I have a thing for autumn, and breakfast, but autumn is the one that is important here. I don’t like to use vague words like “thing” very often, it’s a crutch for the chronically confused, but it seems there is no single word to describe the feelings I get when the trees change color, the sun dips lower to the southern horizon, the air is crisp with leaves, grass, and hints of frost. Fall light is dramatic, but dismal like winter, and not oppressive like summer. In my mind there is a certain romance to all things autumn; hunting and harvest, warm clothes and pleasantly cool days, wood cutting and splitting, all the preparation and waiting for winter’s inevitable coming. In beautiful Colorado, the fall can be extremely short, or in the case of this year, relatively long. So in this case it is just easier to say “I have a thing for autumn.”
I know there are places where fall is distinctively longer and follows what the Julian calendar tell us how long the season is supposed to be. More often than not, winter hits us fairly fast here with maybe a couple weeks of a true autumn, and this has conditioned me to appreciate the lingering seasons when they do come. Every fall I make time to get outside more, and at the very least make a day trip to enjoy the Colorado Gold. I was fortunate this year to make two such trips, and was not disappointed with either! Though it seems I bracketed the “peak color” by a week either side, one week early and one week late, but such is the way things go when you can’t live among the mountains and trees, able to see the subtle day to day changes.
The early trip was part way up a rough road that would eventually take one over Webster Pass and down to Montezuma and eventually into Keystone. A short three mile trail leads up to an alpine tarn called Gibson Lake. Though I didn’t make it all the way to the lake, it was a lovely hike among the trees. Could I have made it to the lake? Absolutely, if I was trying to. But this day I had no true destination in mind, no specific goal except to enjoy being out of doors in my favorite season.
The late trip was with my cousin Brooke, and we headed a bit farther west toward the Sawatch Range, which holds the highest mountain in Colorado; Mount Elbert at 14,433′. Yes, I have been up there. Three times. Okay twice in one day, only because we began to descend the wrong trail after we were disoriented in the fog. It was snowing as we made our way toward Leadville, and the combination of Aspen Gold and snow was making me giddy. Honestly I didn’t think the weather could have been more perfect for an autumn shoot; we experienced snow and sun in perfect measure all day long. Our ultimate goal was a place only called “the Grottos,” which can be best described as small slot canyons in the granite. The slots were carved by the Roaring Fork river ages ago as its path wandered. The most impressive is called the Ice Caves, and there was a bit of ice in them when we got there, and quite a photographic challenge too. Lots of contrast with the light coming in through the slots above and deep shadows in the corners.