With exception of California, and maybe Alaska, there is no other state I have photographed so comprehensively as Colorado...west of the I-25 corridor. That, of course means mountains, and Colorado is the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Technically Colorado is not our most mountainous state; that distinction goes to Nevada with 50+ mountain ranges. But Nevada has only two peaks that approach 14,000' in elevation. Colorado is undisputed king in that category with 52-peaks better than 14,000'; no other state comes close to that mark. Perhaps the most distinct of the "fourteeners" are the Maroon Bells in the Elk mountains near Aspen, and iconic Long's Peak near Estes Park north-west of Denver. The latter features a tremendous shear east face known as the diamond (for its shape), a favorite draw for "real" mountaineers. Its shear face is very much like the face of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Although this peak can be seen from the east for miles I found it a real challenge to photograph well. Because of the way it is situated I think the only time it can be effectively photographed is in the early morning. By mid-morning its face is in shadow and bringing out detail is very difficult. The "Bells" are stunning, three like-shaped monoliths standing side-by-side, all over 14,000', flanked by two or three other neighboring "fourteeners". In the fall the color leading in to these behemoths create stunning compositions.
But picturesque mountain peaks are not the only element to draw the landscape photographer to Colorado. It is a mecca for fall color, arguably the best. I have had the privilege of photographing New England in the fall...and it is spectacular. Nothing approaches it for variety of color. But Colorado is special in its own right. Vast hillsides of golden aspen light up the landscape in the fall with colors varying from pale green to dark orange as the season progresses. Many other plants in the undergrowth provide reds. From early September through late October nature displays a rich palette of color in Colorado that will keep your camera clicking and your imagination for interpretation in high gear. Rivers, lakes, lingering wildflowers, and wildlife provide ample auxiliary elements to add to compositons.
There's more. On our last visit to the state I discovered sand...Great Sand Dunes National Park in south-central Colorado nestled at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains where wind blown sand seems to gather forming huge dunes that far exceed the more often photographed dunes of Death Valley in size and scope.
Colorado is also dotted with quaint mountain towns of historical importance and interest, places like Central City near Denver, Cripple Creek near Colorado Springs, Leadville, a beautiful drive from the ski mecca of Vail, Ouray, Telluride, and Silverton in the San Juan mountains of south-western Colorado. One could spend considerable time just photographing unique 19th century architecture in these places.
One of the major surprises to me was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison river near Montrose on the western slope of the Rockies. I visited this place kind of as an after thought after shooting thousands of fall color images. Holy moley, what a hole in the ground! If ever there was an iconic definition for "gorge" this place is it. Vertical cliffs fall hundreds of feet into the narrow canyon cut by the Gunnison river. It is so deep and narrow that sunlight can't penetrate into its interior which enhances the black coloring of the rock walls. I visited in the fall so there was a lot of color in the vegetation near the rim that offset the black of the canyon. While not as large or various in coloration as the Grand Canyon I thought this place a worthy rival. Since my visit came after the tourist season I had the place nearly to myself!
Our final stop on a not too long ago roadtrip through this state was Grand Junction near the Utah border. From that base I photographed color on the Grand Mesa, drove Jeep trails on the Uncompahgre Plateau, and photographed the canyonlands of Colorado National Monument, an area in whole worthy of several days. The mighty Colorado river heads in the mountains of Colorado, flows through this western Colorado canyon country, south through the canyonlands of Utah, thence on through Glen and Grand Canyons, defines the border between Arizona and Nevada, continues into southern California, and finally with whatever water is left flows into Mexico and the sea.
In the canyons of western Colorado one notices a transition from the high Rocky mountains to the rugged canyonlands of southern Utah that stretch across the southern belt of that state and into southern Nevada, the Mojave desert, and the Great Basin. Observing the geology of the landscape and following river arterials one acquires an understanding that this vast "machine" we call the Earth is intrically connected, every part of it is dependent on the other. Rivers rise from snowbanks high in the mountains, flow downhill cutting great chasms as it goes, waters parched earth, and eventually reaches the sea where the cycle one more repeats itself. On the way the waters are used by man to provide irrigation and life. It behooves us, therefore, to be good stewards of our resources. This might be taken as a trite comment by many (most?), but then we are constantly presented with evidence of our malfeasance in living in harmony with nature.
One of the central motivations of my approach to photography is to celebrate the beauty and wonder of the natural world in which we live. I photograph the beauty that I see; I deliberately avoid photographing the ugliness that man leaves behind wherever he goes, the trash, the cans, etc. As I'm driving about, in my home state of California...or wherever, and stop to photograph an interesting scene, I often wander away from the road to get a better vantage point and invariably find all kinds of junk, from discarded papers, beer cans and cartons to automobile tires, obvious human impact on the landscape. Perhaps I should photograph this stuff as an object lesson to underscore the point, but that is not what I'm about. I want the beauty as God made it.
So, as I post this rather large portfolio of images from Colorado you're not going to see the folly of man's handiwork, your going to see the magnificence of nature's handiwork, and even some of the good that man has complemented it with. Colorado is indeed a place full of marvelous sights and color. I hope you enjoy these images as much as I enjoyed creating them.