Colorado Landscape Photography 

Road Trip to  the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado


Compared to many professional landscape photographers, I’m very Oregon-centric. I live in a beautiful area of an amazing state(Bend,Oregon). For the last 20 years, staying close to home has made sense from a professional and personal perspective. There is a lot to shoot  in Oregon and my little family of three is the most important thing in my life. My wife works, a LOT. She’s busy, seemingly all the time. My daughter, Emma is now a freshman at Cal Poly( go Mustangs!) studying online due to Covid-19 but she will soon fly out of the nest. I’ve always had a tendency to shoot the wonderful scenes near my home in Bend Oregon in part because of carpool duties related to my daughter. She is now a very capable driver, with a somewhat dependable car, so my chauffeur skills are largely obsolete.

There are always more fine art photos to capture in a given area but over the last 20 years I’ve managed to capture most of the big beautiful scenes I have pursued in  Central Oregon ,This combination of events has instilled a profound wanderlust in me that has become undeniable. Seeing and shooting some of the other amazing areas of the Western United States has become a priority.

San Juan Mountains,Rocky Mountains, Colorado,fall color,Dallas Divide,Telluride

Aspen Trees alight with a golden glow during sunrise on Colorado’s San Juan Mountains at the peak of autumn color.

I mentioned my interest in an autumn trip to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado to my longtime friend, Max Reitz who immediately offered to join me on the adventure. As Max is a nearly perfect travel partner, outdoor lover and all around great guy, I knew we would have a blast.

We left during the first week of October from his home in Hood River,Oregon. We made loose plans that we knew would evolve along the way. Our plan was to drive well into Southern Utah, spend the night and complete our 15 hour drive early the next day. During day two of our journey, we drove east across Southern Utah towards Colorado. As we rose through the Utah Rockies, I was surprised to see such colorful scrub oak groupings. wonderful washes of orange tinted leaves filled depressions in the mountainous landscapes. I was primarily expecting large beautiful groves of aspen trees but not attractive oak trees as well. For more info about the above image, please visit, San Juan Mountains fine art print.

Telluride Colorado

Telluride Colorado

Our intended base camp for our adventure was the sleepy mountain town of Ridgeway, Colorado .  The small resort town of Telluride was along the way, so we stopped to get a sense of the place. Telluride was impossibly perfect. Located in a deep slot canyon and surrounded by  towering mountains ablaze with yellow aspen groves. It was simply stunning. an Historic brick downtown, adorable, finely finished homes, countless dining options and stunning natural beauty made for a pleasant diversion on our adventure.

A quick search on the website, Zillow indicated that the adorable little cottages in Telluride would never be in my price range!

Sneffels Range Panorama,photograph,fine art print,colorado rockies

Sneffels Range Panorama at the peak of Autumn color from Dallas Divide

On our way to Ridgeway State Park, which would be our basecamp for the next several days, we drove over the famed Dallas Divide, a viewpoint well known to Colorado landscape photographers which offers sweeping views of the Sneffels Range of the San Juan Mountains. Our timing was impeccable. The mountainsides were awash with a mosaic of fall color. The aspen groves were as advertised, a giant sunburst of gold and orange decorated with clean columnar trunks.  In this Sneffels Range Panorama Fine Art Print, the sun struck Mount Sneffels is the prominent peak left of center which is the high point of the eponymous Sneffels Range. I would return the next morning at sunrise to capture this beautiful landscape photo of Colorado’s Sneffels Range.

Colorado Aspen Grove

Colorado Aspen Grove

After settling in at the well appointed Ridgeway State Park, Max and I settled in for the evening. Weather was clear but chilly. I dealt with the fire and max served as Camp Chef. After shooting sunrise the next morning, I returned to camp for breakfast and we decided to drive the beautiful, Last Dollar Road, famed for its endless Aspen Groves and appearances in Western movi

The road which approximately extends from the Dallas Divide to Telluride lived up to the hype. My home state of Oregon has Aspen Groves that seemingly extend forever. Wandering through even small aspen groves initiates an almost euphoric feeling amongst most people. Well, Max and I spent much of the day wandering amongst those glorious golden groves.

I was fortunate to have high overcast conditions for much of that day, which were optimal for capturing Aspen trunks and leaves without too much distracting contrast.

Joe Reitz Subaru

Joe Reitz Subaru

Most of the aspen groves along Last Dollar Road had wonderfully bright trunks which according to my non-scientific observations is due in part from good southern exposure and a dry climate

That night, back at camp, Max and I planned to explore the Cimarron Range and the iconic rock formations of Chimney Rock and Courthouse Mountain.

The town of Ridgeway is at approximately 7,000 feet of elevation and Owl Creek Pass is over 10,000 feet of elevation, making for a considerable drive. It was really nice to have a dependable vehicle for our entire adventure and especially our scouting missions on owl Creek Pass. So, I’d like to give a big appreciative shout-out to Joe Reitz my birthday buddy and son of my travel partner, Max. Joe, thanks a million for the use of your bomb-proof Subaru Outback!

San Juan Mountains,Rocky Mountains,autumn,fall,Aspen Groves,True Grit,Chimney Peak,Courthouse

Chimney Rock and Courthouse Mountains are bathed in the last light of day at the peak of Fall color in the Colorado Rockies.

Owl Creek Pass was stunning. I’d done some online scouting of this area when planning  this trip but found no specific directions of how to get to  the place I wanted to shoot from at sunset that evening. That last sentence sounds vague because it is vague. I’d seen a few pretty images of the Cimarron Range but had no idea where they were shot.  Max and I examined paper maps and Google Earth and tried to triangulated where we thought I might want to be for sunset. We hiked, drove and explored for hours and revised our estimation of the magical sunset location. We didn’t have time to locate the shot but we made a best guess. Max had plans to fly fish that evening, so we drove him back to camp, I grabbed bite to eat and immediately returned to the Owl Creek Pass area for a last minute adventure. I parked on a pull-out on a forest service road and climbed through forest and meadows for about 2,000 vertical feet before reaching a Ridgeline that I hoped would lead to a magical sunset location. I climbed along the Ridgeline for another 30 minutes and found alpine nirvana!  Two separateColorado fine art prints that I captured that evening are for sale on my website, Chimney Rockand  Chimney Rock Panorama both of which make gorgeous fine art prints

Chimney Rock Fine Art Print, the capture

Photography conditions were superb. Aspen groves were at their peak of fall color, it was virtually windless and clear skies offered the hope of warm sunset light.  The setting from this un-named clearing, high in the Cimarron Range was sublime. Layers of golden aspen groves arced into the distance, Chimney Rock and  Courthouse Mountain served as a visual and textural anchor for the scene which sloped away towards the setting sun and the distant Sneffels Range. The stuff of landscape photographer dreams! I was smitten. I had that tingly feeling I get when I’m surrounded by natural beauty at its best.

If you have questions about the fine art prints I captured during this Colorado adventure, please email me at info@mikeputnamphoto.com