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Places Colorado

Places to Take Photos in Colorado

The answers to the two questions below will describe several of my favorite photo places in Colorado.

Q. I'll be in the San Juan mountains in southwest Colorado for five or six days in late June. One day will be spent at Mesa Verde NP, but the rest will be spent in the mountains. Does anyone have any favorite places I should check out?

A. My first choice: Drive the San Juan Skyway. From Durango, head north on US 550 to Silverton and over the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray.  (Ansel Adams took one of his "signature" shots in Silverton.)  If you are in Ouray in the evening, be sure and stop at the theatre and see the movie Spirit of the San Juans (you can also buy this movie in town on a DVD). Go west from  Ridgway on CO 62 and over the Dallas Divide to Placerville. Some classic fall shots have been taken in this area looking toward the Sneffels Range. Here is one of my photos taken from a few miles west of Ridgway. Wander some of the back roads in the area. Then take CO 145 and take the spur to Telluride. Continue south on CO 145 through Ophir and on down to Delores. You can drop down near Cortez to stop at Mesa Verde National Park, and then head back east on US 160 to Durango. Be sure and take some photos of the 1,000 year old cliff dwellings while you are at Mesa Verde. The Sun Temple is a fun place for kids to play. The Cortez to Durango drive is less photogenic than the rest of the loop. My favorite part of the loop is from Silverton to Ouray, and Ridgway to Telluride.

US 160 from Pagosa Springs east over Wolf Creek Pass to South Fork is a nice drive. Then head back west on CO 149 to Creede and Lake City for a very scenic drive through the mountains.

If you are not limited to the far southwest, go to the Great Sand Dunes northeast of Alamosa. They are especially nice when the sun is low in the evening and casting long shadows across the dunes.

Other possibilities farther afield are the Black Canyon of the Gunnison northeast of Montrose and Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction.

I like Marshall Pass as an alternate drive to US 50 over Monarch Pass. We would camp at O'Haver Lake when I was growing up. Marshall Pass and the aspen groves are especially nice if you ever go back in the fall. It connects with Sargents on the west end and south of Poncha Springs on US 285 on the east end. The hotel in Poncha Springs on US 285 (just south of US 50) has had famous guests including one president and several famous outlaws. The top floor used to be a jail. We booked the whole top floor for my family to stay in  the last time we were there.

Two good books I highly recommend you get before your trip are Colorado Scenic Drives by Stewart Green (Falcon Press: Helena, Montana) and Colorado Scenic Guide, Southern Region by Lee Gregory (Johnson Books: Boulder, Colorado). If you buy these books you will thank me.

I grew up riding and then driving these roads. Now I live much too far away. Enjoy!!

Q. Stopped at Rocky Mtn National park for two days on the way out to Utah. That was as nice as you said.  I was thinking about going back out to Colorado this summer with my boys for some camping, hiking, photography. You talked about the times you spent out there thought you might have some suggestions, places to go and words of wisdom anything would be of help and appreciated!

A. Be sure and read my answer to the question above. Several good photo stops are listed for southern Colorado. O'Haver Lake is a great place to camp and was a family favorite when I was growing up. O'Haver Lake with Mt. Ouray in the background makes a nice morning or evening shot. I highly recommend that as a place to camp and hike, well worth a couple of days. My series of photos of my kids growing up was taken there. From Poncha Springs on US 50, go south on US 285 about 5 or 6 miles and then turn west (right) on the Marshall Pass Road and follow the signs to O'Haver Lake. It is a great place and has become very popular. When I was a kid, there would only be two or three families camped there on a weekend. Now it is hard to find a camping spot on a weekend in the summer.  Get there early in the day on a weekday to get a camping spot. It thins out a lot in the fall.

In northern Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to go, stay, hike, and take photos.

Sprague Lake is a great place to be right before and after sunrise, and right before and after sunset. If there is no wind, you can get great reflection shots across the lake at the mountains. Sprague Lake is a short drive off of the road to Bear Lake. The lake itself is just a few yards from the parking lot. Hike around to the east side of the lake and shoot back over the lake at the mountain range. The whole hike around the lake is pretty level.

The whole world goes to Bear Lake, and with good reason. Be there early. It makes a great sunrise or early morning shot. Then take the trail up to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes. Each lake is higher in elevation than the last so you will climb all the way up to Emerald, and go downhill on your way back to Dream Lake. All three lakes make for really nice  morning photos looking west with Hallet's Peak and/or Flattop mountain in the background.  Nymph and Dream Lake are also nice in the evening looking east.

Nymph Lake is small with lots of nice lily pads. You can use Hallets's Peak as a backdrop on one side of the lake, and Long's Peak as a backdrop on the other side of the lake.

Dream Lake is much larger. There several angles and places for good photos.

Emerald Lake will take the widest lens you own. It sits in a bowl with steep rocky cliffs rising from the water on the west side. I prefer a morning shot.

Going all the way to Emerald Lake would be too strenuous for small children, but fine for older children and teens. Even younger children should be able to make it to Nymph Lake.

Indian Peaks Wilderness is another good place to go. From Colorado Highway 72, northwest of Denver, take the turn off to Brainard Lake that is just north of Ward, Colorado. The road will take you all the way to Brainard Lake. From there you can take a short road to the parking lot near Long's Lake. From the parking lot, it is a nice, level hike to Long's Lake. I prefer Long's Lake to Brainard Lake for morning and evening photography, although Branaird Lake can be very nice if you get great sunset light over the mountains.

Just before you get to Brainard Lake you will see Red Rock Lake. This lake is really nice for early morning photos, especially when the lilies are in bloom. A photo of Red Rock lake is at the top of this page.

Be sure and buy these two books before you leave on your trip:  Colorado Scenic Drives by Stewart Green (Falcon Press: Helena, Montana) and Colorado Scenic Guide, Northern Region by Lee Gregory (Johnson Books: Boulder, Colorado). If you buy these books you will thank me.

Have a great trip and let me know how it goes.

Updated June 25, 2003

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