Posted by: kerryl29 | February 26, 2018

Colorado Day 10: Further Explorations

My first full day back in the San Juans was to be spent exploring the area between Ridgway and Telluride…and perhaps beyond.  But first, there was the matter of a sunrise spot.  Without many scouted alternatives, 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 than 10 miles west of Ridgway, right off the south shoulder of CO-62), roughly how long it would take to get there, and what I was likely to encounter.

Unfortunately, it was mostly cloudy and extremely windy on this morning–we had gusts in excess of 40 MPH.  This was going to be challenging, I recall thinking, as I stepped out of the car.  There were other people present–at least a dozen–when I arrived, and more would eventually show up (including a good-sized workshop) as daybreak approached, but there’s plenty of space to set up at the Dallas Divide overlook so crowding wasn’t a big problem.

When I wasn’t trying to make sure that my tripod wouldn’t blow over in the wind, I was trying not to turn into a Popsicle.  It was another sub-freezing morning and the wind made it feel significantly colder than the air temperature.

There was no classic sunrise to speak of, but we did get a kind of predawn glow above the Sneffels Range for about 30 seconds.

Dallas Divide at Dawn, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

After that it was a question of whether the rising sun–located well to the left of the scene you see above–would ever penetrate the scene.  It seemed unlikely for a long time, but an evident crack in the clouds to the southeast allowed for some spotlighting at sunrise.

Dallas Divide at Sunrise, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Some fog began to rise from the valley to the south, slowly, unremarkably and seemingly fleetingly at first…

Dallas Divide at Sunrise, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

…but gradually it became clear that the fog wasn’t going to burn off.  In fact, it got heavier and heavier and ultimately eliminated the view of the Sneffels Range entirely.

Dallas Divide at Sunrise, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

When I could no longer see Mt. Sneffels (the tallest, most triangular peak in the above images), I packed up my things and, while trying to thaw out, continued several miles west on CO-62 to Last Dollar Road.  I had found the junction of Last Dollar Road and CO-62 on Day 5, but hadn’t taken the time to explore the road that morning.  That was what today’s plan called for.

If the fog had been thick at the Divide, it was nearly opaque on Last Dollar Road.  This area was more sheltered–so while there was some breeze, it was light–and visibility was, in spots, no more than about 200 feet.  While this blocked views it–as fog always does–created image-making possibilities that otherwise wouldn’t exist.  I was out of my car repeatedly over the second mile of the road as it wound its unpaved way south of CO-62.

Foggy Meadow, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Aspens in Fog, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Before long, I reached a stand of aspens that was so close to the road that even the fog couldn’t obscure it completely.  I stopped–of course–and spent a fair amount of time attempting to tease compositions out of this haunting subject matter.

Aspens in Fog, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The density of the fog changed constantly while I was on site, deepening, then thinning, then becoming more dense again.

Aspens in Fog, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

While I was moving along the roadside, a number of other people saw me (and my tripod) and stopped…and, invariably, pulled out their own equipment to shoot.  One gentleman told me that he’d driven right by this location without stopping no more than 30 minutes prior and thanked me for being present.  I looked at him quizzically.  “What are you thanking me for?” I asked.  “If you hadn’t found this I never would have been motivated to check it out myself,” he told me.  I wasn’t sure how to respond to that.

Aspens in Fog, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

One thing about color in foggy scenes: even though color, like everything else, is dimmed in foggy settings it often seems as though it’s more emphatic–a function of the contrast that any relatively bright color makes with the overall grayness of a mist-strewn environment.  This is reminiscent of my experience in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during a foggy morning when fall color was at its peak.

Aspens in Fog, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

When I was done with this spot, I continued my drive down Last Dollar Road.  After another couple of miles, I reached a broad, open area that was mostly devoid of fog.

Lone Aspen, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

After about seven miles, the unpaved road reaches a point where it’s not maintained and a sign warns drivers not to proceed if they don’t have a high clearance/four-wheel drive vehicle.  I stopped at this point and walked another mile or two along the road, just to explore.

Aspens Overlook, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Intimate, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Intimate, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The road ultimately reaches an area near the Telluride airport–a total distance from CO-62 of more than 20 miles.  The final seven or so–much like the first seven–are maintained, it’s just the middle section that’s iffy for some vehicles.  I would explore the Telluride end of the road later in the day, but I never covered the entirety of the middle third of the road.

The paved route from Ridgway to Telluride involves taking CO-62 all the way to its terminus at the hamlet of Placerville–just under 30 miles from Ridgway–where it junctions with CO-145, then heads east on 145 approximately 14 miles to Telluride.  The “San Juan Skyway” drive continues south of Telluride on CO-145 across Lizard Head Pass.

On the drive west on CO-62, I spotted several locations along the road that looked interesting.  Traffic moves at a fast clip on this highway and there’s no shoulder in many places, so I had to find side roads upon which to pull off and then find ways of walking to the areas that captured my attention.

Aspen Stand, San Miguel County, Colorado

As windy as it had been earlier at the Dallas Divide it was almost completely calm in this area of San Miguel County.

Aspen Stand, San Miguel County, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, San Miguel County, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, San Miguel County, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, San Miguel County, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, San Miguel County, Colorado

The route on CO-145 between Placerville and Telluride follows the San Miguel River and the cottonwoods and box elders in this area–the elevation is too low for aspens–was in brilliant color.  Finding places to photograph it from the road–which travels through the narrow, steep river canyon–is nearly impossible.  Nevertheless, I managed to find a pull-off and walked several hundred yards along the tight shoulder to an otherwise inaccessible spot where a clear view of the river below was available.

San Miguel River, San Miguel County, Colorado

San Miguel River Black & White, San Miguel County, Colorado

I was highly intrigued by this area along the river and spent a significant amount of time investigating spots (along a 10-mile stretch)–without my camera equipment–that might allow me to get down to river level.  Additional time exploring would be spent on subsequent days.

When I reached the turn off for Last Dollar Road, just outside Telluride, I took it and scouted this end of the road.  It was still gray–and fairly breezy here–but I covered the entirety of the maintained route (roughly seven miles).  I was now dealing with on-and-off light rain, but in addition to my scouting, I did produce one image.

Autumn Overlook, Last Dollar Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

By now it was mid-afternoon.  I spent the next couple of hours checking out areas along CO-145 between Telluride and Lizard Head Pass.  Much of the deciduous growth in this area was still green.  I judged that it would be at least another few days before the locale would reach peak.  (This would turn out to be untrue, but not because I misjudged the status of the color.  More on this in later posts.)  Still, I found a few spots that I found worthy of photography.

Autumn Overlook, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Aspen Island, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Aspens & Conifers, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

When I reached Lizard Head Pass, approximately 10,200 feet above sea level, it was snowing lightly.  Not wanting to be caught in another potential snowstorm, I decided it was time to retreat back to lower elevations, so I returned in the direction of Telluride.  During the trip, it started to rain, lightly at first and then steadily.  I continued to retrace my route and it rained the entire way back to Ouray.  It was late afternoon by now and it was clear that the rain wouldn’t stop by sunset, so I called it a day.

Though virtually the entire day was spent scouting I hadn’t come close to covering all of the areas I wanted to explore.  A series of unpaved roads, between Ridgway and Last Dollar Road, accessible from CO-62, head up into the Sneffels Range.  I wanted to check out all of them and that would have to wait until Day 11.


  1. Beautiful set, Kerry.

    The Sneffels Range has become a favorite of many, particularly during the fall and winter seasons. Your fog images are very good. The part I like about fog, it lends a sense of mystery to the scene … what could be peering back at you. 🙂

    When you get out onto those unpaved roads, it’s a smart thing to retreat back when the weather turns poor.

    • Thanks, David!

      Many more images including the Sneffels Range are yet to come–a function of the time I spent Ouray County Roads 5, 7 and 9, in ensuing days.

      That rain I mentioned on Day 10…you should have seen what it did to some of those unpaved roads the following day. I was driving a rented Nissan Versa (i.e. regular 2WD, no high clearance) and at one point on, I believe, CR-7, I saw an SUV that was stuck in the mud and had been temporarily abandoned. That was the point where I turned around headed back until the road had a chance to dry out (which, given the lack of humidity, actually happens pretty quickly). If a 4WD vehicle couldn’t make it through, what chance did I have?

  2. As gorgeous as the brilliant fall colors can be, I really like the images in the fog. The subtler tones are very appealing.I was taken aback by the shear number of trees in the photo captioned “Aspen Overlook, Last Dollar Road…” That is an amazing view. The trees look quite tightly packed with their leafy tops making a carpet of green and yellow.

    • Thanks, Ellen.

      The aspen groves in Colorado are remarkably thick in numerous places–the tightest concentration I saw anywhere was up at Kebler Pass (the day 6-8 posts probably best illustrate this), but there were plenty of seemingly endless “seas of trees” in the San Juans as well.

  3. My oh my but I need to go for a good long walk. Someplace like that. Thank you for the beauty!

  4. I like the mystery of the foggy shots and the emphasis on color it provides. Lots of places around here on logging roads where it’s smart to turn around when things start getting dicy, even with 4 wheel drive. We’re still bogged down with one storm following another, with an occasional partly sunny day mixed in to keep it all from getting too boring. Even had snow on the beach. I was too lazy to check it out, but I was told by more ambitious locals. It didn’t last long.

    • Thanks, Gunta!

      Snow on the beach? That has to be a very rare occurrence,

      • As far as I know it’s happened twice in the 33+ years I’ve lived in Oregon.

        • I have to admit, that’s more often than I would have guessed.

  5. Nice photos from the Dallas Divide. I specifically remember that being one of my favorite viewpoints down in the San Juans. I haven’t seen it in the fall yet, but seeing these photos help make the decision to go back easier!

    • Thanks very much!

      The San Juans are beautiful in the fall! The Dallas Divide is nice but there are some even more compelling (IMO) viewpoints facing the Sneffels Range from the south; I’ll dip into some of them in future posts in this series.

  6. […] of the north end of Last Dollar Road that had been covered in fog and low-hanging clouds during the previous day’s investigation.  Visibility wouldn’t be a problem this […]

  7. […] Woods Lake and Wilson Mesa–that I hadn’t had the opportunity to check out on Day 10, due to the afternoon […]

  8. […] had conducted a fairly thorough exploration of the Telluride end of Last Dollar Road on Day 10, but had undertaken almost no photography of the area on that day, due to far less than ideal […]

  9. […] county park alongside the San Miguel River, just south of CO-145, that I had briefly checked out on Day 10.  The park property included a pond, which was surrounded by cat tails, tall grasses and box elder […]

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