7 Must-See Photo Locations that Belong on Your Bucket List!

By Joseph Thomas

7 Must-See Photo Locations that Belong on Your Bucket List!
The last golden traces of autumn dot the powdery branches of an aspen grove.

When deciding where to take your next photography trip, remember this: You don’t have to travel halfway around the globe to create spectacular photographs. Colorado, smack dab in the heart of the USA, is an enormous state with a stunning variety of not-to-be-missed photo locations that will blow your mind and bolster your image portfolio! Consider a visit to one or more of these amazing places:

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park

A sandbox of epic proportions, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a natural wonder that encompasses 30 square miles of Colorado’s San Luis Valley. The park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising about 750 feet from the valley floor on the western base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.

Epic landscape images created here will feature vast expanses of rippled undulating dunes with 14,000-foot snowcapped peaks as the backdrop. And frequent afternoon thunderstorms will often add drama to your shots. But the possibilities go far beyond the grand landscape. Intimate landscapes featuring subtle waves, ridgelines, and shadows make for beautiful abstracts.

7 Must-See Photo Locations that Belong on Your Bucket List!
The wind brought sand here for eons...then sculpted, shaped, and shifted its creation into infinitely marvelous forms.

2. Mount Evans: America’s Highest Road

7 Must-See Photo Locations that Belong on Your Bucket List!
A mountain goat on Mount Evans poses before an epic alpine landscape.

This spectacular road to the sky passes through 3 ecological zones on its way the summit of 14,265’ Mount Evans. Highlights of the many photographic opportunities will include otherworldly ancient bristlecone forests, high alpine lakes, delicate wildflowers, expansive views of the Rockies, and beautifully dark night skies. Frequent afternoon thunderstorms provide incredible drama for photos, and rainbows often appear when storm cells break apart in late afternoon. And if all that isn’t enough, mountain goats and bighorn sheep often graze roadside and are accustomed enough to visitors that they happily pose for pictures while going about their natural behavior. Other frequently seen wildlife includes deer, elk, marmots, pikas, and mountain bluebirds.

7 Must-See Photo Locations that Belong on Your Bucket List!
The skeletons of ancient bristlecone giants reach for the heavens as a burning meteor skims across the black Colorado sky.

3. Rattlesnake Canyon

You can explore epic beauty on a grand scale where soaring rust-colored pinnacles, massive natural arches and monumental walls tower overhead like rosy sandstone cathedrals. This is Colorado canyon country at its best with nine awe-inspiring and rarely-photographed natural sandstone arches. You'll have the chance to photograph amazing rock formations, expansive canyons, delicate wildflowers, colorful collared lizards, and even the occasional desert bighorn sheep.

7 Must-See Photo Locations that Belong on Your Bucket List!
Rainbow Arch in Rattlesnake Canyon

4. Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge

Every year, like clockwork, nearly 20,000 sandhill cranes descend on Colorado’s scenic San Luis Valley for a six­-week stopover (late February to early April) to rest and refuel before continuing their northward migration. These amazing birds are graceful and elegant—sometimes gawky and audacious—but always a sight to behold.

You’ll have the opportunity for close-­up views of thousands of cranes at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge as they prance and display for each other, lift off en masse in the mornings, and return to their roosting spots at sunset. In addition to the cranes, many geese, ducks, and songbirds visit the wetlands of this high-altitude desert framed by 14,000­-foot snow­capped mountain peaks. Photographic possibilities are endless when these avian visitors fill the skies over the wildlife refuge.

7 Must-See Photo Locations that Belong on Your Bucket List!
In this spectacular rite of spring, sandhill cranes perform a lively and elegant courtship dance.

5. Crested Butte Wildflowers

Crested Butte is located in the heart of the Rockies, and is known as “The Wildflower Capital of Colorado” for good reason. The high alpine valleys surrounding the lovely historic mining town are perfectly suited for a wondrous variety of native species, which explode in brilliant color every summer. Lush fields of beautiful wildflowers await your artistic eye with majestic peaks behind them as if placed there by an artist to create the perfect idyllic mountain scene.

7 Must-See Photo Locations that Belong on Your Bucket List!
White-tipped purple lupine mimic the snowcapped purple mountains while the lavender dusk of a twilight sky provides the finishing touch to this surreal dreamscape.

6. Mesa Verde National Park & Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Explore and photograph the wondrous ancient sites of the Ancestral Puebloan People (also known as the Anasazi) at Mesa Verde National Park in Southwest Colorado. There you will find countless pueblos, kivas, cliff dwellings, and petroglyphs. And while you’re in the area, you won’t want to miss the more remote and rarely-visited sites of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

Photographing these Puebloan ruins inspires a sense of communion with the Ancients who built them - a spiritual connection that reaches back through the ages. In addition to photographing during the daytime, be sure to photograph at night to give your images a mysterious, primal feel.

7 Must-See Photo Locations that Belong on Your Bucket List!
This remote site was built about 1000 years ago by the Ancestral Puebloan People. I used a flashlight to illuminate the inside of the pueblo while the moonlit the outer walls. It's easy to imagine the Ancients dwelling within and warming themselves by a fire.

7. San Juan Mountains

7 Must-See Photo Locations that Belong on Your Bucket List!
A clearing snowstorm in the rugged San Juan Mountains.

The moment you enter the historic town of Ouray you'll understand why it's known as "The Switzerland of America." From here you can traverse some of the most remote and scenic back roads that Colorado has to offer with rugged mountain peaks, amazing rock formations, historic gold rush era mining structures, and miles upon miles of lush aspen forests. The artistic possibilities will be limited only by your imagination in this photographer's paradise!

7 Must-See Photo Locations that Belong on Your Bucket List!
The picturesque rolling hills of the Uncompahgre Valley rise toward the rugged peaks of the Sneffels Range. As the day drew to an end, these ominous clouds blew in over the Dallas Divide with the promise of a powdery winter landscape the following morning.

So many places that belong on your photography bucket list! Colorado’s abundance of natural beauty will keep you going back over and over again.

Joseph Thomas is a Denver-based landscape and wildlife photographer and the director of Rhapsody in Light Photo Workshops. Visit www.rhapsodyinlight.com/p/gallery.

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