Landscape photography by Gary Gray
Autumn on the Ralph Lauren Ranch

Camera packs. I have many of them and it’s always a curious challenge for me determining which gear I’ll take on a trip and what is left in the cabinet.

I always have these fearful visions of my vehicle breaking down in the middle of nowhere with a boat load of photography equipment inside. Oh yeah, insurance is a good thing but it doesn’t really alter the mental convolution process.

For this trip, I’m packing my landscape kit; however, I’ll bring along the big lens just in case I run across some wildlife that begs to be photographed. I’ve heard that the moose are moving into the San Juans, so who knows? Maybe I’ll come back with a few wildlife shots as well.

My friend Jon and I have been discussing our plan of attack on the San Juan Mountains via email for the past two months. Every day, a new flurry of insightful thoughts are exchanged, google map locations examined, discussions about the weather predictions and announced road closures are factored in to our ruminations.

There are eyes on the ground reports too. A number of friends making the same trek, all reporting their sightings and impressions of how the color is developing in the mountains. Predictions of an early Fall, bad color, blown leaves, mold and mildew and smoke from fires. I never worry about the negatives, because I know from experience that all these variable conditions are, well, variable. One learns to photograph the event as the event exists, not as one wishes it to exist.

Take 2017 for example.  My visit to the San Juans was punctuated by lousy weather. Clouds, cold weather, sketchy color conditions. End result of last years trip was I got one of my best selling photographs from those conditions.

Nope, time to quit worrying about things that can be less than optimal or go wrong. Time to finish packing the gear and make the journey. I’ll find good shots, just like I do every year. Those shots will occur in the conditions that exist when we get there.

Autumn Color on the Million Dollar Highway
Autumn on the Million Dollar Highway

Colorado Autumn Color – From The Vault.
Sept 30, 2011.  The Million Dollar Highway, Ouray, CO.

Canon EOS 1Ds Mk II: 1/125 sec, f/16, ISO 200, 45mm

I recall my wife sitting patiently in the car while I trekked across this field to get this photo.

Patience is a virtue.

Photograph of Autumn Color in the San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains of Colorado

Colorado Autumn Color – From The Vault.

Sneffels Range, San Juan Mountains, CO.  October 9, 2011

Canon EOS 1Ds Mk II: 1/10 sec, f/9, ISO 100, 118mm

We go through the same cycle of anticipation each year, waiting for the Autumn Color trip to the Colorado mountains.

Today I’m going to find what information I can on the color status in the San Juans. From what I’ve been able to glean from web cams and individual reports, the mountains are indeed experiencing that annual transition, same as it ever was.

What I’ve learned over the years is to be patient. The color is what it is, the change is what it is, the weather is what it is. The job of the photographer is to show up at the best time possible and get the best shots as possible. Everything else is up to nature.

What is different this year is that the San Juan Mountains have been experiencing a serious drought this past year. How will the leaves react?  Lots of experts on weather and trees and chemistry and things like that, but the bottom line is you show up, find the best scenes available and take your best shot at them.

It’s the waiting that gets to you. A trip planned months in advance will occur with or without the grace of nature.