Aspens and ferns near Kebler Pass, Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison NF, CO, USA

Aspens and ferns near Kebler Pass, Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison NF, CO, USA

Claudia and I had wonderful conditions on our autumn trip to Colorado. As I said before, it wasn’t the best year for fall color there, but the weather more than made up for that, with rain, snow, fog, and lots of interesting clouds.

We chased the weather and color all over Colorado – or so it seemed. We reached the San Juan Mountains in the southwest corner of the state on September 27th, but found little color at that time. So we headed east and ended up near Twin Lakes, where I photographed aspens with snow and fog. Then we drove over Independence Pass and spent a couple of days around Aspen and Carbondale, braving the crowds to capture a misty view of the Maroon Bells.

The forecasts then called for a big snowstorm in the mountains north of I-70, with up to 18 inches of snow at higher elevations. I love the combination of snow and autumn color, and it sounded like the major roads would be mostly below the snow line, so we decided to drive up to Steamboat Springs. It was snowing hard when we arrived at our hotel, with several inches of snow already on the ground, making us wonder if we might get stuck in Steamboat Springs for awhile. But the snow fell in squalls, and soon let up, allowing us to drive up Rabbit Ears Pass, where we found just what I was looking for – aspens covered in snow.

The next day we headed back south, making a detour up the west side of Gore Pass. I had never been to this area before, so I just kept my eyes peeled for photogenic aspens as we crawled up the road in a driving blizzard. We found a snowy side road that led to a small meadow, where I spent an hour or so happily photographing the snow-covered aspens surrounding the meadow, while our dog Rider ran around in the snow.

Early the next morning I photographed aspens in fog near McClure Pass, and then… the weather cleared. But no matter; aspens are still beautiful even under sunny skies.

In fact one of my favorite images from the trip was made on a perfectly clear afternoon on the west side of Kebler Pass – the image at the top of this post. We found a beautiful grove of aspens underlain with ferns, and just as we arrived the sun dropped below the ridge to the west, plunging the scene into lovely, soft shade. The trunks in the distance turned blue, lit by the sky above. But the tops of the trees in the foreground were still lit by the sun, and those yellow, sunlit treetops cast a warm, amber glow onto the foreground trunks and ferns. The result was a beautiful, warm-cool color contrast created by soft light with differing color temperatures. I had seen this lighting effect before in an aspen grove in the eastern Sierra, and here it was again in this ferny, fairyland forest in Colorado.

After Kebler Pass we headed back to the San Juans, where the color had improved greatly over the preceding week. And then we had to drive home. But I can’t wait to go back.

— Michael Frye

Spruce, firs, and aspens after an autumn snowstorm, Rabbit Ears Pass, Medicine Bow-Routt NF, CO, USA

Spruce, firs, and aspens after an autumn snowstorm, Rabbit Ears Pass, Medicine Bow-Routt NF, CO, USA

Aspens in snow, autumn, Gore Pass, Medicine Bow-Routt NF, CO, USA

Aspens in snow, autumn, Gore Pass, Medicine Bow-Routt NF, CO, USA

Aspens and conifers in snow, autumn, Gore Pass, Medicine Bow-Routt NF, CO, USA

Aspens and conifers in snow, autumn, Gore Pass, Medicine Bow-Routt NF, CO, USA

Snowy aspens and conifers, Gore Pass, Medicine Bow-Routt NF, CO, USA

Snowy aspens and conifers, Gore Pass, Medicine Bow-Routt NF, CO, USA

Clouds, sunbeams, and aspens near McClure Pass, Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison NF, CO, USA

Clouds, sunbeams, and aspens near McClure Pass, Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison NF, CO, USA

Aspens in fog atop McClure Pass, White River NF, CO, USA

Aspens in fog near McClure Pass, White River NF, CO, USA

Backlit aspens, Dolores River Valley, San Juan NF, CO, USA

Backlit aspens, Dolores River Valley, San Juan NF, CO, USA



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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.