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.

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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…

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 11, 2017

Colorado, Day 2: Frosty Morning

My apologies for the long delay in posts.  This was supposed to go live a week ago but I came down with a rather nasty case of the flu over the first weekend of December.  It put me down for the count for about a week, during which I time my inability to do anything constructive was only outweighed by my lack of desire to do anything worthwhile.  I’m doing much better now, so…onward and upward.

It was cold when I went outside, about 90 minutes before daybreak, on my first morning in Colorado…very cold.  It was 22 degrees (F) in Silverton when I started the car (and waited as the car warmed up and slowly dissolved the frost off the windows).  There was no one else around, of course (who on earth would be dumb enough to be up at this hour on a freezing cold Sunday morning?) so I didn’t have to worry about accidentally running someone over if visibility was less than ideal.  The stars were shining brightly in a brilliant, entirely clear sky and as I nudged the vehicle onto the road and headed back toward Red Mountain Pass, I noticed that the tire pressure warning sensor was illuminated on the dashboard.

This would be the start of a daily ritual that would persist throughout the trip.  I suspected that the warning light–which hadn’t gone on the day before–was a function of a false positive.  In other words, there was no problem with the tires, but a combination of a change in atmospheric pressure due to elevation change and the significant fluctuation in temperature had caused the warning system to go off.  I got out of the car to eyeball the tires–better safe than sorry–and saw no problem.  (Sure enough, later that morning, after the temperature had risen about 20 degrees, the warning light went off.)

As I climbed toward Red Mountain Pass the thermometer in the car continued to drop, bottoming out at around 15 F.  I carefully maneuvered my way on the windy, steep route–the same road I’d driven during yesterday’s snowstorm.  The road appeared to be clear of snow, but it was undeniably icy.  I “entertained” myself by spotting the same sets of abandoned motorcycles I’d seen on the drive to Silverton the previous afternoon.

My sunrise destination was Crystal Lake, which I’d briefly noticed on the ride up to the pass the day before.  It had been raining with poor visibility when I went through the area on Day 1, so I hadn’t stopped but without any other obvious places to go (given the limited scouting opportunities I’d had), I decided to check it out.  US-550 includes a broad shoulder astride Crystal Lake, which serves as an unofficial parking area.  There were two or three other vehicles in place when I arrived, so I knew I was in the right spot.  (It was pitch dark so some sort of reliable indicator was welcome.)  The car thermometer read 18 degrees F upon arrival.  I popped the trunk, grabbed my things, strapped on my head lamp, and wandered into the icy darkness.  I found a trailhead that runs past the south and west sides of the lake, so I followed it for about 1000 feet.

As if the low air temperature wasn’t bad enough, there was wind to deal with as well.  By this time there was just enough ambient light to see that the lake surface wasn’t merely rippled–there were damn near whitecaps on the lake.  So much for any reflections this morning.  I sized things up and stopped at a spot along the trail that I thought would make for a decent sunrise composition, and set up my tripod.  After examining the view through the 24-70 mm lens, I switched to the telephoto rig for the first image of the day.

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

Crystal Lake sits in a fairly broad valley to the south of Red Mountain (and the pass of the same name).  The valley itself is the home to Red Mountain Creek, which runs past the east side of Crystal Lake, and meadows filled with alpine “tundra.”  The slopes on both sides of the valleys are carpeted by a mixed aspen/conifer forest.  The setting is quite beautiful and it would have been much nicer still if there had been even a single cloud in the sky and the wind hadn’t been gusting in excess of 20 MPH at times.  (Did I mention that it was cold?)  Given the overnight temperature, everything was covered with frost, as you might imagine.

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

The absence of reflection possibilities led me to largely exclude the lake itself from most of the photos that morning and, coupled with the lack of clouds, made me eschew wide angle photography almost entirely.

Aspen Hillside Intimate, Crystal Lake, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

I found certain areas that were largely, if not entirely, buffeted from the effects of the wind and, particularly when they remained in even light, I sought them out.

Aspen Intimate, Crystal, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Color in this broad area of Red Mountain Pass was nice–at or very near peak.

Aspen Hillside, Crystal Lake, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Hillside, Crystal Lake, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The trail meanders past the lake on the west side and penetrates into the meadow that sprawls beyond Crystal Lake to the north, in the general direction of Red Mountain.

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

I wandered up the trail a ways and discovered a couple of small ponds.

Crystal Lake Area, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Crystal Lake, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

After exploring the meadow area a bit without photographing, I returned to the roadside, crossed the highway, and did a bit of shooting with several aspen groves I found there.

Aspen Hillside Intimate, Crystal Lake, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The sun had been up for about an hour at this point and I was basically a popsicle.  The temperature was still well below freezing and I’d been walking around in these cold, windy conditions for more than 90 minutes so retreating to the relative warmth of the car was a welcome move.

I had to decide how to spend the rest of the day and, given that it was clear as a bell and was expected to remain that way for much of the day…and given that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do any real scouting the day before…I decided to better familiarize myself with the subject matter.  I started by checking out the area between Crystal Lake north to the town of Ouray–something like seven miles or thereabouts.  The vast majority of this area was now in mixed sunlight and shadow so I merely looked around.  But I did find one accessible area of Red Mountain Creek that was entirely in even light–the shadow of a nearby mountainside.

Red Mountain Creek, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Red Mountain Creek, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

After walking about a mile up a four-wheel drive road, scouting two tiers of a waterfall along the Uncompahgre River and locating the trailhead for the Bear Creek Trail, I headed back to the south, in the direction of Red Mountain Pass before stopping near the remnants of the abandoned mining town of Ironton.  It was late morning at this point, still almost entirely clear and quite windy.  Still, I made my way down to the town site after photographing one more time along a different segment of Red Mountain Creek.

Red Mountain Creek, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The town site was interesting, if somewhat difficult to photograph effectively.  Some of the buildings remain in considerably better shape than others.

Abandoned Homestead, Ironton, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Abandoned Homestead, Ironton, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

I moved on to the south and stopped at the overlook site for the Red Mountain Mining District.  The main attraction from the viewpoint is the site of the Yankee Girl Mine, but on the drive up to the overlook, I caught a glimpse of the remains of the Big Boy Mine in a narrow opening in the trees.  I parked on the side of the road and walked back, with my gear.  With a telephoto lens I could just barely compose an image of the Big Boy Mine.

Big Boy Mine, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Back at the viewpoint, I snapped a couple of images of the Yankee Girl Mine.

Yankee Girl Mine, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

I returned to Silverton and decided to spend the afternoon checking out the area around Molas Pass, south of Silverton.  There’s a pull-out on the west side of the road just a few miles south of Silverton and I got off to look around.

Molas Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Molas Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

The cabin that I spotted from this overlook could be accessed from a four-wheel drive road, of about 1.5 miles in length, that emanated from a spot along the main highway, less than a mile south of the overlook.  The unpaved road was far too rough for my small sedan but I parked along the highway at the junction with the road and decided to hike down to the cabin.  It appeared to me that there might be some interesting images to be made.

Grand Turk, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Grand Turk, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

With the slopes of Grand Turk lying to the west and other snow-covered peaks to the southeast, there was no short of backdrop options regardless of choices I might make with regard to foregrounds.

Molas Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Grand Turk, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

The cabin itself was interesting.  It appeared to be a reserve-able Forest Service dwelling; it wasn’t being used when I was there (I did, at one point, poke my nose into the open doorway).

Molas Pass Cabin, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Molas Pass Cabin, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Molas Pass Cabin, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

From here I stopped at Little Molas Lake, a spot devoid of aspens but still quite picturesque given the surrounding mountains, conifer forests and nearby meadows.

Little Molas Lake, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Little Molas Lake, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

I decided to cap the day several miles to the south on the Million Dollar Highway, along the four-wheel drive track known as Old Lime Creek Road.  This rough road more or less parallels the main highway along the creek bed, through meadows and tracts of aspen forest.  Again, the road was far too difficult for my vehicle but I could walk it….and I did so for several miles, over the last 90-odd minutes of daylight.  I found this area enchanting.

Aspen Trunks, Old Lime Creek Road, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Meadow and Conifers, Old Lime Creek Road, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Other than dodging the occasional vehicle, I had this extensive area entirely to myself.

Aspen Trunks, Old Lime Creek Road, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Old Lime Creek Road, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

 

Old Lime Creek Road, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

The sun went down as I made the hike back to the car.

Sunset, Old Lime Creek Road, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

I produced a series of images along the way.

Sunset, Old Lime Creek Road, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Sunset, Old Lime Creek Road, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

The light held for a surprisingly long period of time…

Sunset, Old Lime Creek Road, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Sunset, Old Lime Creek Road, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

…it had faded completely by the time I got back to the parking area.

It had been a good day, all things considered (i.e. the relative lack of clouds, the copious wind and my lack of familiarity with the area).  I’d had the opportunity to scout the overall state of the fall color from Ouray to roughly 20 miles south of Silverton.  This would be helpful over the next few days that I would be in the immediate area…

Posted by: kerryl29 | November 28, 2017

Colorado, Day 1: Across Red Mountain Pass

Since I had nearly 550 miles of driving–more than 80% of it not on Interstate highways and including clearing two high mountain passes–facing me on this day, I figured that the photo opportunities would be limited…and so they were.

I left Oakley, Kansas nearly two hours before daybreak, reached Colorado Springs by mid-morning and, by around noon, was crossing Monarch Pass on US-50 heading west.  Shortly before reaching Monarch Pass–which was more or less at peak color when I went through–I stopped at a spot in the San Isabel National Forest that I noticed from the road and made my first images while in Colorado during a brief pause between rain drops.

Aspens, San Isabel National Forest, Colorado

Aspens, San Isabel National Forest, Colorado

Aspens, San Isabel National Forest, Colorado

I drove over Monarch Pass, through the town of Gunnison, through the Curecanti National Recreation Area, over the (relatively) low Cerros Pass and reached the junction with US-550 in the town of Montrose by mid-afternoon.  From there, it was about an hour south to the town of Ouray, which brought me to the last leg of the journey–the 21-odd mile drive over Red Mountain Pass to the small town of Silverton where I would be baesd for the next few days.

The drive over Red Mountain Pass is pretty eventful under the best of circumstances.  The pass itself is more than 11,000 feet above sea level and the section of US-550 that accesses it is steep, winding and mostly devoid of guardrails.  By the time I reached the town of Ridgway, about 10 miles south of Ouray, it was raining, lightly but steadily.  When I hit Ouray it was a moderate steady rain; the air temperature was about 40 F.  Ouray is situated at about 7800 feet above sea level, so the trip up to the pass from Ouray–which is 10 or 11 miles–involves an elevation increase of more than 3200 feet.  You can probably see where this is going…

Just north of Ouray, in the early stages of the trip up to the pass, the rain increased in intensity.  Water was cascading down the steep mountainsides–which, at this point of the trip, run right alongside the highway to the east–and pouring across the road.  By the time I was about halfway up to the pass, I was beginning to see signs that the rain was changing to sleet and shortly thereafter, as the temperature continued to drop with the elevation increase, it was coming down as a heavy, wet snow.  Within a short time, the snow was sticking on the pavement as well as the side of the road and when I got to within a mile or so of the pass itself, it had already accumulated to the tune of three or four inches.  We crawled along–I was stuck behind a huge RV, with Florida plates, no less–and then, just below the pass, we came to a full stop, smack in the middle of a steep hairpin turn.  I noticed motorcycles (!) abandoned along the side of the road.  Why people were trying to drive motorcycles over Red Mountain Pass when it had been raining–hard–below, is beyond me, but the full stop was caused by a group of motorcyclists who were abandoning their bikes and boarding an RV which was presumably going to take them down the mountain.

I mentioned that this drive is a pretty iffy one for many people, even when the road is bone dry.  People with a fear of heights often find it difficult, bordering on impossible, to make the drive given the proximity to long drop-offs and a lack of guardrails.  These conditions were anything but bone dry.  I’ve driven in snowy conditions so many times over the years that I’ve lost count…but in snowy conditions on steep, windy mountain roads (while following an RV with Florida plates)?  Not so much.  But I was careful (as, apparently, was everyone else on the road).  We cleared the pass and began the somewhat shorter descent to Silverton (elevation approximately 9300 feet) and, ultimately, the snow turned back into rain by the time I reached town.

It was no more than two hours before sunset when I reached Silverton; shortly after I got there, the precipitation stopped and, after the long drive, I was itching to get out with my camera.  I headed back in the direction of Red Mountain Pass, but stopped before I got very far to photograph an area overlooking the South Fork of Mineral Creek.

South Mineral Creek, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

I continued back to the south, gaining elevation the entire way, and reached an area a few miles below the pass where it had been cold enough to snow earlier.  I made heavy use of the telephoto lens at this location.

Snowy Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Snowy Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Snowy Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Abandoned Mine Site, Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

The clouds kept rolling in and out, periodically revealing breaks of clear sky.

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

Snowy Conifers, Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Eventually I made my way to a spot just a few hundred feet below the pass where an unofficial pull-out provided access to some 270-degree views of snow-covered conifers and mountain peaks.

Snowy Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

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

Snowy Conifers, Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Snowy Conifers at Sunset, Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

By this time it was no more than 15 minutes until sunset.  I got back in the car, drove just past the pass and parked on the side of a road near a small tarn, part of which was covered with ice.  Still, in the open water part of the pond, the reflections were captivating.  I moved to the north end of the tarn and, facing more or less due south, waited for what light might come.

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

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

Red Mountain Pass at Sunset, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

That brought the day’s photography to an end.  The next morning would be my first full day on site and I was determined to make the most of it.  I planned to spend daybreak at Crystal Lake, about five miles south of Red Mountain Pass.  I was counting on being able to make the drive, in the dark, on this icy mountain road…

Posted by: kerryl29 | November 20, 2017

Colorado Trip Prologue: Monument Rocks, Kansas

The trip from the Midwest to southwest Colorado is a long one.  Given the volume of items I wanted to bring along I made the decision to drive; it’s approximately 1400 miles from Indianapolis–where I was starting out–to Silverton, Colorado, meaning two very long days of driving.  I had to make a decision in advance about how far to go on the first day.  It’s worth noting that, until reaching a junction with US-24 in Limon, Colorado the journey from Indianapolis is basically following I-70 relentlessly west.

About 15 years ago I read something, somewhere, about a place called Monument Rocks, in western Kansas.  It sounded interesting: chalk edifices rising from nothing in the Great Plains.  I always said that if I was in the area (ha) I’d check it out.  When I was planning the trip to Colorado, seeing that the route included covering the length of the state of Kansas, I remembered Monument Rocks and I hastened to find its exact location.  I discovered that it was about 30 miles south of the tiny town of Oakley, which was right along I-70.  I decided to make Oakley the stopping point on the first day of the drive.  It would be roughly 840 driving miles from Indianapolis to Oakley, but given that it was all Interstate driving to get there, if I got an early enough start, I reasoned, I could reach Oakley early enough to find–and photograph–Monument Rocks by sunset.

I left at some absurd hour of the morning–I was in Illinois before the sun rose–and about 13 hours later I reached Oakley…about 3 1/2 hours before sunset.  It was hot–in excess of 90 degrees F and moderately breezy.  I checked into the hotel I had booked and then quickly set off in the direction of Monument Rocks.  I’d driven through the Great Plains before, several times, but this was my first occasion looking at it up close.  On the drive to Monument Rocks, a couple of scenes caught my eye and I pulled off the road to photograph them.

The Great Plains, Logan County, Kansas

The Great Plains Black & White, Logan County, Kansas

The Great Plains Farm Site, Logan County, Kansas

The Great Plains Farm Site Black & White, Logan County, Kansas

The final approach to Monument Rocks involves about eight miles of driving on a series of unpaved (but graded) county roads.  The rocks themselves lie on private property but are accessible to the public due to the graciousness of the landowner.

The Monument Rocks are quite a sight to behold.  The area in which they’re situated is essentially flat and largely treeless…and, suddenly, there are these edifices, up to 50-odd feet in height.  I reached the spot about two hours before sunset and spent some time walking around the rocks, just to gain my bearings.  It had been mostly cloudy to the southwest (i.e. where the sun was located) when I drove in but as I wandered around the rocks low-angled sun began to pierce the clouds, making for some brilliant light.

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

The rocks lie in two principal “collections,” located about 1/8 of a mile from one another on either side of a county road.  Both sets of rocks have their particular points of interest including, but not limited to, archways and windows.  Most of the compositions I selected were effectively east-facing, the better to capture the already nice and constantly improving low-angled light.  The chalk walls reflected this light beautifully in a way that reminded me to some extent of Bryce Canyon in Utah.

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks Black & White, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

As sunset time approached, clouds and sun played footsie.  I decided to hang around to see if the sunset would be any good.  While I waited, I wandered around the second set of rocks, on the east side of the road.

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks at Dusk, Logan County, Kansas

There was one isolated edifice, more or less between the two main sets of rocks.  I decided to focus on that tower, facing west, as the sun sank toward the horizon.  You can really get a sense of just how wide open and stark this place is.

Monument Rocks at Sunset, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks at Sunset, Logan County, Kansas

In the shot below, you can see the first set of rocks–the ones represented in the photos near the top of this post–in the background.

Monument Rocks at Sunset, Logan County, Kansas

As the western sky lit up in what turned out to be a very nice sunset, I scrambled around to obtain a few different compositions before everything faded.

Monument Rocks at Sunset, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks at Sunset, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks at Sunset, Logan County, Kansas

When the sunset sky faded into twilight, I hastened to get back to my hotel.  As interesting as it might have been to view the locale under starlight, I still had nearly 600 miles–much of it through mountainous terrain–the following day to get to Silverton, so an early start was imperative.

Posted by: kerryl29 | November 13, 2017

Autumn in Colorado: An Introduction

One of the conundrums I’ve faced in recent years is that there are many places I want to go during the fall color period and a large percentage of those locations have overlapping historical peak color times on the calendar.  The referred to stretch of time overlaps the last week or so of September and the first week to ten days of October.  The Upper Peninsula of Michigan; northern New England; the Canadian Rockies; the Canaan Valley of West Virginia.  These are all locations that I’ve visited at least once in the past decade and they all tend to peak in the aforementioned period.  Among the fall color destinations on my list that I hadn’t visited prior to this year include (but are not limited to) the Eastern Sierra region of California; northern Wisconsin and Minnesota; the Adirondacks region of New York and southwest Colorado.

This fall, I removed Colorado from the second list and added it to the first.  I spent the last week of September and the first week of October in Colorado.  Most of that time was spent in the San Juan Mountains in the southwest part of the state but  I also embedded myself in the West Elk Mountains–the Kebler Pass area, to be specific–for five days.  I started in Silverton, Colorado, decamped to Gunnison and then returned to the San Juans, staying in Ouray.  It was a photo trip I’ve wanted to make for years, but I had never seriously looked into planning the trip until late 2016.

Before I present some images, I want to publicly thank several individuals for their assistance and support in planning the itinerary and with image location.  Thanks to Tony Litschewski, whom I met in the field at Crystal Lake, for helping with locations and scouting reports in the San Juans.  Many, many thanks to Nye Simmons for countless invaluable suggestions about timing and locations throughout the regions I visited and for advanced planning advice, including specific hiking trail recommendations.  And infinite thanks to Jason Templin for an endless stream of always actionable suggestions, beginning with my first planning attempts more than a year in advance of departure and not concluding until my trip was at end, covering subjects as diverse as itinerary, timing, locations and basing and other topics too numerous to enumerate.  My sincere thanks to all three of these gentlemen, without whose assistance my trip would have been far less successful than it turned out to be.  (I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that all three are excellent photographers.)

Aspen Color, Crystal Lake, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Snowy Conifers, Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Sneffels Range Sunrise, Ouray County Road 7, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

When I returned from this trip I was asked, repeatedly and naturally enough, how it went.  My response, invariably, was something along the lines of “pretty well.”  For what it’s worth, I clicked the shutter more times on this trip than any I’ve ever taken.  Yes, quality over quantity and all that, but the point is that I was inspired to produce more unique compositions on this trip than on any I’ve taken prior.

Red Mountain Creek, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Splendor, Ouray County Road 5, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Golden Band, Ouray County Road 5, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

For all the complaining I heard in the field from people with experience photographing in Colorado in the fall about how “mediocre” the color was in Colorado this autumn, it seemed pretty nice to me.  Admittedly, I didn’t have a real basis for comparison–given that it was my first visit to the area during the peak color season–but I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.  I’ll discuss this point more thoroughly in a thematic piece later in this series, but my recent entry covering my day visit to Starved Rock State Park in Illinois is instructive, I think.  At least some of the time, ignorance is bliss.

Ferns and Aspens, Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Snowy Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Sneffels Range Dawn, Ouray County Road 5, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

There’s a tendency to think of aspen groves as emblematic of fall color in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and there’s good reason for doing so.  But, I found out, it’s really not nearly that simple.  At lower elevations, particularly along waterways, cottonwoods and box elders are important deciduous sources of fall color.  And, at certain elevations in certain locations, scrub oak–which turns in a kaleidoscope of colors–is a major complement, if not a primary source in its own right.

Crystal Lake Reflections, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Autumn Road, Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Farm at Sunset, Gunnison County, Colorado

While breathtaking wide angle opportunities were seemingly everywhere, as is my custom, I spent a significant amount of time poking around for tighter, more intimate compositions.  There were endless choices to be made in this regard, particularly in the Kebler Pass area.  Nye had told me, in one of our preliminary conversations, “you can spend weeks up there.”  I saw that with my own eyes and ran out of time in the region long before I ran out of image making opportunities.

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

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

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

I also found a large assortment of rustic buildings and fences to use as complementary (and occasionally primary) subject matter, especially in the San Juans.

Rustic Barn, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Molas Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Sunrise, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

I had no shortage of variable weather conditions in which to work.  As they say, if you don’t like the weather in the mountains, just wait a minute.

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

Spotlighting, Dallas Divide, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Aspens in Fog, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The images accompanying this post represent a tiny, more or less random, sample that I quickly whipped together.  I’ll be working on image processing for weeks to come and think it very unlikely that I’ll complete the process by the end of the calendar year.

Bear Creek Trail, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Fall Color, San Miguel County, Colorado

Conifers, Mineral Creek Road, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

One of the things I attempted–probably fruitlessly–to do in putting these samples together is demonstrate the sheer variety of subject matter available when photographing in the Colorado Rockies.  While probably not quite as varied as that of the Canadian Rockies, I hope it’s obvious that it’s nothing to sneeze at.  Hardly.

Red Mountain Creek at Sunset, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Ohio Pass Fall Color, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Though it may not have seemed so based on the above images, there are ample opportunities to include water in photographs from the Colorado Rockies.

Lost Lake Slough Reflections, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Sunrise, Lost Lake Slough, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Lower Uncompahgre River Falls, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Gunnison River, Montrose County, Colorado

Here are a few more images, as I’m effectively out of supporting text:

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

Kebler Pass Afternoon, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Color, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

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

Box Elders, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado

Crystal Lake Color, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

I’ll start the chronological tale in the next entry, beginning with a prologue.  I drove out to Colorado from the Midwest and at the end of an 840-odd mile first day of driving, I spent a late afternoon and early evening photographing in western Kansas, primarily at a location known as Monument Rocks.  I’ll detail that experience next time.

Posted by: kerryl29 | November 6, 2017

Great (Unrealized) Expectations

My part of the Midwest suffered from an extended period of drought in the late summer and early fall of this year.  During an eight-week stretch that covered most of August and September, the Chicago area received less than one inch of rain–no more than a tenth of normal precipitation over that stretch of time.  The Indianapolis area was scarcely any wetter.  As a function of this development, I anticipated a poor fall color season in the region.  A spasm of rain beginning in the first week of October–and still ongoing as of this week–was enough to break the drought (in fact, there’s been a fair amount of flooding), but far too late to do anything about the quality of fall color.

Despite the dull hues of the foliage, three consecutive days of rain that opened the last full week of October, following several weeks of extensive rainfall, gave me reason to anticipate that the many ephemeral waterfalls that inhabit the numerous canyons of Starved Rock State Park in north-central Illinois would be flowing generously and, even if the fall color wasn’t great, should still make for an enticing canvas upon which to immerse myself…and my camera.

I’ve written about my forays to Starved Rock numerous times, most recently this past spring, and I’ve often extolled the advantages of my relative familiarity with this place.  But on this occasion, I was disappointed.  After making the roughly 100-mile drive from my Chicago area base, timed to arrive at around daybreak on October 26, I found the color to be–as expected–mediocre to poor, depending on the specific spot.  But when I found the water flow to be no better than mediocre following the roughly two-mile hike to the head of LaSalle Canyon…well, that wasn’t expected.  I’m still not sure how the flow could have been so poor after so much rain, but there it was.

I was faced with having to deal with the less than optimal conditions.  And, given that I’ve done that before, why should it be that difficult to do it again?  If you check out the linked entry in the previous sentence, you’ll see that I make the following suggestion:  “Adopting an attitude of making lemonade out of lemons–or lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness, if you prefer a proverbial expression–will maximize the likelihood of obtaining satisfying images since it will free one’s mind up from expecting a certain type of image.  Give yourself the chance to make the best images that conditions allow rather than fixating on the best images that theoretically could be made.”

Perhaps I should have taken my own advice, but given that I was expecting one thing–consciously or not–and was greeted with another, I was thrown for a bit of a loop.  I did eventually try to make the best of the situation, though it took more doing on my part than it should have.

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Note the heavy emphasis on foregrounds in these images.  That was, at least partly, a function of a comparative lack of interest elsewhere.  Remember, the water flow wasn’t very good (as you can see–compare that with the flow that I experienced in the same place earlier this year) and the color on the trees was sub par as well.

I ended up using a similar approach during my forays into Tonti and Illinois Canyons.

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

As a function of the days of rain, the best color–even if it wasn’t that great–was on the ground, not on the trees, so that became the center of interest.

St. Louis Canyon–my last stop on this day–was an exception.  There weren’t a lot of fresh leaves on the ground near the head of the canyon and the tall, straight form of the St. Louis Canyon waterfall would make it a tough subject to incorporate with leaves on the canyon floor in any event.

St. Louis Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

St. Louis Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Regardless of specifics, there’s a lesson to be learned–or relearned–here, and it’s the same moral that’s laid out in the “making lemonade from lemons” blog entry of six years ago:  try to keep expectations to a minimum lest they blind you to real time opportunities.

Next:  I’ll begin documenting my early fall trip to Colorado.

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