Posted by: kerryl29 | January 13, 2020

The Story Behind the Image: Snowy Sunset Tarn

As some of you may remember, I took a fall color trip to Colorado a few years, ago.  In chronicling the adventure, I discussed my entree to Colorado, a long day of driving that commenced in western Kansas and concluded at Silverton, Colorado, just below Red Mountain Pass.  The trip over the pass was the most harrowing experience of the day.  I described the events in an entry and will re-post a bit of the description here:

The drive over Red Mountain Pass is pretty eventful under the best of circumstances.  The pass itself is more than 11,000 feet above sea level and the section of US-550 that accesses it is steep, winding and mostly devoid of guardrails.  By the time I reached the town of Ridgway, about 10 miles south of Ouray, it was raining, lightly but steadily.  When I hit Ouray it was a moderate steady rain; the air temperature was about 40 F.  Ouray is situated at about 7800 feet above sea level, so the trip up to the pass from Ouray–which is 10 or 11 miles–involves an elevation increase of more than 3200 feet.  You can probably see where this is going…

Just north of Ouray, in the early stages of the trip up to the pass, the rain increased in intensity.  Water was cascading down the steep mountainsides–which, at this point of the trip, run right alongside the highway to the east–and pouring across the road.  By the time I was about halfway up to the pass, I was beginning to see signs that the rain was changing to sleet and shortly thereafter, as the temperature continued to drop with the elevation increase, it was coming down as a heavy, wet snow.  Within a short time, the snow was sticking on the pavement as well as the side of the road and when I got to within a mile or so of the pass itself, it had already accumulated to the tune of three or four inches.  We crawled along–I was stuck behind a huge RV, with Florida plates, no less–and then, just below the pass, we came to a full stop, smack in the middle of a steep hairpin turn.  I noticed motorcycles (!) abandoned along the side of the road.  Why people were trying to drive motorcycles over Red Mountain Pass when it had been raining–hard–below, is beyond me, but the full stop was caused by a group of motorcyclists who were abandoning their bikes and boarding an RV which was presumably going to take them down the mountain.

I mentioned that this drive is a pretty iffy one for many people, even when the road is bone dry.  People with a fear of heights often find it difficult, bordering on impossible, to make the drive given the proximity to long drop-offs and a lack of guardrails.  These conditions were anything but bone dry.  I’ve driven in snowy conditions so many times over the years that I’ve lost count…but in snowy conditions on steep, windy mountain roads (while following an RV with Florida plates)?  Not so much.  But I was careful (as, apparently, was everyone else on the road).  We cleared the pass and began the somewhat shorter descent to Silverton (elevation approximately 9300 feet) and, ultimately, the snow turned back into rain by the time I reached town.

Shortly after I reached Silverton the rain stopped and a partial clearing took place.  Despite the long drive–or, perhaps, because of it–I was itching to do some photography and I couldn’t think of a better place to do so than Red Mountain Pass itself, now that the precipitation had presumably stopped for good that day.  When I reached the pass, which is closer to Silverton than Ouray, it was only about 30 minutes until sunset.  I found a broad pull out and got out of the car.  The wet snow that had been falling during my trip in coated everything, at a depth of about five inches.

It was quite a beautiful scene.  I photographed some snow-covered trees and then wandered along the shoulder of the road–few vehicles were traversing the pass at this hour–until I reached a small tarn, right alongside the highway.  The conifers on the other side of the pond were covered in freshly fallen snow.  The setting sun was bathing the clouds in gorgeous light, which was nicely reflected–there wasn’t a breath of wind–in the waters of the tarn that hadn’t iced over.  Though the temperature was right around freezing it didn’t feel all that cold, probably due to the lack of wind.

I meandered into the snow on my side of the water and found the spot where I could:

  1. see the broadest reflected area;
  2. include the entirety of the near shoreline but none of the roadway;
  3. avoid any possibility of tumbling down the fairly steep slope into the icy water.

If that sounds fairly difficult…well, it was.  I spent the better part of 10 minutes fine-tuning my position and then the composition of the scene in the viewfinder.  It hadn’t seemed cold at first but after standing in five inches of snow for 10-odd minutes, that no longer seemed the case.  You see, on this particular brief shoot, I hadn’t come particularly well-dressed for the occasion.  I was simply wearing my hiking boots and while I had a warm coat on I had discarded my gloves while doing most of the already mentioned fine tuning.  But I digress…

The end result was the image you see below.  It wasn’t what I necessarily expected on a fall color shoot, but I was pretty happy with the end result nonetheless.

Tarn at Sunset, Red Mountain Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado


  1. You are certainly braver than me as I hate heights. I like taking the train from Durango to Silverton. I love the photograph with its reflection and crispness.

  2. Thanks!

    Yes, more than one person has told me that they will not traverse US 550 over Red Mountain Pass, and I can understand why for those who have any issues with heights. There are spots on that road–particularly if you’re heading north, in the direction of Ouray, where you’re hugging the mountainside, with drops of a thousand feet or more on the passenger side, with no guard rails. That can be pretty intimidating.

    I don’t have any particular issue with heights and it was still pretty intimidating when I drove over that pass–heading north–in the pitch dark the morning following the evening when the image in this post was made…on a very icy road:

  3. Standing in the snow was definitely worth it…the image is lovely. These little tarns can be very rewarding, and most people just pass them by.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

  4. Amazing journey and superb photo

  5. I have traversed the Pass and that area is one of my favorite places~I love your photos! Thank you for sharing! PS~I love the train ride Durango~Silverton and being the John Wayne fan I am, I love Ouray’s Courthouse 😍🥰

    • Thanks very much!

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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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: