Recalling Colorado

October 4, 2021  |  Ouray, Colorado

A year ago this week I was returning from an amazing trip to Colorado, where I photographed the aspens in all their golden glory as they turned their autumn colors. I was joined by Kristen Wilkinson as we explored western Colorado, capturing peak color in places like Aspen, Ouray, Telluride, and Silverton. We drove across country with stops in Ohio and Kansas City, but the highlight was definitely the week in Colorado.

Our first stop in Colorado was Colorado Springs, before we made the big trip to Carbondale for a two day stay there. This stop was important to me, as I had wanted to photograph Maroon Bells for some time. We made our reservation for the bus to Maroon Bells and arrived bright and early for the ride in. While most people stop at Maroon Lake, just a short walk away from the bus stop, Kristen and I had decided to hike up to Crater Lake, about two miles above Maroon Lake. For someone who's lived at sea level all his life, it was quite the endeavor to hike the four mile round trip at nearly 11,000 feet! My favorite image from this hike is Maroon Bells II, below.

Maroon Peak rises above the colorful aspens on an autumn day in Colorado.
Maroon Bells II

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Maroon Bells, the iconic peaks near Aspen, Colorado, tower above the Rocky Mountain landscape on a glorious autumn morning. The scene is breathtaking; the rocky foreground gives way to a vibrant golden display of aspen trees, with evergreen conifers rising in the background. The sky is a deep, indigo blue, with a few wispy white cirrus clouds crowing Maroon Peak. In the distance, a winding path delicately snakes through the trees to Crater Lake.

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Another highlight was photographing Crystal Mill, near the ghost town of Crystal City, outside Marble, CO. The mill was once a powerhouse, supplying power to miners nearby. Today it is in process of being restored. The mill was resplendent draped in golden aspens on this autumn day. Getting there was no small feat. The "road" to the mill is barely that, and requires a vehicle with off-roading capability. Kristen and I rented a UTV to make the trek down. There were a few white-knuckle moments with a thousand foot drop from the edge of the road at times!

An old mill near Marble, Colorado on an autumn afternoon.
Crystal Mill

The aspens surrounding Crystal Mill are in peak autumn color near Marble, Colorado. Crystal Mill was built in 1892 as a powerhouse to provide compressed air to miners in the silver mines.

Once we left Carbondale, we headed south toward Crested Butte and ultimately, Ouray. Kebler Pass was our chosen route, and to say it was stunning would be a major understatement. We really got lucky and hit peak color as we drove over the pass. All around were golden leaves, glowing in the sunlight. The image below was one of my favorites, showing backlit aspens at the side of Kebler Pass.

What's really amazing about aspen trees is that one grove is actually a single living organism. So amazing that one of these groves, such as this one, is actually just one tree!

A grove of aspens near Kebler Pass in Colorado.

The autumn chill turns Aspen leaves to a soft golden glow in the mountains of Colorado.

Capitol Peak near Aspen, Colorado, on an autumn evening.
Capitol Peak at Dusk

On an autumn evening, the sky glows with the last of the late day sunlight, painting the jagged Capitol Peak in the Elk Mountains, in hues of gold and orange. Below the peak, the aspens and pines provide a stunning contrast to the rugged stone walls. As the sunlight fades from the mountaintop and dusk descends, the canopy of trees creates an illuminated blanket of greens and golds, silhouetted against a blue and gold sky. Capitol Peak stands 14,137 feet above the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness near Aspen, Colorado.

We arrived in Ouray and made that our base for three days, exploring Last Dollar Road between Ridgway and Telluride, the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton, and then heading to Ophir in search of a particular grove of aspens. It was very much like searching for a specific needle in a pile of needles! But find them we did.

These aspens had been bent by heavy snows as saplings, and as they grew, their trunks remained curved, giving the appearance they are dancing. Kristen and I spent over an hour wandering the woods, looking for these particular trees we'd heard of. After a local came to our aid, we finally found them. The timing was perfect as the sun was in the perfect position to light the leaves and come through the trees!

The sun shines through a grove of aspen trees on a fall morning in Colorado.
Dance of the Aspens II

Weighted by heavy snows as saplings, these aspens, glowing as the sun ignites their dazzling golden foliage, now appear to be dancing in unison due to their curved trunks. One can almost hear the songs they sway to on this crisp autumn morning in the Rockies Colorado, the music provided by songbirds and the light breeze whistling through the trees.

After leaving Ophir, we began the long trek back east, stopping for two days in Alamosa to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. Such an amazing sight to see, these huge sand dunes piled at the base of Sangre De Christo Mountains. Given that this was at the end of our trip, Kristen and I were both exhausted. These trips typically entail a lot of 16 hour days, scouting locations, photographing, and editing. We were wiped out, so we opted not to climb the dunes and photograph from several overlooks.

It was an amazing trip that has me wanting to go back. A week in Colorado isn't nearly enough.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Great Sand Dunes

North Zapata Ridge rises above the sand dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve near Alamosa, Colorado.

Dallas Peak on an autumn afternoon.
Dallas Peak

Dallas Peak is bathed in the late day sunlight on an autumn evening at Dallas Divide near Ridgway, Colorado.

Early morning light shines on colorful aspen trees as Mount Sneffels stands in the background.
Autumn in the San Juan Mountains

Golden aspens blanket a hillside near Mount Sneffels in Coloardo's San Juan Mountains on an autumn morning.

View more of my work in Colorado in my gallery The Mountains.