The expectations of Colorado were met and often exceeded on many occasions.
My college friend (and host) were finally able to reconnect after forty one years of not seeing each other. We established contact via social media (there are some good points about FB), and had 12 days to catch up!
My reflections of Colorado will stay with me for quite some time, and I will cherish my time there forever!
Driving 2,100 miles on the road visiting and photographing the various beautiful landscapes that Colorado had to offer allowed us to to do just that. It was a fantastic experience by ALL accounts.
We both agree while we were in the middle of the trip that the next time we hook up we will visit less areas and spend more time in the spots that we decide upon to photograph in the future. After awhile, unloading the SUV and checking in on the various hotels, go out shooting, pack up, check out, load the vehicle on a daily basis got old. That said, it was worth every second of “inconvenience” just to be able to see so much in such little time. If I had to do that again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second (well maybe for a second).
We ate like kings on a daily basis, and even though we log so many miles, we really didn’t felt rushed at all. The excitement of the next destination is all we needed to enjoy every moment of the trip!
I never been “so high for so long” while we traversed the various mountain passes and dirt roads that cut through the many ranches we visited. To say that it didn’t take my breath away would be dishonest. My friend who travels these roads regularly constantly ask if I was okay. Having faith in the knowledge that he was in total control of the roads put me at ease to the point where I could relax (somewhat) and enjoy the spectacular scenery. I carried on like a trooper!
I can’t wait for a return visit to this incredible state.
Left Denver to head up to Mt. Moran to shoot Bristlecone Pine (one of the oldest living organisms on the planet). It was a beautiful drive up the mountain, and we eventually parked at an area where there were a cluster of them to photograph.
Even though I did not do any strenuous activity, the fact that I hadn’t had any sleep to speak of for two days, jet lag, a different time zone and of course, higher altitude, I was a bit apprehensive about my ability to cope with being slightly under 12,000 feet above sea level.
I was okay for about an hour when all the aforementioned elements began to conspire against me. I had to shut down after capturing more than a few quality images, and we headed back down the mountain to Echo Lake to shoot there.
Echo Lake is “only” 10,600 feet above sea level, but it was easier to deal with, and my body was under less stress while there.
We had to head back to Denver to pick up my friend’s National Park Lifetime Pass (he accidentally forgot it), before we headed to the West Entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. We drove the entire length of the Trail Ridge Road, had lunch at the Alpine Visitor Center, and continued our trek to our hotel located in Estes Park.
After checking in and eating dinner, we packed our gear and headed back to the park, unfortunately bad weather had already taken over the area. We settled on driving to Bear Lake Road to shoot from Morraine Park. Although we were socked in with fog and mist, we both came away with images drenched in atmospheric delight!
Back out into Rocky Mountain National Park to shoot a classic sunrise from the aptly named Dream Lake viewing Hallet Peak, but unfortunately the inclement weather that socked us in the evening before was still hanging around. We scoped out Sprague Lake for some opportunities but the fog was too dense to shoot anything worth keeping.
We headed back down on Bear Lake Road and pulled over when a misty Aspen Grove caught our eye(s). I was able to bag a few keepers there! We were also treated to a massive Bull Elk leading his harem down to a secluded waterway to eat and drink. We had scoped out that area earlier and decided it wasn’t worth setting up for. Good thing, because we might have been caught off guard by the elk and would have been trapped by a testosterone laden bull who would have been quite defensive of his girls and would have put us in harm’s way for sure!
After checking out from our motel in Estes Park, we began our trek down I25 south to stop by the Red Rocks Amphitheater.
By the time we got there, the skies cleared and we were greeted by the quintessential Colorado autumn sky. Clear blue skies that really made the red rocks stand out with intense vibrancy. Unfortunately, there was a rehearsal going on and we could not gain access to the performance area to shoot. We settled with walking around the parking area to photograph the less dramatic rock formations, but interesting none of the less.
Back on the road again to hit our next destination, the alien like and amazing landscape found at the Paint Mines Interpretive Park.The Paint Mines Interpretive Park is one of El Paso County’s most unique open spaces. The Paint Mines are named for their colorful clays that were collected by American Indians to make paint. Brightly colored bands, caused by oxidized iron compounds, are found in varying amounts throughout the many different layers of clay.
The Paint Mines Interpretative Park is located in the northeast section of the County near Calhan with approximately 750 acres. The paint mines have evidence of human life as far back as 9,000 years ago!
The park features fantastic geological formations including spires and hoodoos that form through erosive action that creates incised gullies and exposed layers of selenite clay and jasper. Once done there, we drove to Colorado Springs to crash at our next hotel to get a good night’s rest before heading out the next morning to the Garden Of The Gods State Park.
Up and out by 6am for a sunrise shooting session at the spectacular Garden Of The Gods State Park in Colorado Springs. This magnificent park was only a five minute drive from our hotel, so we had plenty of time to scope out the best vantage point to shoot from. We came across that area in short order, but unfortunately a few other photographers had beat us to the punch and there were no other places to park, so around, and I mean around we went to find another area. I write this because the road is only one way (great traffic flow concept for the general public), but it was quite frustrating for us that we had to do laps around the park just to get back to square one.
We eventually settled on another parking area to finally set up and get to shooting. We scattered about to shoot the varied and intriguing rock formations that were all located over the grounds. I decided to bracket my captures for HDR processing later on as there were stark contrasts between the sky and lower portions of the rock formations.
After returning to the SUV we finally had the opportunity to shoot from the location we wanted originally. As it turned out, the light was superior at that point in time and we scored quality captures!
Finished shooting here, we had breakfast back at the hotel, checked out and headed out to our next destination; The Great Sand Dunes National Park.
The ride took approximately two hours, so we checked in, rested up for a bit and then made it to the Sand Dunes for Golden Hour captures. This park was near the top of my list of intrigue; I was not disappointed. One does not think “sand dunes” when mentioning Colorado, but there it was it all its magnificent glory. Wide angle lens and stitching were called for to capture the dunes in its entirety.
Satisfied with our efforts, we headed back to the hotel, ate some great barbecue right next to the hotel, and then headed back to dunes for some Milky Way captures, as this park is recognized by the Dark Skies Association for its very dark skies. It was quite the sight to behold at first, but out of nowhere (or so it seemed) a massive cloud began to take control of the star filled sky, and we had to shut down for the night.
A good night’s sleep was in order to prepare for a return visit to the Dunes the next morning…
Off at the crack of dawn, we headed back to the Great Sand Dunes to photograph the dunes in the soft early light of the morning. Once again we were greeted with howling winds that made it impossible to get deep into the dunes, as we would have had to deal with camera shake and blowing sand!
Instead we partially entered the dunes and found a rather large one that we used as a natural wind break. From this location, the two of us came away with many quality captures that demonstrated the beautiful S-Curves found at the tops of the individual dunes as they hug the low angle rays of the sun as it rose about the mountain ridge.
The rest of the day was spent traveling to Del Norte where we spent the night. We did make a brief stop at a local establishment called “Haefeli’s Honey”, where we were treated to some fascinating family history and bought some delicious honey as well.
After checking out early, we headed to the next destination, Silverton. We crossed the Continental Divide toward Pagosa Springs searching for Treasure & North Clear Creek Falls. Unfortunately, due to the lack of rain, both of them were nothing more than a trickle, and not worth photographing.
Once we arrived in Silverton, my host who had made all the travel arrangements discovered that he had made reservations in a different town (that was over 4 hours away), so he had to scramble to cancel those reservations and hoped that the Hotel in Telluride would be able to accommodate us for a second night. Fortunately, we were able to do just that, and we avoided that possible disaster unscathed!
Relieved, we had a top notch lunch at a great Barbecue joint, and went to photograph the Silverton-Durango Train to kill off the afternoon.
After shooting that train, we packed up and headed over the Red Mountain Pass (which was exhilarating and scary all at the same time) and eventually descended down to the town of Ouray. As we didn’t find anything of interest to shoot (although the views from the pass were breathtaking) we continued our trek to Telluride. After checking in, had a wonderful dinner, we walked around the streets of that beautiful town to digest as well as to check out the magnificent Bridal Veil Falls. Unfortunately, as was the story with the other two previously mentioned waterfalls, the flow was nothing more than a trickle. Slightly disappointed, we headed back to our hotel to rest up, and be ready to roll for the next days adventure…
Heeding some good tips the night before from the Innkeeper, Jim and I went out before sunrise to capture Aspen in the early morning light. We shot from main roads as well as some off roads (where we all alone).
Prior research informed me that Last Dollar Road was the place to shoot Aspen near Telluride, as there were one grove after another to photograph.
We scouted it out the minute we arrived in Telluride only to be disappointed after driving @ 3 miles in. It was not until the next day that we accessed the road from the opposite direction that we were blown away by the amount of Aspen that there were to behold (as promised).
My Colorado host was like a kid in a candy store. The trees were shaped in various sizes and contortions and were so thick in spots that they blocked out the sun completely, but only enhanced a magical yellow glow down upon us. It truly was spectacular!
After shooting there for a couple of hours, we packed up and headed back to the Inn. This was a dirt road, full of ruts, rocks, water and our SUV was not even a AWD vehicle. Jim had plenty of experience in those situations and we transversed the road without too much difficulty.The road continue to ascend and ascend and ascend until we hit the summit. It was at this point once we hit the clearing did I realize how high we actually were! It seemed like the entire planet was below us. I would be lying if I wrote that it didn’t literally scared the you know what out of me. There was nothing between the passenger side of the car and a drop off to the massive valley below. Jim kept asking me how I was doing, and all I could muster was a wimpy “I’m OK”.
It was exhilarating, but I was sure glad to finally get back to a more stable environment. Being a low lander from NY didn’t prepare me for such heights.
Looking back on it, I am so glad that we were there!
After Telluride, we headed off to the Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park.
Researched indicated that the best time to shoot there was around noon when the sun was almost overhead. Normally this breaks one of photography’s cardinal rules. We like to shoot during the blue and golden hours for best light, but in this case because the canyon was so narrow and deep; you needed the sun directly overhead to illuminate the canyon below.
The contrasts issues were as advertised, and it was quite a challenge to properly balance the drastic differences between light and dark.
At first I was using a split neutral density filter to combat this challenge, but I did not have much success. So I switched out that filter for my UV filter and bracketed my images by shooting three images at different exposure stops. This proved to be a winning combination.
Like all the places I was at, this canyon was magnificent to photograph and to view in real time, as it is important to shut off the camera and to enjoy the landscape in the moment!
After thoroughly documenting this canyon we drove off to our next stop by driving west over Independence Pass toward Aspen. We made a few stops to photograph areas that spoke to us, most notably The Grottos on Independence Pass.
Once checked in at out room in Aspen/Snow, we chilled out, had a great meal and prepared for our next destination; Maroon Bells!
When we awoke, the sky was grey and we thought that we were going to be denied once again of a classic Rocky Mountain capture.
However, once we arrived at Maroon Bells, the skies began to clear with a wonderful light fog embracing different parts of the mountain tops. This made for some amazing captures with the light dancing about the range.
Unfortunately, the wind was brisk, and the water level low, which denied getting any reflections in the water.
But the drama in the sky more than made up for it!
Feeling satisfied with our images, we headed back to our hotel to check out, grabbed breakfast and began the trek to Minturn, where we hoped to photograph more Aspen in a different setting.
Once we arrived here, we scouted out the area and were disappointed with the lack of color; we decided that we should catch up on some sleep, and head back to Denver early next morning…
Drove back to Denver and chilled out for the rest of the day, planning our return visit to RMNP on Sunday.
Off and running (or should I say driving) back up to RMNP before dawn to be ready to photograph the majestic fourteener, Hallet Peak and its neighboring peaks from the Storm Pass Trailhead.
We originally were planning on hiking up the Bear Lake Trail to Dream Lake to capture probably the #1 image in the park, but the windchill temps were in the single digits, and thought it best to shoot at the aforementioned location(s). Needless to say, the images that I captured there were fantastic, so no complaints!
After a few stops to shoot some random wide angle captures of the Rocky Mountain range, we headed back to Denver, and began to prepare for my flight home to New York and to bask on the magnificence of what I witnessed during my 10 day stay in Colorado.
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