Tag Archives: Aspen

Fall Color at the Maroon Bells

The Maroon Bells in fall color outside Aspen, Colorado(Click on images for a larger view)

I’ve struggled to photograph the Maroon Bells in the past. Struggled because of two things: (1) everybody has photographed them and an original angle is getting more and more rare, and (2) they perfectly face to the east and, as a result, are often 2 stops more bright than their surroundings, making an even exposure especially tricky.

A six-month-old girl plays near the Maroon Bells outside Aspen, Colorado

But then my wife took our daughter there for a day trip this past October (I was attending the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism in nearby Snowmass) and she returned with a series of astonishingly original photos of the Bells. How did she overcome my two stumbling blocks?

Solution #1: visit the Maroon Bells with an adorable baby and let her eat the dirt on the shore of Maroon Lake — original photos abound — and …

Solution #2: visit in the fall when the sunlight is slanted and the exposure is more even.

The Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake in fall color outside Aspen, Colorado

Our daughter’s middle name is Autumn, and this being her first fall, well, it was especially meaningful to have the two of them join me in Snowmass for the conference. After the day’s sessions, I’d take Varenna off of Mom’s hands for a little bit, and go for a short jaunt through the aspens with her near the hotel. She’d squeal and kick with delight at being outside, at facing forward in the Baby Bjorn carrier, and at the sights and sounds and smells of the woods. She’s a Coloradan by birth, and already she is acting like one.

Enjoying the Maroon Bells in autumn, Aspen, Colorado

So when the conference ended and I had a little freedom to wander, we returned to Maroon Bells as a family and spent a few hours in the aspen glades and along the lake shore, watching a blizzard of leaves flutter over the lake as autumn had one last gasp before winter.

Close-up of the Maroon Bells outside Aspen, Colorado

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Graspin’ Aspen 2010 – Steamboat Springs

Since 2007, Hailey and I have made a special long-weekend trip in the fall to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Yep, the same Steamboat Springs that seems to grace every other post on this blog. I know. We go there a lot. However, it just keeps revealing itself to me in new ways, each time.

Each time we go there, whether its in July, the dead of winter, or even mud season at the tail end of April, this wholesome little cow-town with a massive ski resort glued to its hip seems to get more and more nuanced for us. With all due respect, I don’t think many other Colorado towns would stay fresh after so many visits.

This trip, however, had a different complexion to it, and that’s because of three ingredients: 1) our six-month-old daughter Varenna (now eight months old); 2) our good friends Tim, Lexi and their 19-month-old daughter Cora; and 3) our friend Jenny, who is expecting her first in March with her husband Matt, my best friend. This made September’s trip — dare I say it — a “family friendly adventure.” God, what a hideous cliche, but that’s the new reality. We get excited about places where our rambunctious little girl can be her most rambunctious, and playmates are an added bonus.

For the previous two falls, we’ve done this fall color trip with the Jordayzerton crew — the aforementioned folks, plus Stu and Shannon Kilzer. Unfortunately, this year, it didn’t quite work out that we could get everyone to come. Matt had a fencing tournament, and Stu and Shannon had a family emergency. Even the Lambertons had to head back early, but all was not lost. By Saturday afternoon, we did our traditional drive up Buffalo Pass to drink in the endless expanse of golden aspens that drape across the Zirkel Mountains.

We’ve had better years for color, in particular, the 2008 trip when every tree was 100% vibrant yellow, gold and red all at the same time (must have something to do with the dry spell we’ve had since July). But whatever we lacked for in this trip was made up for by our two girls, Varenna and Cora.

Their curiosity and enthusiasm for being outside was infectious. Varenna even figured out what my camera does. At one point while she was in the Baby Bjorn carrier, we ran down a road while I held the camera out and fired shots back at the two of us (third from top). She quickly picked up on how her face appeared on the camera back, which inspired only more giggles. Daddy’s little girl …

Tim and Lexi parted ways with us from Buffalo Pass, with their Saturday night of driving back to Denver in front of them. Through Monday, it was just us and Jenny, hanging out at the condo, going for walks, and letting Varenna explore things like aspen leaves with her fingers … until they ended up in her mouth. Such is travel with an infant, but if this weekend was any indication of the future — of seeking out other kids, other new parents, and laid back activities like going to the bookstore for two hours — that’s fine with me.

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Time Out … Fall Color Preview


Going to briefly interrupt the Southwest Colorado trip with a quick preview of this past week’s trips to Steamboat Springs, Snowmass and Aspen for fall color in the Rockies. We usually have an autumn trip to Steamboat, but this year we added another to the middle part of the state. It’s pretty cool when you can compare and contrast fall color locales in the span of a week. Steamboat was a bit past prime, and a little less vibrant than previous years (but still gorgeous), while Vail (which we only passed through) had all the colors of the aspen spectrum.

We were in Snowmass so I could attend the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism. I spent much of the time in conference rooms, banquets and exhibit halls, while Hailey and Varenna got to explore. By Friday, however, I was liberated from the indoors and allowed a few hours to see Maroon Bells (above), the most famous mountains in Colorado, if not North America. They were stunning.

More to come … but first I’d like to plow through the rest of Telluride, Mesa Verde and Pagosa Springs.

And for the record, after these past three months, I am more in love with Colorado than ever before.

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Picture Perfect – Colorado Vacation Guide Debuts

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Way back in July when I started this blog, I did a quick “sneak peek” on my first photo editorial assignment, which would publish in the Colorado Official State Vacation Guide, a magazine with a circulation of 800,000 that’s distributed by the Colorado Tourism Office to promote the state. Hailey and I were sent to Crested Butte and Aspen to cover the wildflower season, and I shot and wrote the entire article.

Well, this week it came off the press and I’m thrilled with the result. Here’s where the article begins. Click on the image for the full view!

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And here is the second spread:

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The guide won’t be in circulation for another two weeks or so, but once it is, you can request a copy through Colorado.com. For an online gallery of the trip, visit my portfolio site, TanagerPhotography.com, and click on the Travel galleries.

Special thanks go out to Kelly Faigin (the graphic designer who did such a great job picking out photos and laying out the photo essay…she even used one of my food photos), Hannah Pierce (the guide’s editor), Andrea Golod (head of the photo department) and Dusty Demerson (who conducted the photo class in Crested Butte that was the subject of the story).

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VOTE: Photo of the Year – Category 2 (Landscape and Nature)

If you haven’t voted yet for Category 1 (Travel), please do so. I only got 13 votes in that category so far, and while this whole “contest” may seem fruitless, it does give me insight into which photos really grab people. The more votes, the more I learn.

For Category 2, we have Landscapes and Nature lumped into one. This is a category that relies heavily on being at the right place at the right time, something I had a lot of luck with in 2008. Still ahead: food, people in places and portraits. The poll is at the bottom of this post.

#1. Blooming daisies, Positano, Italy.

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#2. Buffalo Pass Road in fall, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

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#3. Hand passing through lupine, Crested Butte, Colorado.

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#4. Lone cypress and blazing fog at dawn, Chianti (Tuscany), Italy.

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#5. Rosy paintbrush beneath Maroon Bells, near Aspen, Colorado.

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#6. Clam shell on polished pebbles, Nauset Beach, Orleans, Massachusetts.

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#7. Green fields of Chianti and passing storm, Badesse (Tuscany), Italy.

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And here’s the poll. Would love comments, too, on why you picked what you did. Your feedback is invaluable.

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Graspin’ Aspen, Part 2

A year ago, Hailey and I drove up Buffalo Pass Road but only got as far as the Dry Lake Campground. We were in her little red Alero, which has roughly 2 inches of clearance, and the road was getting a bit too rocky. It’s not a 4×4 road by any means…it was just getting annoying hearing things scrape the bottom of the car.

This go around, our friends were driving, and I was driving them nuts: “oo-oo-oo…stop here…” These are patient people folks. They let me photograph at nearly every bend in the road.

We reached the top of the pass right around 5pm, just as the light was getting super rich. Buffalo Pass sits on the Continental Divide, and right there, straddling the watersheds, is Buffalo Lake (above). There didn’t appear to be an outlet on either side, but I have heard of a few lakes in this type of position that supply water to both the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. One of those flukes in geography.

Here is a topo map of the route from Steamboat Springs to Buffalo Pass. Gotta love The Google. Turns out there is an outlet and it flows to the Gulf of Mexico via the North Platte, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers. Thanks Google. Mine own eyes couldn’t have seen that.

Anyhow, there isn’t much of a story at Buffalo Lake. We stood on the shore, we saw a duck. Like I said earlier, these friends of mine are patient people, even when you step in the way of their binoculars as they look at duck.

Taking shots like these brings me back to those early years when I was first getting into photography with my Nikon FM. I was 18 years old, ready for college, and I had a whole summer devoted to two things (1) making $8/hour at a day care center Monday through Friday and (2) hikes in the mountains with Matt from Saturday to Sunday. Those were good days, and capturing the story of each hike became an obsession. Nowadays, landscapes are bit harder for me. As beautiful as the scenery is, it’s tough to find that unique way of seeing it.

Below is a panorama of four shots I stitched together in Photoshop (click on the image for a larger view). This is looking north toward Wyoming, about 2/3 the way up the pass.

Here are the girls…Lexi, Hailey, Shannon and Jenny. All from different walks of life, all married to dudes from south Denver.

This is the quintessential Colorado sky. It’s impossible to be grumpy, consumed, nervous, anxious or irritable under a sky like that.

I think the only spot that tops this for fall color in Colorado — that I’ve seen firsthand — is Kebler Pass. I have been over Dallas Divide a few times, but never in the fall. Same with Maroon Bells. Perhaps next year we’ll go camp near Dallas Divide and Silverjack Reservoir. Autumn is increasingly becoming my favorite time of year in the Rockies. It is just so overwhelming with its beauty, its color and its fleeting nature. It’s hard not to be moved by it.

At the end of Buffalo Pass Road, we pulled over and let Tim loose. He was feeling cooped up, so he raced into this field, flushed a flock of blackbirds and then cast muscleman shadows on a hay bale. The next morning, I got an encore of showmanship, but with better results. Perhaps I’ll get that post up by this weekend.

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Colorado Vacation Magazine Shoot – Sneak Peek

Two weekends ago, Hailey and I went on an assignment for the Colorado Tourism Office’s vacation magazine. I shot (and now I’m writing) an article on the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival and Aspen. The publication won’t be available until the end of December, but in the mean time, here’s a sneak peek of four of my favorite shots from the weekend. There was still quite a bit of snow on the southern end of the Elk Mountains, so the shoot stuck to lower elevations where the lupine, sunflower and paintbrush were going mad. In Aspen, we stayed at the Sky Hotel, which had a wine reception and a hilarious pool scene that was, well, so Aspen. More on that another time.

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