Posted by: kerryl29 | January 30, 2018

Colorado Day 7: The Infinite Images of the Dark Canyon Loop Trail

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

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

Kebler Pass Dawn, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

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

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

Sunrise, Kebler Pass Overlook, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning Light, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Layers, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Morning Light, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Color, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kebler Pass Afternoon, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Kebler Pass Afternoon, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

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

Fern Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

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

Fern Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Fern Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

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

Conifer Isolates, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

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

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

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

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

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


Responses

  1. […] via Colorado Day 7: The Infinite Images of the Dark Canyon Loop Trail — Lightscapes Nature Photography… […]

  2. Looks like a great day from start to finish. I love the fern under story in the aspen grove.

    • Thanks, Ellen. That area of the forest was terrific!

  3. Absolutely beautiful pictures!

  4. Incredible pictures.

    • Thanks very much!

  5. Inside the woods, along the trails and floor – very nice.

    • Thanks, David!

  6. Impressive forests!

  7. Your photos are lovely as always!!!

    • Thanks very much!

  8. From sunrise to sunset, you sure do keep going! And it’s worth it, obviously. I especially like the first sunrise group.

  9. […] involve potential photo opportunities all along the way.  That was what was so rewarding about the Dark Canyon Loop Trail at Kebler Pass in Colorado, for instance–a hike of about seven miles that I spent most of an […]

  10. […] https://lightscapesphotography.wordpress.com/2018/01/30/colorado-day-7-the-infinite-images-of-the-da… […]


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