When planning our trip to Colorado, Faith had one request: She wanted to visit the Maroon Bells. Well, she had other requests too, but this was the one stop that she didn’t want to miss. I didn’t even know that she knew anything about the Maroon Bells. Ironically she didn’t think I had ever heard of the Maroon Bells. Faith had no idea that the bells are one of the most iconic landscapes in North America, and one of the most photographed as well. So it is with this in mind that we left Breckenridge on our third day in Colorado and headed towards Snowmass Village and the Maroon Bells.
Snowmass Village was suggested to us by my new friend Rick Louie as a place to stay near the Maroon Bells. I wrote more about Rick in my last post. Rick’s suggestion of the Pokolodi Lodge in Snowmass Village was a wonderful place to lay our heads at night. What Rick didn’t tell us was that Snowmass Village is a ghost town during prime leaf peeping season. Snowmass Village is known for skiing in the winter and hiking, biking and wildflowers in the summer. But in the months in between winter and summer, the tiny village all but shuts down and the locals all take their vacations.
When we checked into the Pokolodi Lodge, the desk clerk told us that nearly everything was closed. All the stores were closed for the season which was just fine with me. I had no interest in shopping. But the real shock came when he told us that all the restaurants were closed too. There were only 2 restaurants open and both of them were planning on closing in just a couple of days. Fortunately the Big Hoss Grill served breakfast, lunch, dinner, microbrew beers and liquor. Unfortunately they were not buying more supplies, so they ran out of some meals the first night, ran out of beer the next night and barely had enough to feed the poor tourists from Florida the third night. Still we enjoyed our stay there and we both agreed that we would gladly return during the shoulder season just for the peace and quiet. Of course the leaves were quite beautiful, so there was that to keep our attention. Click the images to view larger.
The gold leaves of the aspens in Fall were spectacular in Snowmass Village. Nearby was the town of Aspen, but personally I would gladly miss going back into Aspen. Even in the off season it was crowded and jammed with traffic. Sure, there were restaurants and shops there, but way too many people for my tastes. I can only imagine what it is like in season.
Now, the Maroon Bells are in the White River National Forest and a short drive from either Aspen or Snowmass Village, so it was very easy to get to. The road to the bells is closed daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm because so many people want to get up there and view the landscape, hike or just relax. So during these hours you have to take a bus. We went up after 5:00pm after we first arrived, purchased our pass and chatted with the ranger. I told him I wanted to photograph the sunrise and asked him what time I should be there. He said that it would be crowded by 4:00am. Surely you jest, I replied. Nope, you certainly won’t be the only photographer at 4:00am. Rick had told me the same thing.
Now, many of you know that Faith is not a morning person, but she was willing to get up for sunrise at the Maroon Bells. But there was no way she was going to tolerate a 4:00am arrival. I felt lucky to get her to agree to a 6:15 arrival which would be 30 minutes before sunrise. I’m glad we weren’t a minute later as the parking lot was packed and there were already over 100 photographers lined up to shoot. Not only was the place packed and all the best spots were gone, but it was well below freezing and some of these photographers had been out there for 2+ hours already. Why, they’re nuts!!! So I lined up as best I could and waited for the magic.
The sunrise was truly spectacular and Faith enjoyed it as well. But as you can see, I didn’t have an ideal spot for the photo. Bummer! The lake is naturally low at the end of summer, so there is more shoreline than during the Spring. There were also a few photographers that succumbed to the cloning tool. You can see why this is a popular composition. The mountain peaks turn a shade of maroon when the light hits them just right.
As the morning wore on, I tried some different vantage points that no one else was shooting from.
Of course, some clouds might have been nice, but I really can’t complain as they days were beautiful. When shooting a landscape, I always try to remember to look at what’s happening behind me. This is what it looks like with the Maroon Bells behind you.
After a few hours the crowds started to thin and I was able to wrangle a better spot.
At 8:15 when the first bus arrived, the place turned into a zoo. No one respected your composition, kids were running everywhere, people were talking loud and generally just ruining the moment. Sure, everyone is entitled to enjoy the beauty of the Maroon Bells, but something gets lost when you bring in people by the busload and they start going wild. So Faith and I posed for a selfie and decided to call it a day.
We will go back to the Maroon Bells in the future and we’ll be better prepared next time. We’ll get there at 4:00am, bring chairs, more warm clothing and some coffee to while away the time while we wait. It’s definitely worth the trip, but just know what you’re getting into. Faith and I went back the next evening so I’ll share that and some shots from around Snowmass Village. Stay tuned!