road, the waterfall is a long drop, only visible from above as there’s no easy way to descend into the canyon safely.

Lower Falls, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Lower Falls, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Lower Falls, Uncompahgre River, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

When I was done with the waterfalls, it was only about 30 minutes before sunset.  I made my way up to the Clear Lake area with the intention of photographing Red Mountain Creek in nice light.  And so I did.  I made my way down to the edge of the creek, found some exposed rocks and a mid-ground tree and set up.  A setting moon was a bonus element.

Red Mountain Creek, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Red Mountain Creek, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Before I left the area–before it got dark–I pulled out the telephoto lens:

Red Mountain Evening, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Red Mountain Sunset, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Red Mountain Sunset, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

And with that, the day of photography came to an end.  I would move on to the Kebler Pass area the next day, but not before spending one more morning in the greater Red Mountain Pass area…

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 27, 2017

Images of 2017

I’m well into the ninth year of presenting this blog and I have not previously posted a “year’s best images” entry…and I’m not sure that this post breaks that trend.  What follows doesn’t necessarily represent the “best” images I’ve made this year; I’d categorize the forthcoming image set as among the most memorable images I’ve made this year…purely from my perspective, anyway.

To recap, I took three dedicated photo trips in 2017, which is one more than I’ve ever taken in any prior year.  I started out in South Florida in February; I spent time in California in May; and during a two-week period overlapping September and October I was in Colorado.  All three trips had their memorable moments, scenes and extended opportunities and a few images seem to capsulize that experience particularly well.

South Florida involved some new ground–new locations, including the Everglades, Big Cypress Preserve, the Keys, the beach at Coral Cove Park and more; new subject matter, including a focus on birds (including birds in flight) and the relatively new challenge of photographing in the open, flat environment of the Everglades.

I think the best time to experience the haunting beauty of the Everglades is first thing in the morning, when fog is frequently present–at least during the winter–and I think that’s true regardless of whether we’re talking about the slash pine environment in and around Long Pine Key or the open, almost Great Plains-like environment that dominates much of the Everglades.

Long Pine Lake Sunrise, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

Foggy Sunrise, Everglades National Park, Florida

I really enjoyed the day I traveled to the Keys, whether it was the time spent photographing pelicans or the marvelous, quasi-exotic subtropical environment of the small island that is Bahia Honda Key.

Brown Pelican in Flight, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge at Sunset, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Big Cypress Preserve is incomparable and the beach at Coral Cove, though narrow, is a beautiful spot from which the Atlantic Ocean can be experienced.

Cypress Swamp at Sunset, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

I covered a lot of ground in the northern half of California, from locations with settings as diverse as Yosemite Valley, the Eastern Sierra and the coastal redwood forests.

As crowded as Yosemite Valley can be, I managed to find welcome solitude there first thing in the morning, which was also the time when–if it’s going to happen at all–the mystery of a mist-strewn landscape can be found.  When this confluence of events takes place, the valley is absolutely magical.

Foggy Reflections, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

With the right timing in the spring, the creeks and waterfalls are running and the dogwood is blooming, all of which simply adds to Yosemite’s ambiance.

Sequoias and Dogwoods, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

Merced River, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

The Eastern Sierra region is where Mono Lake and its fascinating tufa formations reside, not far from the streams, lakes and canyons of the Sierras themselves.

“The Pledge,” Mono Lake, Mono County, California

Grant Lake Overlook at Sunset, June Lake Loop, Inyo National Forest,, California

The redwood forests are mystical places that really must be experienced personally to be understood (and even then…).  Photographs may not do these locales justice but they serve as wonderful memory stimulants for those of us lucky enough to have spent some time in these natural cathedrals.

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Rhododendrons and Redwoods in Fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

I continue the process of editing my images from Colorado, but the two weeks I spent there immersed me in a gestalt of mountains, lakes, creeks and seemingly endless groves of trees, regardless of whether my time was being spent in the San Juans or the West Elk Mountains.

Tarn Sunset, Red Mountain Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Horses, Elbert County, Colorado

Aspen Grove, Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Kebler Pass Afternoon, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Kebler Pass Aspens, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

East Beckwith Mountain at Sunset, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

All of the images within this post serve as great reminders of wonderful experiences for me.  While they obviously won’t have that impact on anyone else, I hope that you find them worth a look.

Happy New Year, everyone!  I’ll get back to the Colorado chronicle next time.

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 19, 2017

Colorado Day 3: Crystal Lake and Coal Bank Pass

I decided to start Day 3 the same way I began Day 2:  sunrise at Crystal Lake.  There had been a lot of wind on a very cold morning at the lake on Day 2; this time, the air temperature was every bit as chilly–below 20 F at daybreak–but on this occasion there was almost no wind at all, so there were reflections to take advantage of.

Crystal Lake at Dawn, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Evidently the water in Crystal Lake was able to remain above freezing despite the air temperature because I saw no signs of ice.  (This was not true of the small ponds located in the meadow just north of Crystal Lake; both of these small bodies of water had iced over in part.)

Crystal Lake at Dawn, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Despite a total of lack of clouds for the second morning in a row, it was a nice change of pace to be able to see some reflections in the water.  The lack of wind provided the added advantage of making the photographic experience itself less miserable than it had been the day before when the wind chills had to be below 10 F.

Crystal Lake at Dawn, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Crystal Lake Reflections, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

As I had done the previous day, I made my way along the trail around Crystal Lake and into the meadows.  While the ground cover was coated with frost (again), the areas of the ponds that were free of ice were every bit as compelling as reflecting pools as the lake on this morning.  The image below is from the second pond, farther north of the lake.  Only a small part of this body of water–the far end–was iced over.

Red Mountain from Crystal Lake at Sunrise, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The first pond (see below) was about half-covered in ice.  But, as you can see, a large enough area was ice free to work nicely as a reflecting pool for Red Mountain.  You can also see all the frost covering the tall grasses and rocks along the pond’s shore.

Red Mountain from Crystal Lake at Sunrise, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

As the sun began to penetrate the valley floor I returned to the second pond for a couple of parting shots.

Red Mountain from Crystal Lake at Sunrise, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Red Mountain from Crystal Lake Area, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

I made my way back to the area around the lake itself, much of which was still in open shade.  I concentrated on stands of aspen and spruce.

Aspens & Conifers, Crystal Lake Area, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Crystal Lake Area, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Crystal Lake Area, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

After spending about 2 1/2 hours in the frosty weather, I was ready to warm up in the car.  I drove back across Red Mountain Pass at mid-morning and spent the rest of the AM scouting the area along the South Mineral Creek Road, just a few miles south of Silverton.  I checked out the unpaved road all the way to the campground (about seven miles) and picked out several spots that I thought would be worth photographing in better light.  I also scouted a couple of waterfalls just past the campground that I thought would be worth shooting in even light.  My plan was to return to the area the following morning.

In the early afternoon, I decided to scout the region south of Molas Pass and that’s where I spent the rest of the day.  I drove through Coal Bank Pass and, ultimately, all the way to Durango, about an hour-plus  south of Silverton.  The light wasn’t very good, so it was just a scouting session, but it was mid-afternoon by the time I started back toward Silverton and I made the decision to spend the rest of the afternoon photographing this area in the improving light–and with the benefit of some cirrus clouds that had started to roll in.

My first stop was to photograph some horses I’d spotted in a field on the way in.

Horses, LaPlata County, Colorado

And then I stopped at another location–what appeared to be an abandoned ranch in the San Juan National Forest–that had caught my eye on the drive to Durango.  This area was now in open shade.

Ranch Site, San Juan County, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

From this point on, I simply stopped at roadside pullouts that looked interesting as I continued the drive north, back in the direction of Silverton.

Icy Waterfall, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Twilight Peak was a compelling, omnipresent feature for much of the rest of the drive back through Coal Bank Pass.

Twilight Peak, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Twilight Peak, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Twilight Peak, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

I also found plenty of interesting subject matter to leverage with the telephoto lens.

Aspens & Conifers, Coal Bank Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Coal Bank Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Coal Bank Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Eventually, I reached the area that included Old Lime Creek Road, where I had photographed on Day 2.  This time, however, I remained on the main highway and resumed checking out all of the various pull-out opportunities.

Twilight Peak, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Coal Bank Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Twilight Peak, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Coal Bank Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Aspens Forever, Coal Bank Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Coal Bank Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

It was getting dark, but I decided to make one last stop–Andrews Lake, not far from the turnoff to Little Molas Lake, but on the other side of the highway.  I didn’t expect to find much here, but it turned out to be a good move to check the lake out because I was able to photograph a nice sunset in a pleasant setting.

Andrews Lake at Sunset, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

I didn’t have much time to scout the area as the sky was already lighting up when I arrived, but fortunately the scene pretty much suggested itself, compositionally.

Andrews Lake at Sunset, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Sunset Sky, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

As the sky faded I finally called an end to the day and drove the final 25 minutes or so back to Silverton.  My plan was to photograph sunrise on Day 4 from along the South Fork of Mineral Creek at one of the locations I had scouted late morning on Day 3.  The advantage to this was that it would only take about 15 minutes to drive to this location from my base in Silverton…

Older Posts »

Categories