tour de colorado-fall 2022

There’s something romantic about the coming of Autumn. From my formative years in Nebraska, I can still smell and feel that first chill to the air, when the leaves start to fall and people trade in their shorts and sandals for hoodies and gloves; seasonal changes keep excitement in the air.

Colorado’s dramatic shift from a summer paradise to a frozen wonderland is a trip of a lifetime without having to move an inch. To make the most of it, however, I set aside a couple of weeks each fall to follow the colors and changing sights on an extemporaneous journey across the state—I go where I can best capture this magic on film. 

Right at home in Summit County, the show begins around the first week of October, and I just knew that our wet summer was going to make for some vibrant Colorado Gold Aspens, and it did not disappoint.  I hiked over to Rainbow Lake a few times and waited, to be rewarded with some of the brightest colors I’ve ever seen, enshrouding Peak 1 in the Tenmile Range, flexing its 13,000+ foot of vertical muscle.

I usually have a few specific goals in mind when I venture out in the field, this Fall it was “that perfect Aspen reflection shot”—admittedly, this has been an illustrious side-project for few years. For whatever reason, Colorado’s pristine alpine lakes seem to be almost always surrounded by coniferous trees.

I had just never thought to hike to the other side of Rainbow Lake before…I’ve been to the other shore several times. Now it’s a favorite spot!

I love when multiple seasons converge in Colorado—especially fall/winter. Eagle’s Nest, the high point of the Gore Range at 13,432’ is a dramatic, rugged peak. I used a long lens to augment its towering beauty here. Winter makes a cameo appearance on this majestic peak, wearing a few golden strands of Aspen like a string of pearls.

After shooting Summit County for a week or so, it was time to explore some of Colorado’s other beautiful areas, following the changing leaves from north to south down the Great State. To start out, heading over Cottonwood Pass is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. While there, I was drawn to these puffy clouds which marched overhead in procession. 

As an artist, I am working on my open-mindedness when considering what constitutes “good light.” I love and am usually satisfied when an image draws an emotion out of the viewer; most of the scenes I’m chasing require rare, dramatic light—the waning moments of blue hour, or a dramatic sunrise, things like this. Now, these moments are still, in my view, generally some of the best to capture the mood of a landscape. But there’s still something to be said for a blue sky; they are still so beautiful. While as a photographer, one must be careful of harsh, dramatic light, of course, but a blue sky with clouds in it like this makes one feel happy, content. It’s easy to become jaded as a photographer, which can lead to missed opportunities, and can even lead to laziness or procrastination. I find it’s best to just go out and work with what I’ve got.

I’m learning that while some earlier lessons like “there is no correcting for bad light” are open for interpretation. Of course, there are a ton of ways to utilize the Golden Hour, or a fantastic dramatic sunset…it’s more of a matter of HOW one uses the light available to them, than just a yes/no approach to “good light.” Putting this into practice is both giving me more opportunities to shoot in a greater range of conditions and allowing me to adapt more easily to changing conditions.

If, for example, the weather changes, the lighting changes, it becomes a situation where I’ll sometimes try and tailor my approach to what’s happening in the field, versus being “stuck in a rut” chasing after an image that just isn’t going to be present in the existing conditions. It’s best to table that idea, perhaps write a note in my journal, and come back again, when the conditions are right.

I found myself once again in Crested Butte, where I have access to some of the most amazing Aspen groves in the world. To some, things like downed trees, or off-white colored bark are distractions when shooting these beautiful forests. Nonsense! This gives the viewer an appreciation for the life cycle of the forest, and the personality these trees, with their varying personalities, add so much depth and character to a scene.

I love this forest. It looks almost unrecognizable in “Peppermint Grove” compared to last season’s “The Invitation”—both scenes are just a few hundred yards from one another. This scene, with its crisp sun and insane color gamut from the ground-up, I can taste, see, smell and almost hear the beauty of this forest.

This area has more than a diversity, it has a wealth of opportunities for photographers. This scene near Horse Ranch Park of the Ruby Anthracite mountains is a stunner! The trees on “Waves of Autumn” turn red each year and highlight this jagged and mesmerizing scene high above Kebler Pass. 

After scooting down McClure I made my way into Aspen to meet Amanda, where we watch the sunrise at the Maroon Bells one morning each year. I won’t hurt my shoulder patting myself on the back, but I would say I reserved us a good morning to check it out this time! We caught that seasonal convergence once more, and there is really nothing more dramatic than the Elk Mountains, and the Bells just stun every time. These are the most photographed mountains in Colorado, and that’s because they’re truly a sight to behold. I am just blown away every time I gaze upon their impeccable summits, it’s probably in the top three “accessible western vistas.” 

We all shoot the Bells from the same place, and there’s no real questioning as to why. Every time, the shot is unique and special, because just a subtle change in the environment completely changes the feel of the scene. 

(Photo credit: Amanda Johnson)

There are limitless opportunities and great perspectives to photograph these magnificent peaks, so after I snagged the annual straightforward reflection shot, I had some time to frame this dynamic scene in some new ways. I love slowing down the shutter to add drama to the sky of scenes like this. The Bells are so great because they look great in any light, (actually, even in the dark) and one can really find unique ways to frame them. 

As the autumnal color change makes its way down Colorado from north to south each year, I love all the stops along the way but there’s something special about the San Juans. I camped near Ouray with a pretty formidable to-do list: I spent some time exploring Ralph Lauren’s Double RL ranch, which monopolizes the eastern San Juans with its sprawling 17,000 acres. This scene near Dallas Creek was the perfect vantage point for the craggy, rugged beauty of Colorado’s remarkable San Juan Mountains. Here’s “Dallas Skyline” with a towering vista of the San Juans between Ouray and Telluride. 

I’ve heard some photographers claim that “good photographs come in bursts.” Of course they do. I remember the wet, early-October snowfall in 2018 where I was in another Colorado mountain town, where I weathered the elements and in the span of two or three days I captured three images that hang on the Gallery walls. It’s because the elements are working in one’s favor, for sure, but the creative and motivational juices need to be flowing as well.

Well, things came together for me right at the end of the trip once more. I’ve seen this stretch of road on Instagram a hundred times but had no idea where it was.  I love how the road leads the viewer’s eyes towards Wilson Peak and Sunshine Peak here! I love the way the road leads my eyes into this dramatic scene, it would be hard to forget even without a photo. 

I had a hunch this scene might be something special in the softest waning moments of Blue Hour. Combining so many different elements of the things I love about Colorado, “Soul Searching” just has that intangible element that makes a scene sing. A savvy landowner’s search light nearby has added a mysterious element to this moody, almost-perfect Colorado scene.

I had the goal in mind of finding “that perfect Aspen reflection shot” on this trip—and, what’s “perfect” besides? All I know is I remember this calm, still water with bullfrogs croaking all around me, the air getting crisper by the second, and the blue hour coming to a close as the shutter immortalized this mesmerizing scene image inside my camera’s brain and maybe smirking a little as I packed up my gear. Another fall Tour de Colorado in the books, and there’s nothing sweeter than ending it with such a captivating shot.

I hope to see all of you in the Gallery soon, I will have most of these images up on the Gallery walls in the coming weeks. I also have an announcement to make regarding a new acrylic mount that I’ll be offering, one that will add yet another element of beauty to these fine art pieces. I would love to read some of your comments, and I hope everyone has a great Holiday Season!




December 2022