Perfect End to High Country Autumn

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October 21st. Lizard Head Pass, San Juan Mountains, Colorado. I had gotten up during the night and felt the wet snow falling on my head in the dark. I went back to bed eager to see what it would look like in the morning.

This was it: the first snowfall of the season on the Pass. Until now it had stayed high for two weeks, up above and generally at treeline/timberline. No longer. The morning weather forecast on the radio called for the snow level dropping further, down to street level in Telluride, at 8,750 feet. As dawn came, there was an inch of accumulation on the ground where I was. Nothing much visible through the falling snow than the highway. So I decided to head down the mountain a few miles to Trout Lake.

Lone cottonwood, Trout Lake, Colorado.

Lone cottonwood, Trout Lake, Colorado.

There I was below the clouds, the lake mirroring the snow dusted landscape. And the lone cottonwood tree on the shore. After having photographed it two weeks ago in fall colors, it was already feeling like an old friend. A soon-to-be-bare old friend. Because this was it: the first snow, the final signal to the deciduous trees that the season would linger no longer. Time to drop the golden leaves and wrap it up for the winter. I noticed that a leaf was dropping each second, more or less. That would make 60 leaves per minute (LPM). At that rate, one only had to know how many leaves were still on the tree, and if the wind didn’t come up, you would know when the last few would fall. And that I had been alone in the wilds for too long. It happens.

It wasn’t that cold. Freezing, sure. But no wind to amplify the chill. I was alone, enjoying the peacefulness. The colors of the tree, and some of its leaves blown up against the shore of the lake. The golden grasses at water’s edge. By contrast, the background meadows and forests and mountains, snow covered, looked almost black and white, juxtaposed in the same scene. Beautiful.

Trout Lake, first snowfall of the season. Black and white version.

Trout Lake, first snowfall of the season. Black and white version.

I swung my camera to the far shore, which had no colorful trees or grasses to pop out. The forest lines, the lakeshore meadows, a cabin. The reflection upon the lake. Beautiful.

Then to some cottonwood leaves washed up against the shore.

Cottonwood leaves on the shore, Trout Lake.

Cottonwood leaves on the shore, Trout Lake.

The clouds started to slowly. seductively. part across the summit of Sheep Mountain high above. They toyed with me: will they or won’t they? A grand opening in the sky, reflected upon the lake?

Sheep Mountain in fog.

Sheep Mountain in clouds…more or less by the moment.

It didn’t seem to be happening. I decided to move further along the lake shore road. The fog was getting thicker. Well, fine, then. I made another photograph of the mountain barely, barely appearing above and also in the reflection of the lake.

Trout Lake in the fog, as the snow moved back in.

Trout Lake in the fog, as the snow moved back in.

At the upper end of the lake I was captivated by the forest shoreline, the snow-frosted trees. And it was then that I had my answer as to whether the fog would lift soon. Because it started snowing again.

Upper Trout Lake shoreline forest edge and meadow.

Upper Trout Lake shoreline forest edge and meadow.

So I contented myself with less panoramic scenery. The exquisite details along the ground. Like sticks above the water, snow coated.

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Like marsh grasses reflected on the water as they lost their color for the winter.

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The lake road turned into a National Forest road. It rose so gradually that it didn’t seem like it was taking me back up to Lizard Head Pass. But it did.

Historic Trout Lake railroad trestle.

Historic Trout Lake railroad trestle in the snowfall.

And there I closed a kind of autumn emotional circle by photographing the sheep loading pens from several weeks ago. At the beginning of this high country autumn experience.

Sheep loading pens below Sheep Mountain.

Sheep loading pens below Sheep Mountain.

One last look at the Pass before heading down the Dolores River valley.

Highway 124 at Lizard Head Pass.

Highway 124 at Lizard Head Pass.

Photo location: San Miguel and Dolores Counties, Colorado.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

 

 

 

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