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.

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Responses

  1. There certainly wasn’t any shortage of worthy subject matter. Looking out my window at a monochromatic, snowy world, it’s nice to be taken to a time and place of rich color.

    • Thanks, Ellen. It is kind of interesting to see these autumn images during a time when the outside world is effectively devoid of color.

  2. Gorgeous photography! Such a beautiful place captured wonderfully!

    • Thanks very much!

  3. Beautiful!

  4. Lovely, as always. I do very much like your aspen studies.

    • Thanks, Gunta!

      There will be many more aspens forthcoming.

  5. Fabulous collection of images. Perseverance and preparation pays off and I bet you had fun too. 🙂 🙂 Happy 2018 to you!

    • Thanks very much, for the kind words and the best wishes. Here’s hoping 2018 is a great one for you, too!

  6. Beautiful golden layers of colour – thanks for sharing.

  7. Absolutely Stunning!

  8. Beautiful!

    The one thing I like about fall here is that not everything starts turning color at the same time, there will be stands of still green aspens next to other stands that are at peak color or past peak.

    You made a good choice in basing yourself out of Gunnison. Crested Butte and Steamboat Springs have both become more resort-type in their lodgings. The mom-and-pop type of motels that used to dot the area are lost to the past.

    • Thanks, David!

      What you said about variable color…I frequently saw that on the very same mountainside: lime green next to peak yellow next to bare limbs.

      As for Gunnison…the extra hour of traveling every day was a bit of a pain, but I simply couldn’t justify the extra $400-500 that it would have cost to stay in Crested Butte. Shortly before I left for Colorado I received an e-mail notice of a massive discount at some ski resort property in Crested Butte. When I checked it out, it called for a nightly rate that was only $10-15 more than I was paying in Gunnison–for that difference, cutting off the extra travel was worth it (subtract about $5 more for daily gas savings). So when I went to book the room I found that, between regular taxes and fees, there was a “resort fee” that was mind-blowing…something like $40-50 per night. Factoring all that in and and it would have been double what I was paying in Gunnison (i.e. right back to the $400+ overall difference). Hence my decision to remain in Gunnison and simply deal with the extra driving each day.

      Regardless, the Kebler Pass area was just fantastic.

  9. […] I mentioned in the previous post, I didn’t have much time at Kebler Pass on Day 5, due to vanishing daylight, but I did have the opportunity to seek out a spot that I thought would […]

  10. […] in the thick aspen forest, in an area absolutely filled with ferns that I had originally found on Day 5.  It was dead calm in this grove which was helpful given the delicacy of the fronds and the long […]

  11. […] I decided to try the Dallas Divide.  You may recall that I stopped by this overlook on Day 5, as I was heading from Silverton to Gunnison.  I knew where the overlook was located (a bit more […]


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