Fall. Wait, Autumn. Whatever you call it. Dang it, there goes the epic intro I was hoping to have for this post. ANYWAY, whatever we call the season when tree leaves in pretty places turn from green to yellow to red to orange to purple to pretty much any color in between. It’s a lovely season and the annual changing of the leaves is a wonderful catalyst for nature lovers to converge on pretty places around the USA looking for Peak Fall Colors.
As I told you during my State of Travel article last week, I joined those nature lovers for a weekend trip to Colorado.
My Mission: the Legendary Curved Aspens
There is a small grove of aspen trees in a certain location in Colorado that I’ve wanted to photograph for years. The only problem: the location was a relatively well-guarded secret. I started researching the location of the trees in 2017, doing the best I could to gather hints from what people posted online and looking at any online material I could find, even looking at topography maps to see if that would yield any clues. Earlier this year I finally made a breakthrough and figured out the location within a half-mile or so. I drove to Colorado over Labor Day weekend for a camera lens review and for my first 14er. What I didn’t tell you is I had every intention of driving to see the curved aspens on that trip, but unfortunately my Tesla wasn’t capable of the drive due to the conditions of the road. I got back to Texas and was dejected until I saw an $81 airfare from DFW-Denver on American for what I estimated to be Peak Fall in Colorado. I pounced on it, booked an SUV which could handle the road, and flew to Colorado.
Quick aside: how was the flight?
Honestly the flight felt really normal. After a while I didn’t really notice my mask anymore and, although there was no in-cabin service on one of the flights (since I was in coach), it’s a 90-minute flight from Dallas to Denver, so not a big deal either way. The plane didn’t look or feel any different than normal, but I know the cleaning procedures American is using, which made me feel safe. I would happily fly again, and fully intend to do so soon (literally in a few days from when you read this post).
My Plan and My Equipment
The primary objective of the trip was finding the curved aspens, but there was a lot of nature to drive through in the meantime, so I brought my best landscape camera equipment: my Fuji GFX100 and an assortment of lenses (32-64mm zoom, 110mm prime, 250mm prime, and a 50mm Canon tilt-shift). My journey would be in a southwestern direction, so I planned on some scenic drives through places I had visited last year, namely Ohio Creek Road to Kebler Pass near Crested Butte.
Ohio Creek Road to the Kebler Pass
After a brief stay in Colorado Springs to catch up with a dear friend I headed southwest to the town of Gunnison, Colorado. It’s a quaint town and I stopped at a cute little cafe for lunch. I then made my way north on highway 135 and turned left at Ohio Creek Road. I was immediately smacked in the nature by an assortment of colors, so I grabbed my camera and began the photography part of the trip.
Off in the distance I noticed a cluster of trees displaying some great colors and Ohio Creek Road made for a nice leading line. In order to get some background compression I grabbed the 250mm lens and figured out my composition. A cyclist entered the scene and I thought they made a great inclusion to add some humanity to the picture.
This area of Colorado is very rural, with farms dotting the landscape. I drove past a particularly picturesque farmhouse and just had to stop for a picture. I switched back to my wide-angle 32-64mm lens to capture the mountains in the background along with the amazing colors.
Ohio Creek Road is a perfectly normal paved road, but after a while it changes into the Ohio Pass, an unpaved but very drivable road no matter the vehicle you have. As the pavement gave way to dirt, I entered a forest of aspen trees showing off their colors.
The road tightens from a two-lane road into about a lane and a half, requiring some negotiation with oncoming drivers, but everyone on the road was friendly and did lots of Steering Wheel Waves, since we were all our there enjoying nature together.
As I was driving the Ohio Pass I realized I was probably a bit early for peak colors, but at the same time it was getting very windy so I wondered how long the leaves would hang on no matter the color. The snap freeze a few weeks before blunted some of the brightness of the colors, from what I had read, but I was still enjoying every second of it.
After a while I arrived at a T-intersection, the joining of the Ohio Pass and the Kebler Pass. To the right, the lovely city of Crested Butte, to the left, miles of beautiful landscapes and fall colors. I went left.
The Kebler Pass covers more ground and is more undulating than the Ohio Pass, but still easily doable for almost any vehicle (sorry Bugatti drivers). Off in the distance, more of Colorado’s famous 14ers dotted the horizon. I took out the 250mm for a 3-row panorama, which ended up being a massive 345-megapixel file approximately 94 inches by 58 inches at full resolution! I love the splotches of color in the trees as a foundation for the incredible mountain view in the background.
I drove around a bend and saw a bunch of cars parked seemingly on top of each other and people holding cameras on the side of the road, which usually means Something Is Pretty. I stopped, parked, and grabbed my camera. It turns out there were some moose near the road! Now, being that moosen are completely insane (yes I know the plural of moose is also moose, that’s a shoutout to my second-favorite bit from comedian Brian Regan) and highly territorial, I kept my distance, standing behind other photographers and using my 250mm lens to get a good view of the moose calves.
Happy with my shots, and having not been killed to death by any moose, I continued on. I saw a bunch of cars parked up on a hill so I turned off to join them. The area is called Horse Ranch Park. I followed my rule of If People Are At A Place In Nature It’s Probably Pretty and got out for a leisurely stroll around. I saw a path in the woods and thought to myself “hey why not go for a walk” and started walking. The trail wasn’t difficult and the scenery was just brilliant.
Some people on horseback came down the path, thanking me for giving them the right of way (Quick note: downhill traffic gets the right of way on a trail. Another note: they were on horses, they were getting the right of way no matter what). Another lady on her way down the trail saw my camera and asked if I was getting any good shots and I gave the usual “oh just the best you’ve ever seen probably” sarcastic reply (which actually comes across kind of conceitedly in retrospect). I asked her if there was actually anything at the end of the trail I was on (because I had been walking for a while) and she said there were some great views of the Mount Beckwith and the Beckwith Pass. I like both mountains and passes so I kept walking. The views remained amazing, I loved seeing the gradient of colors changing, sometimes even on the same tree.
I reached the summit of the easy trail after about 2 miles of walking. The lady was right, the view of Beckwith Pass was wonderful! I kept walking through a gate and saw a great view of Mount Beckwith and the Castles to the left.
I needed to get going so I started walking back down the trail, since I still had quite a long drive ahead of me. The path was just as beautiful on the way down as on the way up when suddenly I heard someone yell “EXCUSE ME” from off in the distance behind me. Thinking it was a good idea, I got off the trail and chilled for a minute as some mountain bikers came by, thanking me for giving them some space. I continued walking after the passed and came upon them again a short time later as they were waiting for the trail to clear ahead of them while having some water. We made some idle chit-chat and then they got back to biking as I quietly got my camera ready for a wonderful shot of Beckwith Pass in the background with a mountain biker ever so small in the foreground, giving some scale to the humongous spectacle of nature in front of me.
I made my way back to my Jeep Grand Cherokee but noticed a really condensed grove of aspens so I got my camera back out and walked over. There’s just nothing like aspen trees in Colorado at the beginning of Fall/Autumn/Falltumn.
Just before I got to the highway at the end of the Kebler Pass I saw an amber bed of what looked like ferns with aspens in the background. I thought it was an absolutely epic scene, especially with the sun rays coming in as the sun began its descent towards the horizon.
So did I find the Curved Aspens?
You’re going to have to wait and see! If you followed me on Instagram you’d already know, just saying 🙂
I’ll finish this post with some Photoshop fun. I took one of the pictures I had of a condensed grove of aspens and applied a blur to it, making a really cool abstraction of fall colors and the white trunks of the aspens. I love how it turned out!
Stay tuned, you won’t want to miss what’s next!