At the end of September into early October I had the pleasure of spending time in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado shooting fall color with my friend Dee. I have to give Dee a lot of credit for the success of this trip. He has lived in Colorado and knows it well. With his knowledge we were able to go to the right places at the right times. For me it was a dream come true as I got to see and photograph places I have only read about as well as see places I had never heard of.
We made Ridgway State Park our basecamp. The park has a very nice campground and I was able to secure an excellent campsite by the river. The nearby small town of Ridgway has a claim to fame as the town in the 1969 movie True Grit. After Dee and I got our rigs set up at the campground we went to the True Grit Cafe for dinner - good place. Dee just happened to be sitting next to Stan Rose. Stan overhead Dee and I talking about photography and what the upcoming weather might be like. Turns out that Stan is a photographer and a professional meteorologist. How nice it was to get a professional forecast that the incoming front would indeed be wet but warm - sounded like rain instead of snow and temperatures not so cold.
It had been a long day of driving for both of us so Dee and I agreed to forego a sunrise shoot in the morning for some extra sleep.
Thursday, September 29th.
Dee picked me up at 7:00am. Shooting conditions were variable over the day with rain coming and going and a lot of flat light. We took advantage of opportunities as they arose. Here's a gallery of Day 1. Click on a photo to make it large, then you can roll over a photo for a description (some have descriptions, some don't) and navigate through the photos.
Friday, September 30th.
This day was all about Last Dollar Road which takes one through iconic Colorado mountain ranch country with spectacular views. We spent a lot of time on Last Dollar Road starting with the lovely views on the north side of the pass above Telluride before spending time in an aspen grove at peak color. As we shot high on the south side of the pass clouds moved down from the mountain tops enveloping us in their quiet fog before we moved down the mountain back into the sunlight.
For sunset we found a good spot along the highway past the Dallas Divide view point. Here's a gallery of the day.
Saturday, October 1st.
On this morning Dallas Divide was in its full glory. Dee was right! It was worth it to keep coming back! In the evening we couldn't resist another trip to Last Dollar Road.
Sunday, October 2nd.
We started early as Dee took us on a long drive in the dark over Owl Creek Pass and down into the valley below just in time for sunrise. We were surprised to meet another photographer who had tent-camped in the valley. Being used to the comforts of the Nomadacy rig (including the furnace) I didn't envy him as it was chilly and damp down there. After the previous day's sunrise at Dallas Divide I struggled to be inspired. As the sunrise light moved past its prime we started to head for the truck. Fortunately we happened to look back just as the sun lit up colorful trees on the valley floor. No, we weren't done there yet!
After capturing those trees on fire we headed on to our main destination for the morning, Rowdy Lake. The air was still when we arrived so we expected glass smooth reflections on the water but as we approached we saw steady ripples across the lake. Lo and behold on the far side of the lake was a flock of ducks just paddling away while feeding. Oh well, the scene was still quite beautiful.
Monday, October 3rd.
Oh my! This was a long day full of shooting opportunities. It began as we headed south from Ridgeway through Ouray and up the canyon to Red Mountain Pass on the Million Dollar Highway. This is not a drive for the faint of heart with it being a narrow 2 lanes, no guardrails (sometimes no shoulder) and sheer drop-offs. But the canyon is beautiful. Our first stop was the Ironton Town Site. Like many people I enjoy old buildings, ghost towns and the like so this was a cool place for me. Ironton lies at 9,800 feet elevation and as we arrived frozen mix and snow began to fall intermittently. We spent quite some time shooting the old buildings at Ironton. Fortunately a local preservation group has been working to keep the remaining buildings standing. Their work can be seen in the newer foundations of some buildings as well as repaired roofing and other repairs on the inside of some buildings.
From Ironton we moved on up and over the pass, down past Silverton and up to Molas Pass at 10,910 ft. At the viewpoint we could look down on Molas Park and Campground the highest campground in Colorado. The view from the pass was beautiful but it was windy and cold with frozen mix and snow accumulating so our shooting session was short.
Back in Silverton it was time for lunch at the Brown Bear Cafe. After a good meal Dee showed me around Silverton a bit. Our timing allowed us to see the famous Durango & Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad train pull in. It was quite a sight.
Now it was time to head to Animas Forks. This ghost town from the mining boom lies at 11,160 ft. Yep, it was cold and snowing up there but it was a thrill to explore the old town. Again a group works in the summers to preserve the remaining buildings.
From Animas Forks we drove around the corner and up another 200 feet to the Columbus Mill. The mill building is in pretty rough shape but the standing remains are stunning.
Our original plan was to continue on up over California Pass but the weather had continued to deteriorate and we had not seen any vehicles going or coming from that direction. Dee decided we should be conservative and head back down to Silverton. I agreed.
Once back in Silverton we paused briefly to shoot some old trucks we had seen earlier. Who can resist old trucks, right? Then it was back over Red Mountain Pass. As we did on the way up in the morning we stopped at various places to shoot when the light looked good.
In Ouray we crossed the canyon and headed up the road to Camp Bird Mine and Yankee Boy Basin. We had good views of color and the good fortune to see a black bear but he wasn't interested in posing for us. We were almost to Yankee Boy Basin when Dee pulled over. A short walk down a trail and we reached a nice waterfall right at dusk, just in time for a shot or two before twilight faded away.
We had planned to shoot one more day but I was tired after 5 days of shooting and ready to head home. Great memories were made during those 5 days! Thanks again to Dee for a wonderful time in Colorado!