Above the Uncompahgre Gorge
Last week in mid-July I did a pleasant 3-day solo backpack loop through the Uncompahgre Wilderness above and east of the town of Ouray, Colorado. This is a favorite trek I've done numerous times before but this time I varied my camping destinations and did a bit of exploring along the way, and I also had a notable encounter with the local wildlife!
I can't resist mentioning what's missing from this photo journal here - the scene I shot on the first evening. Upon exploring a new area I discovered a fantastic scene to photograph, and indeed this would have been the photo of the trip, but unfortunately the cloudy skies totally cleared up right before sunset leaving me with a photo that has 3 out of 4 elements aligned but just seems to be missing something with the empty sky. Although tempting, I'm resisting sharing a decent photo that I know could be so much better under different conditions. Quite frustrating after all the effort, but this is the name of the game with landscape photography; and I guess it's just a good excuse to come back again! (And no, in case you're wondering, I don't do digital sky-replacement fakery with my photos).
It's been a year of extremes here in southwest Colorado. After a very snowy winter and a wet and stormy spring, it was shaping up to be an all-time wildflower summer in the high alpine. But then around the end of June and beginning of July, the clouds disappeared and we've had relentlessly sunny, dry, and breezy weather for weeks on end. The first weeks of July are a critical window for the flowers up high and it seems like the month of dryness has parched the tundra a bit and perhaps stunted the wildflower potential. Hopefully, though, the monsoon weather pattern will ramp up soon and maybe with more moisture the alpine wildflowers may pop after all, at least in some places.
The photo above might not appeal to everyone, but I love this scene because it is so unique to this area, with the eroded purple volcanic ash mountainsides and vibrant green meadows and forest below. If I didn't know where this photo was shot, I bet I could still identify the mountain range! Also I must admit it's nice to see still-healthy pine forest here while so many other forests of the San Juans have been ravaged by beetle kill.
I love being up high at sunset in the western San Juans, where there's nothing but Utah desert to the west and the sunset light gets so unbelievably red, and then there's the red-orange-blue dusk gradient that seems to linger on the horizon forever.
Here I had my camera at ground level, trying to accentuate the way the red sunset light was filtering through these tiny tundra flowers. Maybe I got a little too carried away with this one.
On the third day as I hiked down into the final stretch of trail back down to Ouray, the thought crossed my mind that if I were to see a bear it would be here. Only a half hour later I heard a sudden crashing noise behind a bush right in front of me, then saw the rear end of a black bear running away up a fallen tree. When it was about 20 feet away it stopped, turned around, and started to move back towards me, presumably to investigate me more. I said "Hey buddy..." in a calm but stern voice and thankfully it decided not to continue towards me and instead just sat behind some branches to keep an eye on me as I continued down the trail (but I had to stop quickly to snap a few pics of course!).
It's so true, though, that the vast majority of my bear or mountain lion encounters have been in or near towns (mostly Ouray), almost never deep in the wilderness. Maybe that's just a Colorado thing, I don't know. But certainly when I'm hiking around Ouray I'm on more high-alert than when I'm wandering in the wilderness!