After Action Report for Autumn in the San Juans

Mt. Sneffels at Sunset

I experienced another great trip to the San Juan Mountains for autumn photography this year.

For the second year in a row, the skies were clear and blue. A challenge, photographically speaking. One learns to shoot small and keep the overwhelming bright blue to a minimum, but still, it makes for interesting photography once the compositions are found.

My trip almost ended shortly before it started. While driving along the highway near Cimarron, Co, a group of deer jumped in front of my vehicle while doing 50 miles per hour. Deer scattering and darting around in traffic with no warning as they were obscured behind an oncoming semi-truck until they leaped into my lane. I managed to get to the side of the road quickly, but unfortunately one deer slid under my front left wheel as I was coming to a stop. I’m sad to report that my front tire crushed one of the deer’s front legs above the ankle. She hopped off into the sage brush, but I knew she wouldn’t survive long with that injury. As for me and my vehicle, all I suffered was minor damage to the faring on the front left of the SUV and a broken heart knowing that there was nothing I could have done to have prevented it. The incident still weighs heavy in my heart and makes me cry to think about it.

Having made it through that incident, I tried to focus (no pun intended) on the upcoming task of a week long photography trip with Jon Steele.

Jon was hosting a workshop out of Ridgway this year. My original intention was to photograph the mountains around Crested Butte this year, but one of Jon’s clients backed out at the last minute and we worked out a deal where I would work with his photography group.

It was sorta fun not being “in charge” for a change and I informed Jon on many occasions to consider me just another client. Still, I think it worked as a win-win for everyone, even though I’m not teaching and hosting workshop/tours any longer, my experience and knowledge of the area seemed to be of use to Jon and his group.

There had been a lot of noise on the internet and in the news about autumn color change being delayed by at least two weeks, due mostly to a much warmer than normal August and September this year. That wasn’t really the case, at least not in the Ridgway area, as color change seemed to be about normal if not delayed by a half week or so from normal.  In fact, color patterns this year felt more normal than the past couple of years, so I have no complaints.

We worked mostly on the North side of the San Juan range and along the Million Dollar Highway where color was peaking right on schedule. We also had one day in Silverton to photograph two trains of the Durango and Silverton NGRR.

Based on previous trips to the area, I was hoping to get at least two dozen usable stock photos for the portfolio. That effort was a success as I haven’t finished editing all the images from the trip and already have at least 26 photographs on the stock agencies.

It was a dusty week. Jon had rented a Chevy Suburban for the workshop and in all honesty, it wasn’t very well sealed from the deluge of dust and dirt churned up on the forest roads. I’ve never seen so much dirt in my camera bag. It took me several days to get the gear and camera sensors cleaned upon my return.

We found a great bar & grill near the hotel called the “Full Tilt Saloon” for several of our meals. One of the big challenges in the San Juans during autumn photography trips is finding restaurants open later than 8 pm. Full Tilt’s chili was excellent, the burgers were tasty and the beer was cold. Plus they were serving food until 10pm. What more could a fellow ask for when trying to cut a day’s dust?

The weather was warm and clear the entire week, until our final day on Friday when we woke up to cloudy skies and fresh snow on the peaks. If only it had occurred a day or two sooner. We did manage a dramatic morning shoot on our last day.

The six hour return trip to Denver that afternoon was a beautiful if not tiring drive back along the Collegiate range through South Park.

Within 30 minutes of arriving home, I was sound asleep in my king size bed with both dogs curled up against me.

2019 is in the books.