The last time I spent much time photographing in Colorado was nearly two years ago during the autumn. It was a spectacular fall, especially in the San Juan Mountains. The aspens seemed especially vibrant, with a rare mix of golds, oranges, and reds in some places. An early storm came at just the right time, leaving the peaks and aspens with a perfect dusting of snow. After so much time exploring so many other places over the last two years, I started to miss Colorado so we added a few trips around here to our list of summer plans.
Spending some time photographing wildflowers in the San Juan Mountains seemed like a good place to start. We planned to start by spending a long weekend in the spectacular American Basin area, located about twenty miles up the Cinnamon Pass road from Lake City. I had a more rugged SUV the last time I visited American Basin but still thought we could make it with Ron’s RAV4. In the last few years, the road has deteriorated quite a bit and we decided to turn around before getting anywhere near the basin. (After hitting a large rock disguised as a sagebrush coming out of Toroweap in the Grand Canyon and getting stuck in the mud out on the Alvord Playa in Oregon, we are trying to make better driving-related choices.)
We were too far away from American Basin to easily hike in and out multiple times over the next few days, so we changed our plans and spent a few days driving around all of the back roads near Ridgway and Telluride and doing some hiking in the area. I spent a great deal of time in this part of Colorado for work over the course of a few years and had known all these places so well. Even though two years does not seem like that much time away, I was quite surprised to see how quickly my memories and knowledge had faded without the more frequent return trips I had been used to over the previous years. Still, I remembered enough to give us a long weekend of things to do without any planning.
Anyone who has visited this state in recent years knows that Colorado’s forests are changing. Until recently, this damage hadn’t yet made its way down to the southwestern part of the state. It was very saddening to see that the bark beetle is now taking hold in some San Juan forests and it really shocking at how quickly this damage is happening. Mountainsides that were healthy and green just two years ago are now covered in dead and dying trees. The thought that the view from Dallas Divide might only exist in photographs within a few years is almost heart-breaking.
The Wilson Mesa area near Telluride is one of the places where some of these small spots of beetle-kill trees are popping up. These few dying red trees seem to be a harbinger of things to come for this area, which I think is one of the most scenic in Colorado. This area falls in the shadow of the massive, 14,017 foot Wilson Peak, with the high mesa below the peak covered in rolling hills and aspen forests. If I had an endless supply of cash, I would want a house on one of the high points in this area so I could wake up to this view.
I took the photo above from the side of the road somewhere in the Silver Pick Basin area near Telluride, Colorado. On this particular day, we enjoyed stormy light almost all day and visited multiple places under good conditions. As sunset neared and the light of a clearing thunderstorm looked best to the east of where we were, we took a chance at getting something that could be really awesome or a complete bust. We arrived during the peak sunset light but I did not have the time to find something I liked. As twilight set in and I wandered around some more, I ended up at this favorite viewpoint. This soft light, which I often like more than the dramatic colors of sunset, brought out some wonderful characteristics of Wilson Peak and the dissipating storm clouds swirling above the peak.
Since this is one of my favorite views in Colorado, I have photographed it in a few different seasons. Here is what this scene looks like at the end of autumn: