Posted by: kerryl29 | February 13, 2018

Colorado Day 8: The Best Laid Plans

Thing didn’t go quite according to plan on Day 8 of last fall’s trip to Colorado, and the end result was less photography than, I believe, any other full day I was on the ground in the Rockies.  There were two principal problems, the first mostly of my doing.  After arising at the usual god-forsaken hour, I made the roughly 45-minute drive in the darkness and arrived at my designated sunrise spot along the Kebler Pass Road.  I was fairly disappointed that the sky was completely clear, but figured I’d make do.  I opened the trunk to pull out my gear…and noticed that my tripod wasn’t there.  I’d left it in the motel room.  [Expletive deleted]  That’s the first time I’ve ever done this (and hopefully it will be the last).

I knew I was facing a 90-minute round trip to retrieve the tripod, but what choice did I have?  So, back in the car I went.  The only saving grace was that it wasn’t going to be a great sunrise anyway.

On the way back to Kebler Pass I stopped along the highway to photograph a ranch scene.  There were at least a small number of cirrus clouds in the sky at this point, and a bit of lingering valley fog, neither of which had been present up at Kebler Pass.  I continued to note this, as I convinced myself that the Great Tripod Debacle (TM) hadn’t been that big a deal.

Frosty Morning, Gunnison County, Colorado

The light was actually still pretty nice when I got back up to the pass.  And the sky was a whole lot more interesting than it had been near daybreak.

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

Maybe I’d actually somehow benefited by having left the tripod in the room, because without the delay I wouldn’t have been at this wetland when the sky was so nice.

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

I made my way west on the Pass Road, slowly, stopping whenever I saw something interesting.

The Dyke, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The Dyke, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

My plan for this day was to hike the Three Lakes Trail–on the western side of Kebler Pass, near the Lost Lake Campground.  I had scouted this area, briefly, on Day 6, when I traversed the entire length of the Pass.  It was becoming increasingly cloudy, and a bit breezy, when I reached the day use parking area at Lost Lake.  The maintained unpaved road to the lake runs for about five miles and I noticed several spots that might make interesting photographs under different conditions as I drove toward the campground.

The Three Lakes Trail is a fairly easy loop hike of about three miles–not including several spur trails, which altogether probably added about two miles to the excursion, with some significant elevation gain and loss.  It starts out at Lost Lake Slough, then reaches the edge of Lost Lake itself, and finally leads to a spur to Dollar Lake before returning to Lost Lake Slough.  I started out by making some images near the Slough, at the beginning of the hike.

Lost Lake Slough, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

As you can see, it was starting to cloud up significantly as I began the hike.  After a mile or so, mostly a gradual uphill climb, I reached Lost Lake itself.  It was interesting, but the conditions weren’t becoming.  The lake was choppy and the wind was also blowing the foliage around.  I decided I would try to come back the following morning, perhaps for sunset, before I bugged out of the area back to the San Juans.

The next stop on the trail was a spur that took me past an unnamed waterfall, which I deemed well worth a stop.

Waterfall, Three Lakes Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

From here it was all uphill in the direction of Dollar Lake.  Before I got to the spur trail that leads to the third lake, I stopped to photograph an overlook of Lost Lake Slough, in the direction of Marcellina Mountain.  It was an awkward setup as I had to perch myself on a steep slope, just above the narrow trail, to make the image.

Lost Lake Slough from the Three Lakes Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I took the roughly one-mile round trip spur to Dollar Lake and poked around there for a bit, but didn’t make any images.  The conditions were much as they had been at Lost Lake–windy, and it seemed to be getting darker as the clouds grew ever thicker.  I moved quickly, to complete the circuit (I was probably a bit more than a mile from the starting point, and it was a fairly steep downhill grade for the first half of that distance, when I got back to the main trail).  At this point, it started to rain.  I was in thick forest, and somewhat sheltered, but the rain went from light to moderate and began to become a factor.  I was prepared for this, to a degree, but I had to keep my eyes on the trail as the footing became quite iffy as the ground got wet.

I emerged from the forest on the east side of Lost Lake Slough, a good half-mile or so from the starting point and it was still raining.  It stopped just as I got back to the car, and it partially cleared up.  I used this opportunity to retrace my steps on the back end of the Three Lakes Trail as I’d noticed a spot or two, while hiking through the rain, that looked interesting.

Lost Lake Slough, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I then returned to the car and made my way back down Lost Lake Road in the direction of the main Kebler Pass Road.  Some of the spots I’d noticed on the drive in weren’t worthy of photographing under these conditions; I made note to check them again the following morning.  But a couple of locations I deemed worthy of image-making, so I pulled off on the shoulder of the road and engaged in the process.

Lost Lake Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Stand, Lost Lake Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I got back to the main road and returned to the east.  This is the section of Kebler Pass that is covered by thick aspen forest, for several miles on both sides of the road.  It was getting darker again, but the rain held off, at least briefly, and I hastened to photograph on the north side of the road for as long as possible.  The wind was a factor, but patience was rewarded with the occasional lull.

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The road surface was a muddy mess, but I scarcely noticed at first.

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

I began to notice, however, when the puddles on the road indicated that the rain had resumed.  At first it was light and I continued my image-making.

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

But after a few minutes the rain increased in intensity and I scurried to get myself, and my gear, back in the car.  I hadn’t had the opportunity to explore the forest on the south side of the road and, decided I would return when the rain stopped.  I drove a few miles to a location where I could pull the car into a parking area, adjacent to the road, and wait out the rain.  It was about 2 1/2 hours before sunset at this point.  After an hour of waiting, the rain not only hadn’t stopped it had, if anything, gotten harder and I decided to bug out.  It was unclear if the rain would stop by nightfall.  I drove back through Crested Butte and by the time I’d reached the outskirts of Gunnison, about 30 miles to the south, the rain had just about stopped.  It was now less than an hour until sunset and I decided to poke around the rural area west of Gunnison on US-50 to see if I could find any interesting scenes before the light disappeared entirely.

After nearly 20 minutes of aimless searching, I more or less randomly turned off on a side road and, by pure luck, stumbled across a scene I quite liked.  Standing before a fence along the side of this little-used back road, with a distinctive barn in the background and at-peak box elder trees in the mid-ground, with a small creek running through the frame, I made a series of images.

Ranch Evening, Gunnison County, Colorado

Ranch Evening, Gunnison County, Colorado

Ranch Evening, Gunnison County, Colorado

I moved back to US-50 and, with another storm wave about to blow through, I found one last seen that intrigued me.  I ran across the highway and made one last image on this day.

Lone Tree, Gunnison County, Colorado

I liked the color version, but from the moment of making, I thought about this as a black & white.

Lone Tree Black & White, Gunnison County, Colorado

Less than a minute after this image was made, just seconds after I stored my gear back in the trunk, it started to pour.  I made the roughly 10-minute drive back to the motel, by which time it was raining moderately.  It stopped after another couple of hours, at which time I was able to fetch my things from the car without getting drenched.

It was an interesting prelude to my last partial day in the greater Kebler Pass area.  I’d photograph at Kebler the following morning, after which I’d make the drive back to the San Juans.  I would be based in the town of Ouray for the duration of the trip.


  1. Ah the second installment of the Great Tripod Debacle…thanks for not mentioning the first that took place in the Canadian Rockies a couple of years ago. The unnamed waterfall is lovely, as are the serendipitous end of day ranch shots.

    • Shhh….no details revealed from the initial installment of the Great Tripod Debacle [TM]. 🙂

  2. The unnamed waterfall and the ranch scenes were the payoffs for a day that didn’t start well. Glad the tripod didn’t raise cain for being left behind. 🙂

    • Thanks, David. Retrieving the tripod was a significant inconvenience but, fortunately, nothing more than that.

  3. Strictly my personal opinion, but I think images 2nd & 3rd from the end worked best. Though the first of the Dyke shots with those magnificent clouds and colors are pretty damned nice, too! 🙂

    • Thanks, Gunta!

  4. Mistakes and random side roads have helped you create some really great images here! You just never know…

    • Thanks very much! Yes, there was an unusual amount of serendipity at work this day.

  5. […] one final morning at Kebler Pass.  Having spent some time in the Lost Lake area of the pass on Day 8, I had decided to return there for sunrise, photographing (conditions permitting) daybreak at Lost […]

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