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.

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Responses

  1. Breathtaking images Kerry.

    • Thanks, Carol!

  2. Fantastic pictures! I really liked the Lost Lake Slough Reflections – so awesome.

    • Thanks very much!

  3. In my own photography, I’m paying particular attention to composition these days.This collection of images is worth studying not only for the rich color, but also the precision in composition. I eagerly await the next installments.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

  4. Fantastic trip, Kerry -and just beautiful photos!!

    • Thanks very much, Mike!

  5. Beautiful photos.

  6. Stunning photos, the colours are amazing!

    • Thanks very much!

  7. Autumn in the Rockies can be stunningly gorgeous as you so aptly captured.

    • Thanks, Gunta!

  8. Lots of nice images here but I find the image you’ve titled “Golden Band” particularly striking.

    • Thanks!

      That shot was from the morning of my final full day in Colorado–same morning (and same place) as the “Sneffels Range Dawn” image, three photographs below. The sky was completely clear and, shortly after sunrise, this shaft of sunlight, through a notch in the mountainside to the southeast, burst into a scene otherwise dominated by open shade. As you can see, the sun lit up a ridge along one of the foothills below the Sneffels Range. Within minutes, as the sun rose, the effect was gone as the entire valley came to be dominated by direct sun.

  9. What a very nice set of images to start things off, Kerry. 🙂

    I just spent the second week of October headquartered in Cortez and Alamosa to photograph the red rocks in the four corners, plus whatever color (a nice amount, as it turned out) was left of the aspens in the high country. I too was really taken with the deciduous desert vegetation that covers so much of the Colorado Plateau. I spent some time in Mesa Verde after seeing an article by QT Luong where he mentioned this park as one of his favorites for fall color. It almost reminded me of the Blue Ridge Parkway, because the mesa slopes were just covered in color from top to bottom.

    • Thanks, Blake!

      The “tundra” color that shows up in some of these places can be quite spectacular. The best I saw was either on the slopes of Owl Creek Pass, Cerro Summit, about 15 miles east of Montrose along US-50 or in various spots in and around the Sneffels Range in the area between Ridgway and Telluride. Four or five of the images that included in the latest installment demonstrates just how colorful this vegetation–particularly the scrub oak–can be.

  10. What a great trip you had! The photos at Lost Lake Slough are gorgeous. The Lost Dollar Road (what a great name!) photos seem to exemplify a certain idea of the West. These are a great advertisement for visiting southwest Colorado in Fall, and probably any time!

    • Thanks very much! There’s a nearly endless assortment of great subject to photograph in SW Colorado, particularly during the autumn color period.

  11. Super nice photos.

    The Uncompahgre Forest is fast becoming a favorite locale for landscape photographers. And, the same for Last Dollar Road and the Sneffels Range. About 5-7 years ago, it would elicit a “Where?” Red Mountain Pass, that’s the place for winter photography. Granted the pass has an avalanche shelter over the roadway, it is the place for deep snow photos.

    Fortunately, we haven’t had problems on the hiking trails that are beginning to be found elsewhere, here in the west. I told a couple of friends if they want those sweeping vistas, the best is to park the car at a trailhead and hike.

    Looking forward to seeing more. 🙂

    O/T: The NFS is beginning to limit access into Maroon Bells, specifically overnight camping permits. I think the number was going to be 20 total permits for the first month (Nov 15 – Dec 15), no permits over the holiday period. The plan is to completely shutdown overnight camping. The daytime/parking lot plan, the Forest Service hasn’t decided. The trails and campsites are in very bad shape from what I understand.

    • I think I’d be more than a tiny bit wary of heading up to Red Mountain Pass following a heavy snow. (As it was, I ended up clearing the pass for the first time–on the day I drove in–in a heavy, wet snowfall, but I’ll leave that story for the next post.) That can be a spooky drive in snowy/icy conditions.

      I didn’t find things super crowded just about anywhere I went. Worst were probably the Dallas Divide overlook one morning (and even that wasn’t too bad–there’s plenty of room to spread out there) and Kebler Pass on a weekend. It was never really that bad on Last Dollar Road or on any of the Ouray County roads leading into the Sneffels Range.

      Interesting news about the restrictions at the Maroon Bells. I never headed up to Aspen; I don’t think I got any closer than McClure Pass. From what I was told by people who did head up that way, the color wasn’t all that great but the crowds were, if you get my drift. No regrets from my end.

  12. superb

  13. Beautiful place, love your photos. Cheers

    • Thanks very much!

      BTW, I found your posts about the Maritimes very interesting. I hope to get to that part of Canada some day as it’s my informal goal to photograph the landscape of every U.S. state and Canadian province.

      • A fantastic goal. I have have Oregon, Hawaii, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut. Left to do. Cheers

        • You’re way ahead of me. I’ve been to 45 different states but have only photographed seriously in something like 27 or 28 of them, and I’ve only been to five provinces/territories over the years (and have only photographed in three). I’ll probably never complete the entire set (especially since it’s not my top priority), but who knows…

        • I will look forward to seeing your posts and progress. I’m fifty so I have traveled a lot through the states when I was younger, . I am now taking my time and doing my provinces in-depth, There is so much to see close to home. . Cheers

  14. Amazing photos!! No wildlife around?

    • Thanks!

      I didn’t see much wildlife on this trip–spotted a marmot on a hike, saw deer all over the place, and caught a glimpse of a female moose at one point, but that was about as interesting as it got.

  15. beautiful.

  16. […] 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 […]

  17. […] 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 […]

  18. Wow kerry… My wife and I traveled briefly (3 days) through Colorado 1 year ago this past October … Durango to Ouray to Carbondale to Rocky Mountain Park.. We were recovering from a bout of travelers sickness, so weren’t in the greatest of spirits… Also we were a bit late for the fall colors. These photos help brings back a few memories, but more especially fill in the blanks so beautifully. Cheers – Bruce

    • Thanks very much, Bruce. I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks in Colorado during peak color in the San Juan and Elk Mountain Ranges. When timing and other conditions are right, the Colorado landscape is a breathtaking tapestry.

  19. Reblogged this on Midnight Rambles and commented:
    The photographs are simply splendid. What beauty nature is! Good job in capturing the majesty in nature!

    • Thanks very much!

  20. […] out a cellphone for a quick snapshot while hiking is a rare experience for me indeed.  Take the Colorado trip.  I completed three lengthy (ranging from four to nine miles) hikes during my time in the Rockies, […]


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