Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

When the Mountains turn Yellow

Small pond near Frisco, Colorado

Small pond near Frisco, Colorado

While I love the fall colors of western NY, with all of the reds and oranges, I have to say that the color we saw while driving through the Rocky Mountains (in both September and October) were some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen.  On our way out to Utah, Nevada, and Arizona we spent most of our time on I-70, which in Colorado means crossing the mountains between Denver and Grand Junction, a very familiar route for us.  We did it a little later than normal this year – trying to avoid the heat in Utah and Nevada – so I wasn’t sure about the timing for color in the mountains.  I needn’t have worried.  The aspens and cottonwoods and grasses were amazing.

I-70 near Frisco, Colorado

I-70 near Frisco, Colorado

Full disclosure: Interstate 70 was anything but “amazing”.  This major U. S. artery – from Ohio through Colorado – has been “under construction” for about a decade.  And in some areas in the same places.  I fully realize that much of this construction is absolutely necessary.  Like many of our roads and bridges I-70 is literally falling apart.  But does it take this many years to fix?  I don’t think it took that long to build the damn thing in the first place.  In any case, if you plan on heading across country anytime soon, avoid this road (especially in Indiana and Illinois – although most of Kansas isn’t too bad).  Take I-40 (to the south) or I-80 (to the north).  But stay off of I-70!  The orange signs,  orange cones, orange barrels, and flagmen will drive you nuts.

I-70 in Colorado

I-70 in Colorado

The good news is that the inconvenience of road construction, and all of the orange signs and cones, was more than outweighed by the brilliant yellows and oranges of the mountains.  In many respects these photographs are a poor substitute for what we actually saw.

SR-12, Boulder Mountain, near Torrey, Utah

SR-12, Boulder Mountain, near Torrey, Utah

Boulder Mountain is not part of the Rockies.  It sits just to the west of Capitol Reef NP and south-southwest of Torrey, Utah.  At its highest point it’s about 11,000 feet high (so it’s not exactly little).  SR-12 crosses the mountain on its eastern side.  I’ve talked about SR-12 in previous posts; it is, to me, the most interesting and enjoyable road in the continental United States.  It runs about 125 miles from its intersection with route 24 in Torrey to a point just west of Bryce Canyon (where it meets US-89).  If you’re a photographer, you could live at any point on this road and spend multiple lifetimes exploring it.  Among other attractions you’d have: Boulder Mountain, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, the Burr Trail, Calf Creek Falls, Hole-in-the-Rock Road, Kodachrome SP, Red Canyon, etc., etc.  We’ve been down this road many times and I haven’t even begun to see all that’s there.

Cow on the road, Boulder Mountain

Cow on the road, Boulder Mountain

One of the interesting things about Boulder Mountain is that it’s a “free range” area.  During warm weather months, ranchers put their cattle up on the mountain where they’re free to go pretty much wherever they want – including walking across or in the road.  So it’s a good idea to be careful.  Especially since the road can get fairly curvy along the way.  If you come around one of these curves too fast bad things can happen.  This guy, for example, seemed a little put out that I wanted to get by.  The cows, by the way, are rounded up and brought to lower elevations for the winter (presumably with fences).

Great Sand Dunes NP, near Alamosa, Co.

Great Sand Dunes NP, near Alamosa, Co.

Just before heading east and home, we drove across southern Colorado on US-160.  It was along this route that we saw some of the most jaw-dropping displays of fall color.  None of which we photographed.  But that’s another story.

US-160 passes through Cortez (Mesa Verde NP), Durango, Pagosa Springs, and Alamosa on its way to I-25.  Its highest point is at Wolf Creek Pass (almost 12,000 ft.) between Pagosa Springs and South Fork.  It was on either side of the pass that we were simply blown away by the color.  There’s no way to verbally describe it.  In all of our travels I’ve never seen anything like it.

If I only had a picture (or two)………

Great Sand Dunes NP is worth visiting, if for no other reason than seeing how high sand dunes can actually get.  I love White Sands NM in New Mexico, for example, but the dunes here literally dwarf them.  I think the tallest dunes here are 700 or 800 feet high – and people climb them.  I don’t know if you’ve ever tried climbing sand dunes, but it ain’t easy.  It’s mind boggling contemplating how all that sand actually got there.  I didn’t bother climbing these because the wind was strong when we arrived and just kept getting stronger.  I didn’t feel like getting sand-blasted and I’m guessing my camera didn’t either.  I’m still cleaning sand out of the Jeep.

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10 Responses to “When the Mountains turn Yellow”

  1. TomDills

    Beautiful photos, Paul. While not as spectacular as you might have wished, I do feel that they do a great job of representing the color you saw. And the sand dunes look amazing! Definitely a place for us to go, and it sounds like fall is the time.

    Reply
    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Tom. Yeah, I think fall is the best time to visit this area. I’d also make it a point to visit Mesa Verde at the same time. Great Sand Dunes is nice, but the only thing there, really, is the dunes. In my opinion, one day is more than enough.

      Reply
  2. Cedric Canard

    This is truly gorgeous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such concentrations of yellow. It makes for a fresh change from all the usual fall photos we see this time of year. Of course for me any colour other than green is a refreshing change since that’s the colour of our trees all year long 🙂 Seriously though, I really like what you’ve captured Paul.

    Reply
    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks Cedric. It did seem like we were experiencing some kind of “yellow-overload” from time to time. As I’ve said, I’ve never seen it that brilliant before. You guys must be heading into summer, right? I seem to remember that you had some serious heat last year. Really, no color in the fall other than green? No maples or aspen? That could get a little boring……….

      Reply
      • Cedric Canard

        Yep, we’re heading into summer and because of El Nino we’re supposed to be in for another hot one and if the last few days are any indication, a lot of storms too.
        Our seasons here in Brisbane are delineated only by temperature. Winter is cold (well kind of for about 4 weeks), Summer is hot and humid and Spring and Fall (or Autumn as we call it here) is pleasant. Trees however are green all year round. Some do flower in the Fall so we do get some colour but not much. And yes, having no real seasons to speak of does get boring and I do miss having them. However, I am ok with not having to shovel snow and I’m also ok with being able to go to the beach 9-10 months of the year 🙂

        Reply
    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Brooks. Looking at them makes me want to go back again, although right now I think all I’d find is snow…….

      Reply

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