Back to the Colorado stories. I read somewhere that Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in the US. I have no idea if this is true or not, but they are definitely worth a look or two, even if the sky is not blue and the fall colors of the leaves just start turning.
As you probably have figured out I’m not so much a fan of the “postcard views” and rather make photos that use subtle light and clouds to tell a story. The purists under the landscape photographers may also not like that the water of Maroon Lake has some ripples but for me this is part of the story telling. Everybody who has been more than a couple times in alpine mountains knows by looking at this photo that there is some dynamic up in the sky, that the clouds moved fast, and that some wind played a role in this game. Yep, the editor who has to select the next postcard for print will refuse this photo, but have you seen many postcards that tell stories beyond a great vista? ….
The forecast for the weekend promised warm and dry weather, so we decided to pack the tent, throw the kayaks on top of the car, and go camping in Gov. Dodge State Park over in Wisconsin. The majority of the leaves is on the ground but little patches of yellow, red, and orange are still part of the landscape here in the Midwest.
Saturday morning thick fog covered Twin Lake Valley below the campground and every valley around. Pretty soon the fog lifted and left us with a clear blue sky for the rest of the day and into Sunday morning.
The water is a little chilly already but who says you have to go swimming? Joan and I paddled both days and as you can see our little dog Cooper didn’t mind it either. One of the reasons we like this state park so much is the variety of activities you can enjoy in and around this area. After yesterday’s paddle tour we went on a hike for a few hours and visited some old spring houses, Stevens Falls, and the Stevens homestead, the old farm of this pioneering family. Their life is described and documented on interpretive signs along a trail. Why do I mention this? Some of the photographs displayed on signs were made by a family member way back in the old days. Although none of the farm buildings exists anymore, except for the foundations, the photos of the old farm give us today, over 100 years later, a pretty good impression how this farm has grown and supported the life of this family. Photography at work!
Bare trees are hardly photogenic but if the light hits them just right, you can still make a photo that may have an impact on the viewer and tells the story about autumn. I tried this minutes before sunset and from the same location, a rocky bluff above the valley, as during the fog in the morning. The white stems of the trees stand out and even if the eye goes to the long shadows of the shrubs in the foreground for a few seconds, it will go back to the sunlit bare trees.
Our next destination in Colorado was the area around Aspen. We camped in the valley below the famous Maroon Bells but I will talk about this later. Our first day was a rainy one and we made the whole morning a “maintenance day”, means taking a hot shower in Aspen and having a lovely restaurant lunch. The rain stopped and we drove up Castle Creek Valley, south of Aspen, to the remains of the ghost town Ashcroft. This old mining town started in 1880 but had only a short boom time. We explored the last wooden buildings of Ashcroft with our cameras but it wasn’t before we went back to the car that we saw this picturesque setting. I love how the elements come together, the steep slope of the mountain, the white stems of the aspen with their color changing leaves, the bushes in the foreground that surround the creek, and of course the tipi as an eye catcher…
A few days ago I mentioned that we had some visitors at the bird bath. Like every fall the American Robins flock together in larger numbers and are joined by some Cedar Waxwings.
The waxwings are some of the prettiest birds we see here occasionally. Their main target at this time are obviously the juniper berries on the Red Cedars (which is not a true cedar but a juniper), that grow here between the rocks and on the steep valley slopes.
Finally I got a shot of the female Yellow-rumped Warbler that we have seen several times lately.
It is hard to believe that the first photo has been made forty minutes before the second one. A storm front moved out of the area at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison the second night we stayed there. What first looked like an early sunset was just a brief episode in the constant change of light. Looking down the canyon from one of the view points along the south rim and watching the development of the weather was as exciting as watching a movie. “Killer light” at its best, with the bonus of a rainbow…
I have been asked by a friend, did you make any wildlife photos during your trip in southern Colorado? The answer is yes, although my focus has been really on landscape photography this time. One animal we have spotted almost at every location where we camped was the Mule Deer. Almost every doe had one or two fauns around and it was fun to watch them interact in a playful way with each other. We were wondering why we saw the small Mule Deer herds quite often very close to or in the campgrounds, even if there was open land around as far they eye would go. The predators they have to fear the most are probably Mountain Lions or Coyotes and these guys mostly stay away from humans, hence the deer feels obviously safer in the presence of humans. That doesn’t mean you can walk right up to them and getting out the long lens is still necessary in order to make the click.
I followed this faun for a while as it was munching the leaves from the shrubs and I had quite a few photos to choose from at the end. Why this one? Well, I like how it holds its ears because there is nothing more that says “Mule Deer” as the gigantic ears they have. I hope you enjoy…
I like to interrupt my series about Colorado for the report of a first sighting that I had in our woods here on the bluffs above the Little Maquoketa River. I aimed at some American Robins and Cedar Waxwings that came to our bird bath in the front yard this afternoon when I saw this bird foraging on the ground between the leaves. First I thought it was a Fox Sparrow, which we have seen here before, but after reviewing my photos on screen I found out that it was indeed a Hermit Thrush. The bird is obviously on its way to the southern states were it will spend the winter.
The Hermit Thrush wasn’t the only migrating bird that came through here today. Fifteen minutes earlier a Yellow-rumped Warbler landed on a branch right in front of me but I didn’t nail the shot. We live here now since almost ten years and it is amazing to me that we can still add another species to the list of birds we have seen here.
My first photo gives you an idea how we saw the Black Canyon of the Gunnison the day after the shots in my last blog post were made. There is nothing exciting about this photo, except maybe for the location itself, but the light is just not very flattering. There wasn’t really a need to make photos that I wouldn’t use anyway here in the blog, in a book, or most important as a large print on the wall. However, I still make these clicks for my own documentation and memory. I want to be able to remember locations and shooting angles in order to be better prepared if I go to the same place another time.
The landscape on the rim of the canyon is desert-like and fresh colors are not there in abundance during an overcast, as easily seen in the first photo. There is much more to the canyon than just the rocks and looking out for other subjects is important on a day like this. The south rim of the canyon is at an altitude of about 2500 m (~8,300 ft) and fall comes early. The first leaves started turning yellow already in the first half of September during our visit and pointing the lens into this gully lead to the photo above.
Painted Wall, the highest cliff in Colorado, with its patterns is probably the most iconic view of Black Canyon National Park. These patterns were created more than a billion years ago when molten rock was intruded into fractures and joints in the existing rock, then cooled and hardened. I made several clicks and because of the gray overcast I was thinking black & white for a final image. Everything changed all at once when the sky broke and the sun sent its rays through the layer of clouds to the bottom of the canyon. Suddenly the gigantic rock wall revealed its beauty and told the story why people called it “Painted Wall” much better.
East Portal Road leads to the bottom of the Black Canyon, down to the Gunnison Diversion Dam. A tunnel through the rocks from there to the Uncompahgre Valley delivers water for irrigation since 1909. The water of the Gunnison River at the dam is more quiet and after spending hours up on the dry rim it was a pleasure to see green and yellow reflecting in the cool water…
I introduce our next destination in Colorado with some lines that I found in the National Park brochure.
“Some are longer, some are deeper, some are narrower, and a few have walls as steep, but no other canyon in North America combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness, and somber countenance of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison”, Wallace Hansen, Geologist
It is indeed an awesome canyon, carved by the Gunnison River. The river loses more elevation within the 48 miles of the Black Canyon than the 1,500-mile Mississippi River from Minnesota to New Orleans. The gorge is over 800 meters deep and very little sunlight reaches the bottom. The only things that give a sense of scale in my first image are the border stones of the view point on the other side of the canyon, which are about a kilometer away (5/8 of a mile).
Yes, someone may find a little light in every little crack in these rocks by employing multiple exposures and merging them to a High Dynamic Range photo. I personally prefer to expose strictly for the highlights and use the shadows as an element in the composition of my photo. But that is just me…:-) The setting sun reveals the structure of these step walls and I consider us very lucky to have such great light the first evening after our arrival in the National Park. More to come…
If hiking or mountain climbing is not on your agenda, you still will find many interesting things to do during a stay in the area around Silverton, Colorado. The mining activities over a hundred years ago have left plenty of historical sites and on our last day in the area we visited some of them.
The day started with a clear morning with an almost unreal blue sky and our first stop was the old Hillside Cemetery just outside of Silverton. The headstones tell the stories about the hardships and tragical incidents during the old days. I had to make a photo of this particular one, not just because of the light and background, but my friend and colleague Holly and his family may enjoy my finding.
Our next stop was the Old Hundred Gold Mine. We didn’t really plan on it, just took a turn off the road to check it out, and before we knew we were sitting in a tram and driving into the darkness of this old mine. Sometimes the spontaneous decisions turn out to be the best and Joe the tour guide did everything to educate us folks. This guy knew definitely what he was talking about and it was very interesting to see him operate some of the equipment.
While driving higher up into the valley the 4-wheel drive of the Subaru became really handy and we finally reached Animas Forks, a ghost town at an altitude of 3400 m (~11,200 ft). The first log cabin was built in 1873 and during the following years the town became a bustling mining community. By 1883 450 people lived in Animas Forks. When mining profits began to decline the town’s mining days were nearing an end. By 1920 Animas Forks was a ghost town. (source: Wikipedia)
It is interesting to visit the abandoned buildings and imagine how life may have been up there during the hay days of mining. Not all of my photography hopes became true. Being at a place like this at high noon isn’t really the best time but sometimes we need to make lemonade out of vinegar. Our time was limited and I think we made the best out of it…
I interrupt my series about Colorado for an actual “fall adventure”. Joan and I, and of course our dog Cooper, used the nice weather this weekend for tent camping and hiking in the Paint Creek unit of the Yellow River State Forest. This area in northeast Iowa is, like our home, located in the driftless area that escaped the glaciers during the most recent ice ages. As a result it is very hilly terrain and now known as the “Little Switzerland” of Iowa (source: Iowa DNR information map).
Beside hiking and having a good time at the campfire we were “leaf peeping” for the colors of the foliage with our cameras. Despite a couple chilly nights I don’t believe we have seen the peak of the colors yet but it is now turning yellow, orange, and red almost everywhere in the woods.