Columbines and Comets - San Juan Mountains, Colorado - July 2020

In mid July I ventured up to a 13,000-foot ridge to photograph Comet NEOWISE above the Sneffels Range, in the San Juan Mountains above Ouray, Colorado. Here are some photos from that evening, along with some additional photos from later in July.

Colorado, Full Moon Basin, San Juan Mountains, hammock, photo

Hammock camp in a verdant green basin in the San Juan Mountains.

My comet photo mission provided a good excuse to go hammock camping again, this time in a beautiful secluded basin with a convenient spring nearby. I'm starting to get the hang (haha) of hammock camping; I now have a good tarp for it, I've got my rigging all dialed in, and now I just need an underquilt to keep me warmer at night.

Colorado, Mount Sneffels, Potosi Peak, Richmond Basin, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, columbine, photo

Columbine and Sneffels Sunset

Sunset light streams through the Sneffels Range and illuminates some columbine wildflowers.

I've been inspired by some friends' recent photos of Comet NEOWISE, and after a bit of research I knew that the comet would be visible in the northwest sky after sunset. I thought it would be cool to photograph it above Mount Sneffels, so with a bit of map planning I knew approximately where I had to hike to for the proper perspective.

So after hanging out (hahaha) at camp in the afternoon, I hiked up to my high ridge for sunset, which turned out to be a super awesome bonus photo opportunity for the evening!

Colorado, Comet NEOWISE, Mount Sneffels, Potosi Peak, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, stars, photo

Comet Neowise Above the Sneffels Range

Comet NEOWISE above Potosi Peak and the Sneffels Range. Discovered in March 2020, this comet circles the sun in a parabolic orbit every 6800 years, and it's closest distant to Earth is 64 million miles in July 2020.

The magenta and green colors in the sky are airglow, the orange light on the horizon behind the mountains is from the city of Montrose to the north, and the light in the valley is from a mining operation below Potosi Peak.

After sunset I hiked to the 13,000-foot position that I thought would provide the best angle of the comet over Mount Sneffels, bundled up in warm clothes, and waited for the dusk light to dim enough to see the comet.

As the sky darkened the comet got brighter and brighter, and while the comet is visible to the naked eye, the camera's high sensitivity long exposures made it look really spectacular. I was delighted that the camera even caught some green and magenta airglow in the sky around the comet!

At one point the International Space Station passed directly through the scene underneath the comet; unfortunately I didn't have my exposures planned well enough to capture that in the final photograph. But wow, what a cosmic evening all around!

On a side note, this was the second time I've hiked up this mountain in this general area to photograph an astronomical event over the Sneffels Range. Back in May 2012 Claudia and I hiked up near here to photograph a solar eclipse over Mount Sneffels!

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, indian paintbrush, Silverton, wildflowers, photo

Paintbrush Evening

Indian Paintbrush on a cloudy evening in the San Juan Mountains between Ouray and Silverton.

A few days later I met up with fellow photographer Nick Selway and some friends and we drove up a nearby 4x4 road to photograph wildflowers in a high basin. It's not exactly an extraordinary wildflower year this summer in the San Juans (after a very dry spring season) but it's not terrible either!

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, wildflowers, paintbrush, sunrise, photo

Paintbrush Sunlight

Sunrise light illuminates yellow Indian Paintbrush wildflowers at a high alpine lake in the San Juan Mountains.

A week later in late July I backpacked out to a remote basin near Silverton that I've been wanting to visit for many years, and with a clear weather forecast and no thunderstorm threat I was able to camp near an alpine lake at 12,500 feet, high above treeline. In the morning I photographed a beautiful moment of the first sunrise light backlighting some indian paintbrush wildflowers.

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, waterfall, photo

Niagara Reflection

Cloud shadows reflected in a small alpine lake in the San Juan Mountains - July.