Tag Archives: yellow

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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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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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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Graspin Aspen, Part 1

Fall in the Rockies…Don’t blink, you’ll miss it. One cold night and all the aspens go gold and red. One windy day and they’re empty skeletons. Fortunately for me, Hailey and six of our closest friends, this past weekend was a case of perfect timing. Above, we have Tim and Lexi Lamberton (left and center) tossing leaves into the air with Jenny Jordan (right) at the Dry Lake Campground near Steamboat Springs. Also along for the fun were Shannon and Stu Kilzer and Jenny’s husband, Matt. Mostly the same group as the Grand Lake trip from a few weeks ago.

As you can see, there was much jubilation.

The route to Steamboat Springs is always an enjoyable drive. Coming home: not so much, but I’ll get to that in a later blog post. Up I-70 to Georgetown we could start to see the first veins of gold, winding courses of quaking aspen, hugging the gulches. Into Summit County, the epicenter of the pine beetle epidemic here in Colorado. I’d say at this point, roughly 70% of the pines are dead…either gray gnarly skeletons of their former selves, or sickly red-needled towers waiting to be torched. Fifty weeks of the year, it’s one of the saddest sights in America…but this weekend, the aspens and their blazing gold and rusty leaves overwhelmed the beetle kill. I hardly even noticed the dead trees that are everywhere.

From Silverthorne, the route descends the Blue River to the Colorado River at Kremmling, weaves through sage-brush hills and Middle Park and then passes over Muddy and Rabbit Ears Passes before a spectacular descent into the Yampa River Valley and Steamboat Springs. Just shy of Muddy Pass, the aspens return, all of them in full fledged fall folliage (say-that-three-times-really-fast-I-dare-you). Cresting Rabbit Ears, the willows and their tiny red leaves take over. It is a landscape of rust and copper colors. A bull moose wandered through the willows … something we only caught a quick glimpse of at 50 mph. A U-turn and a frantic drive back to the spot and he was gone.

Above-left is Fish Creek Falls, a short, easy and popular hike (translation: a frustrating hike for Matt) just northeast of Steamboat Springs. We checked it out, wandered downtown, found a great bookstore/cafe (Off the Beaten Path Books) and then spent the late afternoon and early evening driving up to Buffalo Pass, where all the rest of these images were taken.

Aspens and pines (alive ones!) at the Dry Lake Campground.

Stu and Shannon walking back to the car at Dry Lake Campground. Click on the photo and you may be able to see Shannon sticking her tongue out at me.

Ahhh, to retire as a National Forest Service Campground host. Perhaps in another life, but there is definitely an appeal to being the guy who chops wood all day, chats with outdoorsy types, sleeps in a camper under the stars and cleans out the outhouse——never mind. What a lousy job.

Those are seedpods of wildflowers and red willows along the road side in the late evening light.

And then we decided to have a little fun with the fish-eye lens.

Yes, it is quite funny how covered in leaves and dirt I was.

Back on the road, the aspens only got thicker and deeper in color. Coming later this week…parts 2 and 3 of the Steamboat weekend.

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