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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rocky Mountain High

With an analytical approach and a love for dramatic peaks and roaring rivers, Glenn Randall lives where he gets plenty of photographic opportunities every day of the year

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rocky mountain
Wilson Peak Panorama
The best mountain ranges for wildflowers combine fertile soils, abundant snowmelt, ample rain and beautiful peaks. I’ve made most of my best flower images in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness between Aspen and Crested Butte and in the San Juan Mountains between Durango and Silverton. The most lush wildflower basin in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is the region southwest of the West Maroon, Frigid Air and Hasley passes. The easiest access is from the Schofield Pass road north of Crested Butte. Silver Creek Basin, another favorite location in the same wilderness, can be reached via the Lead King Basin road out of Marble.

The San Juans probably have the most abundant wildflower fields in the state. Dozens of 4WD roads crisscross the range, providing easy access to rich alpine meadows. Backpackers should make the nine-mile trek to the headwaters of the East Fork of the Cimarron River below Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn peaks, which are both fourteeners. Wilderness veterans ready for arduous off-trail adventures should explore the Needle Mountains and Grenadier Range, particularly Sunlight Lakes, Vestal Basin, Ruby Basin and No Name Creek.

rocky mountain
Owl Creek Sunset
After the flowers fade, I return to the usual office chores before heading out again to shoot fall color in September. In Colorado, shooting fall color means shooting aspen. In the northern parts of the state, you may find good color as early as mid-September, but the big groves around Aspen and in the San Juans typically peak in the last week of the month.

The aspen grow at lower elevations than the alpine wildflowers, so my approach is different. For the most part, the best groves can be reached by road, paved or otherwise. Easy road access also means much of the land is private, with lots of barbed-wire fences and no-trespassing signs. You definitely should shoot the world-famous (and crowded) view of the Maroon Bells from Maroon Lake near Aspen, but don’t limit your fall-color shooting to the Bells. In the Aspen area, explore the paved Castle Creek Road and the rougher, dirt Capitol Creek Road. When the leaves fall near Aspen, head southwest and check out the good gravel road over Kebler Pass, which connects Crested Butte to Highway 133. Kebler Pass is reputedly the site of the largest aspen groves in the state. In the San Juans, explore County Roads 5, 7 and 9, as well as Last Dollar Road, all of which start from Highway 62 between Ridgway and Placerville. All give spectacular views of the Sneffels Range. And don’t forget both sides of Owl Creek Pass, which connects Ridgway to Silver Jack Reservoir.


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