I don’t think there’s a more beautiful range of Mountains in the lower 48 states than the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. These rugged peaks—fourteen of them taller than 14,000 feet and seventy more over 13,000 feet—capped with snow in the winter, cloaked in golden aspens in the fall, sparkling with streams and waterfalls and blanketed with brilliant wildflowers in spring and summer months are a photographer’s paradise that has drawn me back again and again to hike, drive the old mining trails and never tire of making photographs of the landscape, mine ruins, wildlife and spectacular skies.
The peaks have names that stir the imagination like Uncompahgre, Sneffels, Wetterhorn, Sunshine and Redcloud. Challenging passes include Engineers, Imogene, Red Mountain and Black Bear. Historic towns—formerly mining camps—include Crede, Lake City, Ouray, Silverton, Telluride. You can still see old mine and mill sites though many structures have either been torn down in recent years at locations like Animas Forks, Red Mountain Town, and Camp Bird, or they decayed under the forces of winter weather.
The day after I returned from Oregon, I left on a short trip to Ouray, Colorado to join an old friend I hadn’t seen for several years and spend a couple of days making pictures in the San Juans. Each of us brought a traveling companion and the four of us, in two four-wheel-drive vehicles, spent two days driving over often rugged jeep trails into Yankee Boy and Governors Basins, and over Ophir and Imogene Passes. We encountered a brief hail storm at 13,114 feet, atop Imogene Pass, and it rained on us in Governors Basin, but we enjoyed every moment. Even though this wasn’t a good wildflower year, we persisted and found a few colorful fields and some decent specimens of the state flower, the Colorado Blue Columbine. There have been summers in Yankee Boy Basin when the slopes were literally covered in blue, but this year, we had to look carefully to find just a few.
Thanks to my traveling companion and fellow photographer, Richard Khanlian, for the photograph below of my FJ in a field of Indian Paintbrush. And, I assure you my vehicle was on the Jeep trail; I never drive over flowers.
It’s hard to pick a favorite image from a trip like this, but the one below, made just after the hail storm at Imogene Pass cleared, has to be one of them.