Colorado Fall Colors and Ghost Towns 2023
In October 2023, Lerro Photography ran a photo workshop of fall colors and ghost towns in southwest Colorado. The San Juan Mountains have a rich history of mining, railroading, and tourism. Our photographers spent several days learning how to take photos of these things.
On the first afternoon, we drove south of Ouray into Red Mountain Pass to photograph several locations, including a reflection lake, a vista overlook, and the Yankee Girl Mine. We then traveled to the Dallas Divide overlook for sunset. Fresh snow fell the night before and was still around in certain areas in the afternoon. After sunset, we decided to go to dinner instead of set up for a night shot. The weather forecast called for clouds, so we opted to rest up.
We met back up at 5:00 a.m. and drove to an area northwest of Telluride to shoot sunrise with an old wood fence and Wilson Peak. Fun Fact: Telluride is a mash of words from the phrase “To hell you ride,” which was said of the rough ride over the mountain pass it took to get there. After sunrise, we photographed several old barns and buildings along the road. I also posed in a Western outfit to add a human element. From there, we drove south to photograph the famous “dancing” aspen trees near Ophir, CO. There are a few theories about why the trees get their shape, including avalanches or snow weight. Our third-morning spot was the ghost town of Alta, which sits at 11,800ft. This site features several mining structures as well as vistas of Wilson Peak.
In the afternoon, I surprised the group by having a real, local cowboy and his horse meet us at our photo location. Our location, Deb’s Meadow with Chimney Rock in the background, was made famous by the movie True Grit starring John Wayne. We photographed our cowboy for nearly 2 hours here and came away with many great photos. Once we finished photographing him, we drove straight to our night photo location to get set up before it got dark.
For our first night shoot, we photographed the Yankee Girl Mine, located north of Silverton, CO, at an elevation of 10,600ft. With crystal clear skies, our photographers could capture amazing photos of the Milky Way as it drifted in the sky behind the mill.
On the 3rd day, we spent the morning photographing the ghost towns of Ironton, Crystal Lake, and Silverton. Iron features several historic mining buildings surrounded by Aspen trees and other foliage peaking in color. Crystal Lake offered near-perfect reflections of all the aspen trees and snow-capped mountains. When we arrived in Silverton, we photographed the Durango & Silverton Railroad steam train as it came into town. After lunch, we photographed the train leaving town along the Animas River. That afternoon, we photographed several areas around the Dallas Divide, which led us to the Last Dollar Range for our sunset and night shots. The Last Dollar Range sign is very recognizable and made for the perfect window frame for the Milky Way.
The final day of our photo workshop was spent photographing many locations around Kebler Pass and Crested Butte. Kebler Pass is home to one of the largest concentrations of aspen trees on Earth. Since aspen trees are connected by their root system, it is believed that Kebler Pass is home to the world’s 2nd largest living organism. Once the sun set over Kebler Pass, it was time for us to part ways.
The day after the photo workshop, I spent an extra day scouting some areas for a future photo workshop. These included North Clear Creek Falls and Creed.