Colorado Landscape Photography Fine Art Prints
What are the hidden gems in Southwest Colorado for the photographer and the fine art collector? The Colorado landscape is home to soaring mountains and some of the most beautiful trees in our country—the often-photographed Aspen trees. Tree photography is an important aspect of landscape photography whether you are taking a photograph of a single tree or a grove of trees. (For more thoughts on this, please see my article Three Tips for Taking or Purchasing the Best Tree Photos.)
You may be wondering what is the most popular tree in Colorado for fine art photography and it would have to be the Aspen tree. They are visually appealing due to their tall, straight, white trunks that contrast in the fall with their brilliant yellow leaves. They often grow in groves and the visual repetition of tree after tree creates a beautiful landscape scene, especially in the fall.
It is easy to say that all Fine Art Landscape Photography has its share of Mountain Photography. Mountains have a somewhat magical attraction to us. We can see them in the distance growing larger as we drive closer and closer to them. As much as we love the mountains, photographing them has its challenges. A good fine art print of mountains is much more than a quick photograph taken from an overlook. I discuss some of these challenges in my article Five Challenges of Mountain Photography.
But in spite of the challenges, I love taking photographs of mountains. Southwest Colorado landscape photos often include the mountain areas as they capture the beauty of the area. Creating a list of the best places to photograph in southwest Colorado would be a challenging task but I am certain that Mount Sneffels and the scenic San Juan Mountains would be included on the list as well as Wilson Peak, Telluride, the iconic Crystal Mill, and Maroon Bells, which is one of the most photographed mountains in North America.
My Colorado landscape photographs capture the beauty of southwest Colorado in the fall….. its sweeping vista at the Dallas Divide, aspen groves, and crystal clear lakes…. and one of them would make a wonderful addition to your fine art photography collection.
Visiting and Photographing Colorado Fall Color
Let’s talk about why Southwest Colorado is such a wonderful place to be in late September.
It’s all about the Aspen trees with brilliant yellow and orange fall color, and there just isn’t any other place that compares to it. I’ll offer some information about my experiences and the locations that I have photographed there.
I usually like to arrive about the 25th of September and hang around to about the 5th of October hoping for some early snowfall. If you are lucky enough to have some snow on the peaks of the mountains, you can capture some special images.
The Aspen Area
Aspen, Colorado is known for its ski resorts and as a place, the rich and famous go to play. In the Fall, there are a few places that are a must to check out.
The most famous spot is Maroon Lake with the mountain backdrop known as Maroon Bells. Recent drought conditions have resulted in the lake being small, roped off and not possible to get close to. This pretty much eliminates the iconic reflection shot of the mountain. Hopefully, weather patterns change and the lake returns to its former glory.
The mountains and Aspen trees above the lake are still impressive and worth shooting. For hikers, there are trails that extend far past the lake, into what I must imagine is beautiful scenery.
Just north of Aspen, you can find the road to Capitol Creek Trailhead, which has a stunning view of Capitol Peak. The last part of the road is very rough and it is best if you have a high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle.
On the west side of the mountains is the town of Marble, Colorado. This is where you begin a long, rough road to Crystal, Colorado where you can photograph the iconic Crystal Mill. The fall colors around the mill are fantastic. You should definitely rent a Jeep in Aspen for the trip over there.
Just outside of Marble is McClure Pass. The views from the overlooks are beautiful. There is a dirt road labeled “Ragged Mountain Road” on Google Maps that takes you through some nice Aspen Groves.
Continuing west from McClure Pass on State Road 133 will take you to the turnoff for County Road 12. This will take you through some wonderful Aspen groves, past some nice mountain scenes and on to Crested Butte. Depending on conditions, a day or so in Crested Butte could be well worth it.
The San Juan Mountains
The San Juan Mountains encompass the area in Southwest Colorado between Ridgway and Silverton on the east side and Telluride on the west side. There are great mountain scenes with Aspen trees everywhere.
North of Ridgway
County Road 8 will take you out to Deb’s Meadow, which has a great view of Chimney Rock above it. It is said that the shoot-out scene in the original “True Grit” movie with John Wayne and Bruce Dern was filmed here.
On the way to Deb’s Meadow, there are excellent views of Cimmeron Ridge. There is a side road that will take you to a set of trails that will provide you with a great view of Courthouse Mountain.
South of Ridgway
South of Ridgway is Ouray, Colorado, a charming, old west-style town. South of Ouray is the Million Dollar Highway, which runs along the edge of a steep canyon. The outside lane is one of the scariest drives I have ever made.
After you survive the canyon, you come to Crystal Lake with beautiful reflections of Red Mountain, and the lake is surrounded by fall color. It's best photographed at sunrise when the lake is calm and the light is just hitting the top of Red Mountain.
Continuing south from Crystal Lake takes you to Silverton, Colorado. This is another charming old west-style town and a great place to stop for breakfast or lunch. It's the northern end of the Silverton-Durango train ride. Someday I’m going to do that.
South of Silverton is Molas Lake, Molas Pass, and views of Twilight Peak, where I was lucky enough to capture an amazing sunset just after a snowstorm had passed over.
West of Ridgway
County Road 7 takes you to an amazing view of Mount Sneffels with a beautiful open valley of Aspen Trees. Continuing on down the road will take you to the Blue Lakes Trailhead. This is a steep and somewhat strenuous hike to Blue Lakes.
County Road 9 takes you to another nice close-up sunrise view of the mountains. Do not attempt this dirt road if it is wet and you only have street tires. The clay will stick to your tires, and you will lose all traction. The western clay roads are notorious for this.
There is also the iconic view at the Dallas Divide. It’s a good photograph at either sunrise or sunset. There’s a large parking area as it's usually pretty crowded if the conditions are good.
The Telluride area
Just south from Telluride is Cushman Lake. This lake is surrounded by Aspen trees and is worth a stop. A little further south is a large overlook, which has great views of Wilson Peak.
If you look in the opposite direction from Wilson Peak, there is a very good panoramic scene of the mountains. I’m not aware of any formal name to this view, but it ought to have one.
South from the overlook is Trout Lake. Late afternoon is the time to be there with the sun lighting up the mountains behind the lake. It took me several years of trying to capture the image I was looking for. I even got a big fish-shaped cloud in the sky.
And Much More
There is more, and the fun is always in exploring and finding both large and small scenes of fall color. If you have time for only one fall color trip, Southwest Colorado is worthy of being on your list.
Fun Facts about Colorado
Colorado was admitted to the union on August 1, 1876, as the 38th state and is nicknamed the “Centennial State” because it became a state 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It is named after the Colorado River which means “colored red” in Spanish.
The capital city of Colorado is Denver. Denver is 5,280 above sea level which gives it the nickname “Mile High City.” Denver is the home of the Denver Broncos who play at the “Mile High Stadium”. The Broncos have won three Super Bowl Championships including two with John Elway as a quarterback (1998 and 1999) and the third win was Super Bowl 50 with Peyton Manning as a quarterback.
Denver is also home to the Colorado Rockies—a baseball team that plays in the National League. The Rockies began play in 1993 as an expansion team and did advance to the World Series in 2007 as a Wild Card team.
A famous resident of Colorado was Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. who was born in New Mexico but lived in Aspen for much of his life. You may know him by his stage name—John Denver. His music captured much of the beauty of the state and his love of the Rocky Mountains. His song “Rocky Mountain High” was adopted in 2007 as one of the state songs.
Famous Colorado Slogans: Pikes Peak (named after Lt. Zebulon Pike who attempted to hike it in November 1806) is 10 miles west of Colorado Springs and is a favorite outdoors destination. It was the focal point of the 1859 gold rush and inspired the slogan “Pikes Peak or Bust” which was shouted out by enthusiastic adventure seekers. Today Pikes Peak is the home of multiple bicycle contests and running races.
Would you like to be in more than one place at a time? Then you should visit Four Corners, the only place in the United States where the boundaries of four states (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico) meet. You can stand in more than one state at a time or, depending on your mood, lay down in more than one state at a time.
Fun Movie Facts: The 1969 Western True Grit was filmed in the San Juan Mountains as its rugged peaks, steep canyon, and ghost towns formed the perfect backdrop for this famous Western. For his acting in True Grit, John Wayne won his only academy award, playing cantankerous U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn. Important key movie sets were located in and around Ridgway. Today you can tour the Ouray County Ranch History Museum and take the short walk to see the living quarters of Rooster Cogburn.
Fun Food Facts: The Jolly Rancher Candy got its beginnings in 1940 as the Jolly Rancher Company founded by Bill and Dorothy Harmsen of Golden, Colorado. The name was chosen to let customers know they were a friendly, western company. The Jolly Rancher Company originally sold chocolates and ice cream in addition to the hard candies, but with time they decided to focus on hard candies. The most popular Jolly Rancher flavor is watermelon.
Do you love winter adventures? Want to glide down a snowy mountain on a snowboard or go skiing? Then Colorado is the place to go with 28 ski and snowboarding resorts found west of the Continental Divide including Aspen, Breckenridge, Vail, and Steamboat Springs.
Fun Travel Tip: And speaking of skiing, the ultimate driving shortcut is the 1.7-mile-long Eisenhower tunnel. Skiers who arrive at the Denver International Airport and are headed west to the ski resorts will bypass Loveland Pass by using the Eisenhower tunnel and avoiding an additional 9 miles of slow travel over two-lane mountain roads.
Another Colorado Travel Hot Spot: It may surprise you that find out that the United States Air Force Academy, which opened in 1955, is one of the largest tourist attractions in Colorado due in part to Cadet Chapel—an aluminum, glass, and steel building that features 17 spires shooting up into the sky. It is the most recognizable building at the Academy and the most visited man-made tourist attraction in Colorado.
More Fun Food Facts: Chipotle Mexican Grill was founded by Steve Ells in 1993 when he opened his first Chipotle restaurant in Denver. He had calculated he would need to sell 107 burritos a day to be profitable; after one month he was selling over 1,000 burritos a day and decided to change his original plan of opening a fine dining restaurant to instead focus on expanding his original concept.
These are just a few of the fun facts about Colorado. I would like to encourage you to explore this state and see its beauty …. It scenic byways … its sports activities… and to discover your own not-to-miss experiences and more Colorado fun facts.