Colorado. Our 38th state. Home of the Rocky Mountains. And for this trip, GOLD! Gold as in the beautiful gold leaves of aspens in Fall. When Faith suggested a trip to Colorado back in June, I was eager to go. I had been to Colorado a couple of times in the past for business and had taken advantage of a company-paid trip out there to spend a few days with my camera. But I had not ventured into the depths of the Rocky Mountains before. So it was with great anticipation that we began planning our trip for the last week in September.
Our trip would include stays in Breckenridge, Snowmass and the Rocky Mountain National Park. Overall the weather was gorgeous with bright blue skies all but the first and last day we were there. From a photography standpoint, I would prefer to have some nice high clouds to work with, but I have no complaints about being graced with outstanding weather. We had packed and dressed for cool temperatures, but on a few days we were wishing for shorts and t-shirts.
Having only spent a couple of days in Colorado in the past, I reached out to my friend Debbie for some advice on where to go and what to do. She recommended that I hook up with Rick Louie, a local photographer that she knows, who could show us around and make suggestions on the best ways to spend our days there. Rick Louie Photography offers photography workshops for those interested in photographing the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. We were a week too early for Rick’s scheduled workshops, but he agreed to spend our first day in Colorado showing us around. Debbie’s advice was spot on and Rick spent 12 hours with us on our first full day in Colorado and loaded us up on places to visit during our stay.
My goals for the trip were simple. I wanted to see elk, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, mountain goats, birds and aspen gold. Rick was up to the task and on our outing we were able to tick off three of the 5. Rick took us up Mt. Evans for a chance to see the bighorn sheep. We left before dawn (yes, Faith was up and in the car before sunrise) and were on the road to Mt. Evans shortly after sunrise. Our first two nights were spent in Breckenridge, and it was a chilly start to our first day. Click the images to view larger. Well, maybe not the images I’m in. 🙂
Mt. Evans is a “fourteener”, one of several peaks in Colorado that top out over 14,000 feet. The road was closed for the season above 12,000 feet, but we were able to drive up to Summit Lake for quick walk around the tundra. At that elevation, there are no trees. In fact, there isn’t much of anything except tundra, cold, wind and sunshine. The sun is quite strong at that elevation, but it felt good along with the below freezing temperatures and steady breeze.
It was even colder at Summit Lake on Mt. Evans. Notice the tundra in the background. It would soon be covered in snow for 9 months.
Despite the early morning departure and the cold temperatures, we were soon rewarded with one of goals for the trip. Along the road to Mt. Evans was a small herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. There was one male in the group and I was able to get out my big lens and take a few shots. This is a young male who hasn’t quite got a full head of horns yet.
I realized that I was too close to get a full body shot, so I backed up a bit and that’s when the ram decided to tell me what he thought of me.
He quickly went down the hill to join the rest of his heard, so I never got a chance to get the shot I really wanted.
On the way back down the mountain, we came across more sheep that were right on the side of the road. I had too much lens in my lap to get any decent images, and the rest of my gear was in the back of the car. I also wasn’t sharp enough to consider pulling out the iPhone, even though Faith was in the back seat shooting away with hers. Doh! But I did manage to get a couple of head shots.
On our way back down Mt. Evans, we stopped at a turnout where we had some beautiful views of the Rockies. This panorama I took illustrates both the beautiful weather and beautiful landscapes we were privileged to visit.
After our visit to Mt. Evans, Rick drove us towards the Guanella Pass where we were likely to see plenty of gold from the aspens. We were not disappointed!
The early morning start to Mt. Evans gave us the ability to have some roads all to ourselves before the leaf-peeping crowds moved in.
Aspens are unique in that a grove of aspens is actually a single living organism. Aspens multiply by expanding their roots where new trees will grow from. This image illustrates how a single aspen can create a grove of trees over time. Notice how the aspens follow a straight line down (or up) the mountain. That entire line is a single living organism.
Around every curve on the road there was beautiful vistas and colors. Some aspens had already lost their leaves. Others were at peak color while some had just begun the turn from green to gold.
Rick was driving us around in his 4-wheel drive SUV and offered to take us 4-wheeling to see even more sights. Neither Faith nor I had been 4-wheeling before, but we were game for something new. Rick took us up this one-lane, winding, rocky, bumpy dirt road with sheer dropoffs that very quickly caused us to mentally check to see if our life insurance policies had been paid before we left. But Rick was a very careful driver and the trip was a lot of fun (when we weren’t precariously close to going over the edge). The drive ended at an abandoned gold mine and it was quite interesting to see the backcountry and get away from the crowds on the roads.
We came across a stream with some aspen leaves on the rocks. This was one of “hope to get” compositions during the trip. I’ve not had many opportunities to shoot a scene like this, so it was nice to get a chance to try it out. I had hoped for additional opportunities during our week in Colorado, but this was the only one we came across. Thanks, Rick for taking us up here.
By the end of our first day, we were exhausted and happy to get back to Breckenridge for the night. I want to thank Rick Louie for showing us a fantastic time during our first day in Colorado. We hope to get back out there and shoot the summer wildflowers with him or to take one of his tours in the Fall. If you’re looking for a knowledgeable guide for that area, I highly recommend him.
More to come on our trip, so stay tuned!