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.

Shifting Gears

Autumn in Colorado – The Crystal River With Chair Mountain as a Backdrop

After a marathon of moose photography this past August, I’m taking a few weeks off from photography. I’ve been editing a large number of moose images from the summer, uploading stock photos, and doing much needed office work. The thought of photography isn’t all that enticing at the moment. Not to worry though, I’m in the planning stages for my Autumn photography trip the first week of October.

I have to deal with the question of where to go every year. Colorado has numerous locations for great fall foliage, but the two main areas that keep bubbling up are Crested Butte and/or The San Juan Mountains.

Crested Butte has a lot of beauty; however, the actual choices are limited by location and what time one wants to go there. The east side of Kebler Pass normally comes into color before the west side of the pass, and the dining situation is not that great. Most of the restaurants in Crested Butte are part-time at best and the general attitude of the locals is slack at best.

So I’ve decided to make this year’s trip to the San Juan Mountains. I know the San Juans like the back of my hand. Been there many times and the photographic variety is far better than Crested Butte.

First things first though. I’ve put my Ford Explorer in the shop for some much needed maintenance. 9 years of bad road has taken a toll on the front suspension so it is time to drop some money on getting it back in good working order.

In the meantime, I’m back in the office and working on things that have gone ignored for most of the summer. I’m looking forward to the heat wave breaking and some cooler, even wetter weather. I think we had about 20 days of 90+ degree weather and .35 inches of rain in August and September is starting off where August left off with record heat and dry conditions.

It’s time to shift gears from wildlife to landscape photography. As much as I like moose and other wildlife, it’s Autumn photography that I most look forward to each year.

Grand Finale

Another season of Autumn Photography comes to a close here so I thought I’d put together a gallery of some of my personal favorite Autumn Landscape Photographs from my journeys through Colorado over the past 10 years.

It’s difficult to choose which images to include as I have close to 500 commercial photographs, but this selection represents my personal photographic vision.

Fine Art Print of each of these photographs and others are now available in my online Fine Art Prints sales gallery.

With the holidays rapidly approaching, now is the time to order the gift of art. You may visit my print sales gallery by clicking the link below.

Gray Photography Fine Art Photographic Prints

 

Autumn Blizzard Near Telluride, Colorado
Owl Creek Pass Near Ridgway, Colorado
The Sneffels Mountain Range and the Ralph Lauren Ranch Near Ridgway, Colorado
Misty Morning Near Crested Butte, Colorado.
Long, Tall Aspens on Kebler Pass, Colorado
Sunrise Mist on Kenosha Pass, Colorado
The Last Dollar Ranch Near Placerville, Colorado
Crystal Lake on the Million Dollar Highway in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
Autumn Road Near Ironton, Colorado
Sunrise Frost Near Red Mountain Pass, Colorado
Pond on the Ralph Lauren Ranch, Colorado
Winter and Autumn Collide on the Dallas Divide, Colorado

Nothing But Blue Sky

Autumn Scenery in the Beautiful San Juan Mountains of Colorado

Landscape photographers commonly complain about the prospect of having clear blue, cloudless skies to work with.

In this article, I talk about how to deal with the clear blue sky.

Now available in my Photo Articles

Photography Occurs in the Conditions That Exist

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.

Anticipation

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.