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 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 Country 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 Country Boy Mine.

Country 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…



  1. Sorry to hear about the flu, Kerry. Glad you’re on the mend. This is yet another fine collection. “…who on earth would be dumb enough to be up at this hour on a freezing cold Sunday morning?” Well, let me think about that for a second or two, heh-heh.

    • Thanks, Tom.

      Re who’d be dumb enough (etc.)…no comment. 🙂

  2. This set of photos reminds me very much of home here in SW British Columbia. We have similar old mining buildings tucked in the trees, lots of little lakes and ponds, 4-wheel drive roads with potholes…even a town called Silverton next to Red Mountain (probably named by the miners who came from Colorado in the 1800s). I’m glad you have recovered from your bout with the flu.

    • Thanks, Ellen.

      If this is visually reminiscent of home you’re very lucky indeed…but I thought you were in southeast BC…?

      • I am…and it looks a lot like Colorado.

  3. Love the snow-capped peaks, blue skies and clouds… along with the fall aspen and pine. The views/colors probably wouldn’t be as good if it were +40 degrees. It’s likely a ‘package deal.’

    • Thanks, Mike.

      The person who checked me into the hotel in Silverton gave me reason to believe that while chilly–or even downright cold–wasn’t a shock at that time of year, below 20 degrees was a bit much (or, more accurately, a bit little).

  4. Really natural.
    Photo number 27 and 28, the most beautiful.

  5. Sorry to hear you got hit so bad with the flu, but hopefully fully recovered by now! Your images were certainly worth waiting for. You do manage to go to some interesting places. I think I’ll just pass on the frigid temperatures and nasty wind though. Hoping the rest of your trip managed to warm up a tad.

    • Thanks, Gunta. Yes, I’m essentially completely over the flu at this point (have been for awhile). It moved along pretty quickly, fortunately.

      It was pretty cold every morning I was in Colorado–it was rarely above freezing at daybreak–but the mornings when I was in Silverton were the coldest. I’m sure that this was partly a function of the altitude (Silverton is roughly 9300 feet above sea level), but it was typically around 20 degrees F first thing in the morning while I was there. It was never quite that cold while I was in Ouray (20 miles to the south but 1500 feet lower), for instance, and during the time I was based in Gunnison (7700 feet) it was never close to that cold. (It was, however, significantly colder in Crested Butte, about 8900 feet.)

  6. […] 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 […]

  7. You conveyed the spirit of Red Mountain Creek, didn’t you! I also like the puddles in the old Lime Creek Road photo, they bring everything down to earth. I like the extreme tilt in the first Molas Pass cabin photo, too – it makes for a really dynamic photo. Hope you have a great holiday!

    • Thanks very much!

      Here’s hoping you have a terrific holiday!

  8. […] 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 […]

  9. […] 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 […]

  10. Hi Kerry, I am trying to locate the Molas Pass Cabin you have photos of in this post. Do you happen to have the GPS coordinates of it or some other specifics that would help me find it. I would greatly appreciate any information you have. Thanks, Jeff

    • Hi Jeff. I’m sorry, I don’t have any GPS coordinates for this location. I don’t know how well you know this area, but if you take US-550 south of Silverton–in the direction of Durango, the road will make a big curve to the right (i.e. west), below Grand Turk. This is maybe 2-3 miles beyond Silverton. There’s a large pullout on the opposite (south) side of the road. From there, looking to the south, you can see the cabin. 1/8 to 1/4 mile down the road, you’ll see the outline of a 4WD road, which winds it’s way, over the span of a mile or so, right to the cabin itself.

      I wish I could be more specific, but it’s the best I can do I’m afraid.

      • Hi Kerry,

        I am a photographer in Ohio so I don’t know the area at all, but you’ve given me enough information that I think I could find the cabin. I saw a wonderful photograph in the November 2018 issue of Outdoor Photographer that motivated me to try to find it. Here’s a link to the article with the photo. I’m pretty sure it’s the same cabin that you documented.

        My website is:

        Thanks so much for taking the time to reply to me.


        • Hi Jeff.

          Yup, that’s definitely the same cabin (and the image was clearly made from, or near, the pull-out I mentioned in my previous reply). I recall seeing that brief feature in OP at the time it was published and thinking “I was there a year ago.”

          I would think that you’d have relatively little difficulty finding the cabin. If you reach the “official” overlook for Molas Pass–a paved parking lot with a fair number of lined spots–heading south from Silverton, you’ve gone too far. The pull-out that *I* referenced is of the unofficial, unpaved (i.e. gravel) variety.

          As I noted, there is a two-track that leads to the cabin (which I believe can be reserved if you want to stay there) that’s accessible from the Million Dollar Highway no more than 1/4 mile south (in the direction of Durango) of the unofficial pull-out. You can drive the mile or so to the cabin if you have a high clearance vehicle, but that 4WD road is in pretty bad shape in spots, so I definitely wouldn’t try it with a traditional passenger vehicle. I had a compact car when I was out there so I parked off the side of the highway and made the trek on foot. It was a pleasant stroll–roughly a two-mile round trip–which produced a few interesting image-making opportunities along the way.

Please feel free to comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: