Tag Archives: wilderness

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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The James Peak Wilderness

The boot shot is an age-old tradition. “See these boots? They got me here.” Here, in this case, is Frozen Lake, the upper most of the Crater Lakes in Colorado’s James Peak Wilderness. Above the lake is the Continental Divide, the line that runs up the Rockies and separates the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico watersheds. This is where I sat on Sunday afternoon around 1pm with my best friend from childhood, Matt Jordan. Hiking and backpacking is our favorite thing to do together, yet somehow this was the first hike we’d done together with our wives coming along.

The seasons are definitely changing up there. The star gentians on the left are always end of the season wildflowers, like the alpine gentians I mentioned last week. The tundra is turning an orange rust, the wind has extra bite, and the creeks are pretty low. Somehow, through this all, the elephantheads (above right) are in fine shape.

So here are the details on the hike. From Denver, head to Boulder and west to Nederland. Above 10 minutes south is a tiny hamlet called Rollinsville. From there, you drive a dirt road west all the way to the Moffat Tunnel, park, and climb southwest into the James Peak Wilderness. After 1.5 miles, the trail forks, and to get to Crater Lakes you veer right and climb up into this hanging valley. There are two lower lakes and 1 1/2 upper lakes (a pond, really).

Matt sez: “long live Mountain Funk.”

Jenny and Hailey opted to play cards on the shore of one of the lower lakes, while Matt and I climbed up to Frozen Lake. The trail builders were clearly members of the Church of No Switchbacks: it went straight up and was pretty loose. Waterfalls are everywhere between these two lakes, and I wish I had better light to capture them (and more water…come back in mid-July, I guess). In fact, the light was pretty shoddy all day, but we didn’t get up there until 9am, so this was never meant to be a “photo trip” per se.

After the pond, the trail goes under a three-foot canopy of bristlecone pines. It is seriously like climbing into a pine cave. Go left and your head pops out the other side (where you can see the upper lake for the first time), and then you have to squeeze through this narrow passage while dried up branches scratch your calves. It is so cool.

Here is when Matt’s head popped out of the piney canopy.

Looks like he’s shopping in a Christmas tree lot or something.

To quote Matt: “a good time was had by all.”

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