Colorado Fall Color 2017

This year my journey to the mountains became a long (for me) dual-purpose trip.  When we got our Hallmark truck camper 2 years ago Joni and I opted not to have air conditioning thinking if its that hot we don't want to camp anyway.  Its funny how things change.  We will need to spend time with family in Mesa, Arizona frequently in 2018 so yeah we need air conditioning.  I made the appointment to have it installed at the Hallmark factory in Fort Lupton, Colorado prior to heading to Ridgway, Colorado for photography.  With 2 day's drive to Ft. Lupton, travel to Ridgway, shooting fall color for a week and 2 day's drive home all of a sudden it was a two week trip.  A friend told me he had never seen a couple as "joined at the hip" as my wife Joni and I.  I took that as a compliment and we will freely admit its hard for us to be apart.  That said my wife is very supportive my solo trips.

My first day of travel took me to the KOA campground in Moab, UT.  While we prefer dispersed camping or state park campgrounds when the object of the trip is getting from point A to point B a KOA is just fine.

In my site at KOA Moab Utah

My second day took me from Moab to the Hallmark RV factory in Ft, Lupton.  Customers are welcome to camp at the factory while there.  I wasn't surprised to hear another rig pull in about dark but I was surprised to see it was a huge dually truck loaded with a huge hard side truck camper (Hallmarks are all popup truck campers).  I was really surprised to find out it was Gordon and Angela White of Truck Camper Magazine!  TCM is an excellent resource on truck campers which I regularly read and it was a pleasure to meet Gordon and Angela!  Being full-timer truck campers they live what they write about!

The next morning shop manager Jordy and his crew went right to work on my A/C install.  It was great to see the Ward family (company owners) again and it wasn't long before Bill Ward had me talking with potential customers about our Hallmark.  

After a second night at Hallmark I made the 6+ hour drive to Ridgeway State Park.  What a difference between last year and this year. Last year my friend Dee Willis and I were the only ones able to make the trip. This year 6 fellow photographers came making us a group of 8.  Last year the fall color was peaking to past while this year the color was just coming on; we got to see it progress throughout the week.  As we did last year Dee and I camped at Ridgway State Park while others in our group stayed in hotels in Ourey, Colorado.  

Camp at Ridgway State Park. Nice campground with roomy sites.

The San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado are a fascinating, beautiful and historic place.  Following are notes, individual photos and galleries on what I experienced.  As usual click on a photo or gallery photo to enlarge it, once enlarged roll over a photo for any description and use the left and right arrows to navigate through a gallery.

Day 1 - Crystal Lake

Located on Red Mountain Pass at the top the Million Dollar Highway this lake is quite beautiful. If you are lucky, early in the morning it will be calm.  We had hoped to shoot the eastern-facing slope as the sun lit it up.  I saw ripples on the far side of the lake and said to myself "We're done here.".  Sure enough within 10 minutes the lake was covered with wind-driven ripples.

Ironton Town Site

Ironton is a fascinating ghost town but as a whole I wasn't as inspired by it this year as I was last year aside from this bit of fall in a tattered window screen.

Mountain Stream

On the road up to Molas Pass there's a beautiful mountain stream.  Unfortunately to get the best shots one must navigate slippery, unstable rocks to get out into the stream.  Fortunately disaster was averted this day.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

It's hard to go to Silverton and not shoot the train.  While some of us were shooting the mountain stream the rest of the group had gone ahead to Silverton.  We met at the Brown Bear Cafe for lunch.  Those wanting to shoot the train were disappointed as it was running late.  After lunch Dee and I headed out to return to camp.  Dee remembered there is a siding for the train to turn around behind the town visitor's center.  It turned out to be the perfect spot to shoot the train.

Sunset at Dallas Divide

Dallas Divide is considered the best place in the area to shoot sunrise; however, on this day we decided to go against prevailing thought and shoot it at sunset. 

Last light at Dallas Divide

Day 2 - Sunrise at Dallas Divide

The next morning brought us back to Dallas Divide of course.

County Roads

From Dallas Divide we moved down to nearby county roads to see what we could discover.


While shooting color and mountains we saw a 4 beautiful horses behind a fence.  We walked over to shoot them and a lady came over from a group of tents on the other side of the field.  It turns out she and her husband own the license for fall horse packing hunting trips in that part of the national forest.  She introduced us to the horses by name.  One laid down and couldn't care less about us.  Two others were mildly interested in us.  Then there was Ranger who was all about the attention and seemed to understand exactly what he was doing in posing for us.

Wild Sunset

We drove out Last Dollar Road in search of good sunset scenes.  Weather moved in and we found ourselves at 9,100 ft. elevation with wind and rain.  I did manage a photo of aspens in buttery evening light that pleased me.

Day 3 - First Day of October

For me the most memorable parts of this day were moody morning light and Camp Bird Mine Road in the evening.


Day 4 - An Accidental Day Off

The plan for the morning was to go over Owl Creek Pass.  Its a long trip and would be our earliest departure.  I woke up 20 minutes before Dee was to pick me up.  I had made a mistake setting my alarm.  Some people can easily awake and be ready to go in twenty minutes.  I'm not one of those people.  I called Dee to tell him what happened.  I hated to miss the morning shoot but all of a sudden I had all day to enjoy breakfast, coffee, read, process photos....

In the afternoon I knew it was precipitating as I could hear it on the roof of the camper.  Dee called and said "Mike look out your window! Quick!"  I managed to get a snapshot with my iPhone of the beautiful scene.

Deer moving through my campsite in the snow.

Day 5 - Morning Surprise

Plans were made to meet our friends staying in Ourey at Dallas Divide for sunrise.  Before dawn Dee and I headed out from camp into thick fog in Ridgway; an aftereffect of the previous day's weather.  Shooting sunrise didn't look promising; perhaps coffee followed by a late morning shoot?  We climbed the grade up to Dallas Divide and were shocked when suddenly we were above the fog. 

After Dallas Divide we all moved down to the county roads to see what scenes a foggy morning had in store for us

To finish out the morning we headed to Last Dollar Road.  I was looking forward to a large aspen grove the road passes through.

Day 6 - Mining History

A few of our group had already left due to work and other commitments.  We had come to the final day for all but Dee and I.  The consensus was a second trip to Crystal Lake for sunrise.  Dee and I would meet the rest of the group there.  When we arrived it was cloudy, cold and windy.  A suggestion to move on to a hot breakfast at the Brown Bear Cafe in Silverton was well received.  On the way to breakfast Dee said: "Where should we go today Mike?"  I said: "It's gotta be Animas Forks".  

Animas Forks, is a ghost town located in the mountains above Silverton at over 11,000 ft.  It is in an area full of Colorado mining history.

Around the corner and up the road from Animas Forks are the remains of the Frisco Mill.  Still quite impressive it must have been really something in its hey-day. 

While we were in Animas Forks Dee talked with a lady passing through who is part of a team restoring the Sound Democrat Mill.  Dee had never heard of it.  We had the time so off we went.  It turned out to be a worthwhile trip though on a very rough, high clearance, 4WD road.  The Sound Democrat Mill sits at over 12,000 ft elevation near the head of Placer Gulch with surrounding ridges and peaks towering over the mill and this time of the year snow!

All that remained after our day immersed in Colorado mining history was a final dinner together in Ourey.

Day 7 - A Final Evening

For the next day Dee and I agreed sleeping in and an evening shoot would be a good idea - and it was.  We headed out in the late afternoon looking for color in an area that would allow a choice of shooting the Cimarron Range or the Sneffel Range.

It was a great trip; fun to spend time with old friends and meet new friends.  Much thanks to Dee Willis for excellent planning and guiding. I know it was a lot of work.

If you want to see photos made by other photographers from this trip join the Facebook group  SW Colorado Fall Colors Photo Shoot 2017 and go to  Doug Sturgess Photography