Last Perfect Day of High Country Autumn

Scattered fall colors, late October, above Ridgway, Colorado.

Scattered fall colors, late October, above Ridgway, Colorado.

October 22, around Ridgway, southwest Colorado. The fall colors of the aspen forests of the high country were past their peak colors. But not done with them. Just after the peak, I love how the remaining stands of aspen with their gold leaves stand out so brilliantly amongst their bare, straight, silvery trunked neighbors. It’s as if they enjoy providing the last hurrah.

Aspen colors closeup, above Ridgway, Colorado.

Aspen colors closeup, above Ridgway, Colorado.

I began south of Ridgway at that big pullout along Highway 62. I don’t know what the locals call it, if anything. It should be called something like “Photographers’ Overlook”. It looks up across vast draws of Gambel oak and aspen stands, up to the high peaks of the Mount Sneffels Wilderness.

Last of the aspen fall colors beneath the high peaks, above Ridgway, Colorado.

Last of the aspen fall colors beneath the high peaks, above Ridgway, Colorado.

Next, it was time to get closer to those peaks. So up Dallas Creek Road I went. I’d been meaning to check it out for a while, and apparently now was that time.

Streamside cottonwood trees along lower Dallas Creek Road.

Streamside cottonwood trees along lower Dallas Creek Road.

And what a fine drive it was. Kind of rough if you have a sedan, which I saw a few of driving down while I was driving up. But do-able. As usual in the Colorado mountains, the valleys are privately owned, so you learn to take heed of the “National Forest Access: …[name of road]” signs that direct you to public right of ways like this. Otherwise you might soon find yourself down a private lane, with a gate at the end. And quite likely signs posted that could make you feel very unwelcome.

Ridgway, Colorado is not all that high, in that valley, for that part of the state. Just under 7,000 feet. Big high country meadows for livestock. Just above that grows Gambel oak (“oak brush”), which is great wildlife cover. Also some Pinyon pine. And cottonwood down along the stream banks.

Up into the aspen zone, Dallas Creek Road.

Up into the aspen zone, Dallas Creek Road.

Climbing higher above the valleys you’re soon into some Ponderosa pine. And aspen stands. Then Douglas-fir and Colorado blue spruce mixed in. Up into mountain man country.

High peaks of Mount Sneffels Wilderness, from Dallas Creek Road.

High peaks of Mount Sneffels Wilderness, from Dallas Creek Road.

I stopped at the end of the road, parked alongside the stream, and had lunch. The soothing rippling waters of a mountain stream. I saw a couple of mayflies hatch out of the water, and that comical bird called the Water Ouzel (or “Dipper”) bob for insects beneath the cold riffles.

Aspen trees and high meadows, Dallas Creek.

Aspen trees and high meadows, Dallas Creek.

I considered staying the night. It was tempting. But I’d also heard the weather report. The snow level was forecast to drop to 10,000 feet during the night. Well above where I was at present. And well below treeline.

Aspen trunk in the soft overcast light, Dallas Creek.

Aspen trunk and meadow colors in the soft overcast light, Dallas Creek.

That meant it would snow at Lizard Head Pass for the first time of the season. Somebody had to be there when it did. I chose myself.

Mount Sneffels Wilderness from upper Dallas Creek Road.

Panorama of Mount Sneffels Wilderness and upper Dallas Creek.

So somewhat reluctantly I drove back down the Creek, and up the San Miguel River canyon, past Telluride. Back up to Lizard Head Pass to see what would happen during the night.

Photo location: Ouray County, southwest Colorado. As always, click on any image to see a much larger version.

Next: The perfect end to the high country autumn.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

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