Colorado Fall Colors

September/October 2007  |  Colorado

Autumn is probably the most spectacular season in the Colorado Rockies, as the vast fields of aspens turn bright yellow and orange under snowcapped mountain peaks. For the last several weeks, I've been searching for grand aspen vistas to photograph, mainly in the West Elk Mountains near Crested Butte, and San Juan Mountains around Telluride and Ouray.

Red Mountain No. 2. San Juan Mountains - September

Red Mountain

Red Mountain No. 2. San Juan Mountains - September

Dolores Peak, 13,290 ft., towers over vast fields of yellow and green aspens near Telluride.

Fall Creek Vista

Dolores Peak, 13,290 ft., towers over vast fields of yellow and green aspens near Telluride.

Changing aspens along the Wilson Mesa Trail near Telluride. 

Wilson Aspens

Changing aspens along the Wilson Mesa Trail near Telluride. 

Mt. Owen, 13,058 ft., and Ruby Peak, 12,644 ft., reflected in Lost Lake Slough near Kebler Pass - September.

Ruby Reflection

Mt. Owen, 13,058 ft., and Ruby Peak, 12,644 ft., reflected in Lost Lake Slough near Kebler Pass - September.

Sunrise light on East Beckwith Mountain, as seen from a beaver pond near Kebler Pass on a snowy September morning.

Beckwith Sunrise

Sunrise light on East Beckwith Mountain, as seen from a beaver pond near Kebler Pass on a snowy September morning.

Raindrops rest on a yellow aspen leaf

Aspen Raindrops 2

Raindrops rest on a yellow aspen leaf

A fallen yellow aspen leaf is covered by ice crystals on a frosty October morning.

Aspen Ice Crystals

A fallen yellow aspen leaf is covered by ice crystals on a frosty October morning.

Stormy autumn morning in the Sneffels Range - October.

Sneffels Sage

Stormy autumn morning in the Sneffels Range - October.

Orange cottonwoods at twilight along Dallas Creek - October.

Dallas Creek Autumn

Orange cottonwoods at twilight along Dallas Creek - October.

Autumn vista of the golden aspens on the slopes of West Beckwith Mountain, as seen from the summit ridge of Marcellina Mountain...

West Beckwith Aspens

Autumn vista of the golden aspens on the slopes of West Beckwith Mountain, as seen from the summit ridge of Marcellina Mountain - October. The Kebler Pass road is barely visible far below in the lower left.

I had quite an adventure after taking this photo. Hiking up Marcellina Mountain requires a long and tricky bushwack through thick and featureless fields of aspens - similar terrain to what you see here. Since this was my second hike up here in a week, I was feeling confident that I could find my way back down in the dark, so I waited for sunset to photograph these vast fields of golden aspens in the late day light.

However, once the sun set, it got really really dark since there was no moon at all. With only my headlamp to light up a short distance, I had a very hard time recognizing the features of the route, and I ended up spending half the night crashing around through the aspens with only my compass to guide me. I ended up hiking two miles too far by the time I hit Kebler Pass Road, and then had to walk another extra two miles back up the road to get to my truck.

Being relatively lost and barging through the aspens and bushes in the pitch dark was somewhat of a nightmare scenario, but I was able to maintain a calm and collected attitude, which I think really helped me out of this jam.

Despite the difficulties of hiking Marcellina, the view from the summit is stunning since it towers above some of the planet's largest aspen groves.

Autumn cottonwoods illuminated by a big bonfire.

Cottonwood Bonfire

Autumn cottonwoods illuminated by a big bonfire.

Dawn light illuminates Mt. Sneffles, Potosi Peak, and their lofty neighbors in the Sneffels Range, as seen from high on Richmond...

Dawn light illuminates Mt. Sneffles, Potosi Peak, and their lofty neighbors in the Sneffels Range, as seen from high on Richmond Pass after the first snows in September.

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