Fall Foliage in Michigan’s U.P. + Lake Superior at Sunset

September 2018 – In mid-September we traveled in our RV to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to see the fall colors and to experience the beauty of the shores of Lake Superior. In the small coastal town of Ontonagon we wandered down to the beach just as the sun was setting.

WOW!

Sunset Ontonagon Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

The sun says goodnight to us across Lake Superior at Ontonagon in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

We were both in seventh heaven as we snapped one gorgeous image after another of the sun giving us its final winks before it slipped out of sight below the horizon.

Lake Superior Sunset in Ontonagon Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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The waves rolled in and pounded the shore relentlessly while the clouds moved quickly across the sky. The dark blanket of storm clouds turned a vivid pink for a few minutes as they passed.

Ontonagon Michigan Upper Peninsula Sunset_-min

The clouds turned pink for a moment as they marched across the sky.

These kinds of moments are our favorites in our traveling lives: admiring Nature in all her glory and trying to capture what we see on camera. We each stake out a spot that looks appealing and fire away.

When we were contemplating whether we should introduce a puppy to our crazy lifestyle one of our biggest concerns was what he would do while we were busy taking pics. It turns out that he loves these moments too. He keeps himself busy running between us and sniffing everything there is to sniff around us.

Sunset at Lake Superior Ontonagon Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Buddy loves these sunset outings as much as we do (and he photo bombs a lot of our pics too!).

After the sun disappeared and most of the color had faded a storm appeared on the horizon.

Lake Superior Storm Ontonagon Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Storm clouds gather in the distance and pour rain on Lake Superior.

Until this season I had seen Lake Superior for just a brief visit years ago. I had dipped my toe in the frigid water in early May and said, “Okay, that’s enough. We’re outta here!”

Mark had told me stories over the years of visiting Lake Superior one winter long ago and seeing huge waves standing bolt upright, frozen solid mid-curl. The whole lake had looked like a lemon meringue pie!

Yet so far in our travels along Lake Superior this fall the lake had been as calm as could be, giving us one wonderful beach experience after another as we skirted along the coast in Wisconsin and in Michigan’s U.P.

However, that sensational sunset we had just witnessed in Ontonagon was the last we’d see of the sun for the next three weeks! Lake Superior started to snarl and the whole Upper Peninsula snarled with it, delivering clouds and rain and nasty cold windy temps day after day after day.

Lake Superior waves Ontonagon Beach Michigan-min

Lake Superior waves dwarf a lighthouse in the distance.

Lake Superior was still fabulous, even in its bad mood. We just had to wear a lot more layers of clothing, that’s all!

Lake Superior surf Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

The waves were enormous and neverending.

We traveled up the Keweenaw Peninsula to Copper Harbor where we got a whiff of what a fantastic summer spot this is. There was a haunting beauty in the cold gray autumn air, but what a place this must be in July!

Kayaks at Copper Harbor Michigan-min

Kayaks wait for better weather at Copper Harbor.

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse Keweenaw Peninsula Michigan-min

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse has assisted mariners for over a century.

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse Keweenaw Peninsula Michigan-min

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse.

In our mission to see the fall color we had seen lots of hardwood trees starting to change, but hadn’t yet witnessed the peak anywhere. When we first arrived in Michigan we stopped at a visitors center that had a wonderful Fall Color Map on the wall. They didn’t have a printed version so I took a photo to help us with our travel planning as we zig-zagged around the U.P.

Fall foliage color map for Michigan-min

The peak fall colors in Michigan occur from late September to late October depending on where you are.

It was bitterly cold, but we just bundled up and had a ball, even though it drizzled off and on for days, in between vicious downpours that pummeled us and our trailer!

Dressed for cold weather leaf peeping in Michigan UP-min

These were One Dog Nights and we were glad to have him!

In planning which areas to visit in the U.P. we had seen spectacular photos of fall color captured in reflections across small lakes and ponds, so we started heading down small twisting dirt roads to get to a few lakes and were well rewarded for our efforts. The wind didn’t die down for a while, so our earlier pics were simple lakeside shots without reflections.

Fall foliage Worm Lake Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

A brilliant maple tree lights up a dreary morning at Worm Lake.

Fall foliage Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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We took many walks in the woods where the trees were starting to show off their most vibrant shades.

Fall foliage Ottowa National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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Autumn leaves Ottowa National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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Up close it is amazing to see the color patterns on each leaf.

Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Pretty patterns.

Autumn leaves Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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The colors were absolutely yummy. Buddy thought so too!

Fall foliage is yummy to a puppy-min

Buddy samples the fall colors.

Fall color Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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As we walked around we saw other fun woodsy things like bright red berries and pure white fungus.

Fall berries Michigan Upper Peninsula Ottowa National Forest-min

A hint of Christmas to come!

Ferns and mushrooms Michigan Upper Peninsula forest-min

These bright white fungi were shaped like miniature willow trees, each one about an inch tall!

We made our way back to the coast to visit the Miner’s Castle Overlook which is part of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Lake Superior is shockingly clear in this spot, and if you didn’t know you had to wear a winter jacket to enjoy the view, the turquoise color would make you think the water was as warm as the tropics!

Miner's Castle Pictured Rocks National Park Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Miner’s Castle at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Some of the best color we found was in Hiawatha National Forest on the small ponds and lakes scattered in the woods south of Munising.

Fall foliage Ottowa National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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Fall foliage Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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At Moccasin Lake and Red Jack Lake we saw some wonderful mirror reflections in the early morning before the wind picked up.

Autumn leaves Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Colorful reflections at Moccasin Lake in Hiawatha National Forest.

Autumn leaves Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Red Jack Lake

One day was particularly cold and when we got to the edge of the lake mist was rising off the glassy surface.

Autumn Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula_-min

Mist at Moccasin Lake

East Lake fall foliage Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Mist at East Lake

Another fantastic spot we bumped into that doesn’t get any press and isn’t even labeled on Google Maps is Mequisten Recreation Area just a few miles south of Munising on National Forest Road H-13. A beautiful boardwalk takes you all around a series of small ponds with lookouts positioned every few hundred yards. We loved this little jewel so much we went back three times. Buddy had a blast running on the boardwalk. He sounded like a herd of elephants as he tore around, especially when he met another dog and they tore around together!

Mequisten Recreation Area Munising Michigan Upper Peninsula-min-2

Mequisten Recreation Area has a wonderful boardwalk with benches and overlooks.

We didn’t get the crisp sunny air that we had expected during our Upper Peninsula fall foliage tour, but the autumn colors were everything we had hoped they would be!

Puppy at Red Jack Lake in Autumn Michigan Upper Peninsula Hiawatha National Forest-min

Buddy framed by autumn leaves at Red Jack Lake.

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Fall Colors and Wildlife on the Sonoran Desert Rivers in Arizona

December 2017 – The Sonoran Desert in Arizona is known for its cactus and warm dry climate, but one of our favorite things in the Sonoran Desert is the waterways – the rivers and lakes that flow through the arid land.

Sunset on Verde River Arizona RV camping-min

Sunset on the Verde River

While Spring is an awesome time to see wildflowers in the Sonoran Desert, the months of Fall are a beautiful time to explore the central Arizona waterways because the cottonwood trees and other riverside deciduous trees begin to change color.

RV camping on Arizona Verde River-min

The many waterways in Arizona are wonderful to explore.

Autumn comes later to the Sonoran Desert than most places, peaking sometime in November. Some of our favorite Arizona fall foliage images are in this article about Tonto National Forest here. They are from the eastern side of Phoenix just beyond the edges of the city of Mesa along the Salt River and the Verde River (“Green River”).

This year we returned to the banks of the Verde River once again to witness the colorful display.

Verde River Arizona RV camping-min

A thick bed of fallen leaves leads to the river.

The Verde River rises and falls depending on rainfall and water releases at the dam upstream. In some places the water had seeped up between the trees and made wonderful reflections surrounded by fallen leaves.

Verde River Reflections in Arizona-min

Reflections.

Big cottonwood trees reached out across the Verde River.

Verde River Camping in Arizona-min

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Suddenly a group of wild horses appeared on the far shore.

Wild horses on the Verde River in Arizona-min

Wild horses come for a drink on the opposite shore.

Central Arizona’s wild horses live in small family groups all along both the Salt River and the Verde River. We have seen them many times over in areas east of Mesa along the beautiful Bush Highway which parallels the Salt River.

Suddenly one of the horses crossed the river and approached quite close.

Wild horse Verde River Arizona camping trip-min

The wild horses of the Salt and Verde Rivers are much loved by Phoenix residents and visitors.

His tail and his mane were filled with burrs from running around in the prickly desert. It gave him a bit of a rastafarian look!

Wild horse in Verde River Arizona burrs in its tail-min

This guy’s tail and mane were thick with burrs.

Arizona wild horse with burrs in its mane-min

Quite a hairdo!

We wandered away from the river after the horses left and found some stately saguaro cacti with their arms outstretched toward the heavens.

Saguaro cactus near Four Peaks Arizona-min

Arizona is the only state where saguaro cactus grows, and they bring a lot of personality to every landscape.

A yucca plant erupted in a spray of gold along its spikey leaves as the sun lit it from behind.

Yucca plant in Arizona-min

A sunlit yucca.

Up on a wire we noticed a regal Harris Hawk surveying the scene below him.

Harris Hawk Lake Meade Utah RV trip-min

High wire act — a Harris hawk surveys his domain.

He moved very slowly, first staring in one direction and then staring in another, surveying the ground for any signs of scurrying feet that might make a good snack.

Harris

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Harris Hawk on an RV trip to Lake Meade Utah-min

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We have gotten a kick out of seeing various animals in our travels, including wild burros, buffalo, prairie dogs, mountain blue birds and herds of cows in the Black Hills of South Dakota this past summer (blog posts here and here).

Arizona’s most scenic spots off the beaten path offers the opportunity for some particularly special wildlife encounters too, and I wrote an article in the December issue of Motorhome Magazine describing the wide variety of animals we’ve seen in our Arizona RV travels.

Motorhome Magazine Feature Arizona Animals by Emily Fagan December 2017-min

Motorhome Magazine December 2017 issue
Article by Emily Fagan – Photos by Emily and Mark Fagan

Motorhome Magazine has posted the article online at this link: Animal Encounters in Arizona.

Dead tree in Arizona-min

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From snowy egrets to burrowing owls to peach faced lovebirds to sandhill cranes to hummingbirds and a whole host of four legged critters like big horn sheep and mountain lions (not to mention the wild horses), there are all kinds of animals to be seen all around Arizona!

Arizona is also famous for its beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and we caught a few along the Verde River.

Pink sky at sunset in Arizona-min

Sunsets in Arizona are stunning and surprisingly reliable!

Sunset on the Verde River on an Arizona RV trip-min

Twice the color!

Arizona sunset-min

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Sunset on the Verde River in Arizona-min

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Lots of snowbird RVers are headed to Arizona now and in the coming weeks, and we hope you all take a drive on the beautiful Bush Highway and catch a glimpse of the wild horses and perhaps a Harris hawk or two!

Happy days on an Arizona RV trip-min

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

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    Brilliant Fall Foliage + Snow in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado

    September 2016 – Chasing the late September fall foliage season in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains high up at a lofty altitude of 10,000 feet brings hillsides filled with shimmering golden aspen leaves.

    Fifth wheel trailer fall colors San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

    What a beautiful place for an RV road trip – The San Juan Mountains in late September!

    Sometimes vivid colors sparkle in the sun, but fall in the Rockies can also bring snowstorms. We woke up one morning to whiteout blizzard conditions and soon found our RV surrounded by three inches of snow

    Snow in the Colorado Rocky Mountains San Juan Skyway

    Hey, it’s snowing!!

    The fall foliage season in Colorado is spectacular when the sun is shining and the air is warm. But a layer of pure white snow makes it ever so much more dramatic.

    Snow and fall colors San Juan Skyway Rocky Mountains Colorado

    Fall color in the snow… beautiful!

    The skies were gray and gloomy, but the leaves were vibrant and bright

    Yellow aspen fall leaves San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    The temps in the mountains were bitterly cold, dropping into the twenties at night. This prompted us to run our furnace as well as our vent-free propane heater and put together a blog post about how to heat an RV in cold weather!

    But it was oh-so-beautiful. The juxtaposition of spiky evergreens, trimmed in white snow, against a backdrop of vivid orange and yellow was sensational.

    Orange aspen San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    The scenery in every direction was magnificent.

    Autumn leaves fall color San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountain

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    Up close, each aspen branch held a little layer of snow.

    Aspen leaves fall color San Juan Skyway Colorado

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    After the snow stopped falling, the wind blew, and the yellow and orange aspen leaves fluttered to the ground and settled on the snow.

    Aspen leaves in snow

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    The craggy rocks on the mountainsides were covered with a lovely dusting of white lace.

    Rocky Mountains in autumn San Juan Skyway Colorado

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    Autumn color aspen trees San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    Colorful hills San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    Out on the Million Dollar Highway, a portion of the San Juan Skyway that goes from Durango to Silverton to Ouray, the views from the passenger seat were awe-inspiring.

    Million Dollar Highway autumn color San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    Snow on Million Dollar Highway San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    As the roads dried and people got back on the move in their cars again, we saw a few small trailers go by.

    RV fall colors San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

    Heading into the mountains.

    Travel trailer San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains fall color

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    The hillsides were blanketed in color everywhere we turned.

    Aspen hillside fall color San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    Golden aspen and pine trees San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains fall foliage

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    Pine trees and golden aspen San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains fall foliage

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    The San Juan Mountains are part of the Colorado Mining Belt that was mined intensively for silver and gold in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The rivers in the area run orange from minerals leaching out of the tailings piles left behind by the mines.

    Waterfall on the San Juan Skyway Rocky Mountains Colorado

    The river water runs orange here.

    After the snowfall, the reddish water was filled with snow covered rocks and surrounded by evergreens clad in white. Pretty!

    Snowy River Colorado Rocky Mountains San Juan Skyway

    The Uncompaghre River.

    Eventually the clouds began to dissipate and patches of blue sky began to appear.

    Snow and Autumn Color San Juan Skyway Rocky Mountains Colorado

    Our truck is dwarfed by this incredible mountain. Yay for some blue sky appearing!

    Snow and fall leaves Million Dollar Highway San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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     Rocky Mountain Fall Color San Juan Skyway Colorado

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    Autumn is gorgeous in many parts of the country, but fall in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado is utterly breathtaking.

    The cool thing for RVers is that you can catch the fall colors in Colorado in late September and, if you’re willing to hustle, you can get to other beautiful areas in far distant states to catch their fall foliage show a week or two later in early to mid-October.

    RV autumn leaves and snow San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    Aspen leaves in fall San Juan Skyway Rocky Mountains Colorado

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    We haven’t done that yet, perhaps sometime in the future. For this year, we savored the colors in Colorado, and were amazed that the mountains seemed to change shades right before our eyes.

    Snowcapped mountains autumn leaves San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    Colorado Fall Foliage San Juan Skyway Rocky Mountains

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    The snow left puddles behind that reflected the trees around them

    Reflections of autumn leaves and aspen trees San Juan Skyway Rocky Mountains Colorado

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    And all the leaves on the ground were covered with tiny water droplets.

    Water droplets on golden aspen leaf

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    By the time we left this part of Colorado, our eyes were tired from staring so hard and taking so many photos!! But what a wonderful kind of fatigue it was.

    San Juan Skyway Snowcapped Mountains autumn color Rocky Mountains

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    If you haven’t experienced a fall foliage season in the aspen filled Rocky Mountains of Colorado, it is something that deserves some special planning!

    Snowcapped mountains fall folilage San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

    Happy campers surrounded by astonishing scenery. How wonderful!!

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    Colorado’s San Juan Skyway – An RV Trip in Dazzling Fall Color!

    September 2016 – During the last ten days of September each year, the San Juan Skyway in the Colorado Rocky Mountains becomes one of the most dazzling places we have ever visited with our RV.

    RV on San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains Aspen trees in autumn

    Astonishing color on an autumn RV trip along Colorado’s San Juan Skyway. WOW!!

    Beginning around September 20th and continuing through the first few days of October, this 235 mile long drive comes alive in utterly spectacular color.

    San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains Colorful valleys

    Colorado fall color.

    Towering mountains on either side of the road are covered in swatches of vivid color as the aspens don their golden cloaks.

    Colorful hillside San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains Autumn Leaves

    Autumn splendor in the Colorado Rockies

    Patches of yellow spring up in every direction, and as the days go by, green becomes yellow and yellow turns to vivid orange.

    Fall color in Colorado Rocky Mountains

    Patches of brilliance.

    Color patterns San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains Autumn Leaves

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    The trees join together and form patterns in the Rocky Mountains, and visitors carrying cameras of all shapes and sizes gape in awe at the splendor of Nature’s majesty.

     Leaf patterns in fall San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    In places, lakes reflect the glory of the mountains on their glassy surfaces, mirroring the stunning fall colors in their depths.

    Crystal Lake in Autumn San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    Along with dozens of other grinning, camera wielding tourists, we stopped along Colorado’s jaw dropping Million Dollar Highway to take in the views and take some photos. It was early morning on a grey day, and we watched a duck swimming across a small lake.

    Colorado Rocky Mountains Autumn Color San Juan Skyway Colorado

    Vivid colors brighten a grey morning at Crystal Lake.

    As she headed towards the shore, she swam into the reflected colors.

    Duck Autumn color San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    The undulating surface surrounded her in golden ripples as she quietly floated across this magnificent backdrop.

    Duck Fall color reflections San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    She stabbed the silky water with her beak, seeking out yummy morsels, and tiny water droplets fell from her beak as she turned.

    Duck in autumn San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    The lake mirrored the vivid, patchwork hillsides in the water, creating a breathtaking image.

    Aspens in fall San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    On the side of the lake, tourists set up camp chairs to admire the mountain views.

    Leaf peepers San Juan Skyway Colorado Colorful valleys

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    And what a view they had.

    Rocky Mountains Fall Color San Juan Skyway Colorado Colorful valleys

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    Both from a distance and from up close, the colors of the trees were awe-inspiring.

    Mountains of gold San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    Fall color San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

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    Like Utah’s Scenic Byway 12, the San Juan Skyway is an All American Road. It is a loop drive that passes through some of Colorado’s most charming mountain towns.

    Rico Colorado San Juan Skyway Rocky Mountains

    Rico is one of many cute towns along the San Juan Skyway.

    Beginning in Dolores, Colorado, the San Juan Skyway follows SR-145 northeast through the village Rico to the trendy town of Telluride.

    Autumn color San Juan Skyway Rocky Mountains

    Right from Crayola!

    From Telluride, the San Juan Skyway continues northwest on SR-145 to the town of Placerville where it heads northeast again on SR-62 to the town of Ridgway.

    Trees in autumn San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains Autumn Leaves

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    From Ridgway, the autumn colors intensify as the San Juan Skyway turns south on US-550, also known as the Million Dollar Highway, and travels through Ouray and Silverton to Durango.

    Starburst golden aspen autumn leaves San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

    A fish-eye lens and a starburst – what fun!

    This portion of the San Juan Skyway takes RVers on tight hairpin turns and 10% grades to climb over three mammoth mountain passes that range between 10,000 and 11,000 feet.

    Reflections golden aspen autumn leaves San Juan Skyway Rocky Mountains

    Stunning reflections and post-processing fun.

    This is an extraordinary road that is easily traveled in an RV that has a strong engine or is towed by a strong truck (semi-tractor trailers traverse the Million Dollar Highway 24/7 in large numbers).

    For first-timers, is worthwhile to drive the road in the toad or tow vehicle at least, just so you know what is in store. And who wouldn’t want to do this drive multiple times during those magical autumn days?!

    San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains Autumn Leaves

    Heading up the Million Dollar Highway.

    We have been fortunate to sample various portions of the San Juan Skyway on three separate occasions since we started RVing full-time. Each time we have been wide-eyed with wonder at the sensational scenery all around us.

    Motorcycle in fall colors San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

    San Juan Skyway – An INCREDIBLE drive!!

    For RVers planning an RV trip on the San Juan Skyway, there are various informative links below.

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    Fall Color in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert near Roosevelt Lake

    November 2015 – The climb up lofty Mt. Graham in southeastern Arizona had given us some beautiful autumn colors, and we were treated to even more as we drove our RV into central Arizona.

    Autumn leaves Sonoran Desert riparian area Roosevelt Lake Arizona

    Autumn splendor in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

    Fall color Sonoran Desert Riparian area Arizona

    Colorful trees stood alongside the rivers, streams and washes.

    We scooted along Route 88 to Roosevelt Lake and did some exploring along the shores of this beautiful body of water, the largest lake in the middle of the state. We had arrived at the peak of the Sonoran Desert’s fall foliage season.

    Autumn colors Roosevelt Lake Arizona

    One of many gorgeous views across Roosevelt Lake

    It may not seem possible that a desert would have a fall foliage season, but the Sonoran Desert’s wetland areas along streams and washes (called “riparian” habitats) are loaded with wonderful sycamores and cottonwoods that turn vivid yellow and orange come fall.

    Roosevelt Lake was created in 1911 by damming up the Salt River, and the water level rises and falls. Right now it was very low — the lake was just 40% full — and yellow trees filled an area that at times has been filled with water.

    Autumn color Roosevelt Lake Arizona

    Golden trees fill the void while the lake is down.

    We found lots of rounded, smooth rocks along one part of the lake.

    Roosevelt Lake Arizona pebble beach

    A rocky shore

    Even where the colors were muted, little bits of autumn flame peeked through, and the colors in late afternoon were just gorgeous.

    Fall leaves sycamore trees Arizona desert

    Fall colors reflected in the water.

    Four Peaks Arizona Roosevelt Lake

    A view of Four Peaks across the lake and desert

    Roosevelt Lake autumn color Arizona

    Compare this to the previous pic – Lighting is everything!

    In one spot, Mark discovered a lone yellow wildflower looking up and opening its petals to the sun.

    Wildflower Arizona desert

    A tiny wildflower looks up from the ground.

    Roosevelt Lake is an enormous lake whose southern shore runs for some 50 miles. In many places the saguaros were all standing around in groups. They seemed to be conversing in the morning sun. I wonder if they were sharing memories of a time when this lake was just an unpredictable river.

    Sonoran Desert saguaro cactus Roosevelt Lake Arizona

    Saguaro cactus commune in the morning sun by the lake.

    On the far shore of the lake there were rolling hills of red sand. What a beautiful sight!

    Roosevelt Lake Arizona Saguaro Cactus

    Colors of the desert.

    Saguaros are the sentinels of the desert, and they seemed to be keeping an eye on things at the lake.

    Saguaro cactus Roosevelt Lake Arizona

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    Meanwhile, down by the water’s edge, campers had set up their RVs right on the beach.

    Lakeside RV boondocking Roosevelt Lake Arizona

    Lakeside camping.

    What a fantastic place to camp! Unfortunately, several of the boondocking areas along Roosevelt Lake were closed. We were told the closure was temporary, from mid-November to mid-February, and it was to protect the Canada geese.

    Apparently the powers that be have never been to the green grassy areas in nearby Scottsdale where the Canada geese are thriving! Needless to say, there wasn’t a goose to be found.

    RV boondocking Popup tent trailer Roosevelt Lake Arizona

    Room with a view.

    But there were two spots open, and RVers were enjoying beautiful waterfront campsites with views to die for.

    RV boondocking Roosevelt Lake Arizona

    Not a bad place to be!

    And of course the sunsets were spectacular…

    Roosevelt Lake sunset Arizona

    An Arizona sunset at the lake.

    For RV travelers who want to experience the Sonoran Desert in the peak of autumn glory, the season is the last two weeks of November, and the colors can be found anywhere there’s water.

    RV Arizona sunset fifth wheel trailer

    What a place!

    Roosevelt Lake has hundreds of dry camping campsites in several different formal campgrounds as well as boondocking available along the lake. You need to get a Tonto Pass ($6 per night ($3 for seniors)), and they are sold at the convenience stores in the communities that lie at the eastern and western ends of the lake. Beginning in January, 2016, the rates will increase to $8 per night ($4 for seniors). There are flush toilets and hot showers at the Windy Hill and Choilla campgrounds.

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    Swift Trail Scenic Drive up Mt. Graham – Autumn Color in Arizona

    November 2015 – After a whirlwind nine month trip around the country in our RV this season, we left New Mexico‘s City of Rocks behind and crossed the border into Arizona. We had come full circle and arrived back at our winter roosting grounds.

    We heaved an enormous sigh of relief and reveled in the thrill of being able to enjoy an endless stream of days with no agenda and no need to hustle down the road to our next destination. During the nights, the Milky Way showered stars over our rig.

    Arizona starry night sky with RV

    The Milky Way rained glitter on us every night.

    Arizona is cotton country, and cotton was being harvested all around us.

    Cotton fields Safford Arizona

    The land of cotton!

    Huge rolled bales of cotton were lined up on the edges of the fields. One day as we drove past a field in the morning, it was full of fluffy cotton plants. When we drove past that afternoon, all that was left was flat dirt and hay bales lined up on the edge of the field!

    Cotton fields harvest time Safford Arizona

    Harvesting done, all that remained was bare fields and rolled bales of cotton.

    Towering Mt. Graham formed a backdrop to many of the views around us, and one morning we drove the roller coaster Swift Trail Scenic Drive that snakes up the nearly vertical slopes of this mountain. Starting at the desert level at the bottom, within a few miles we were making switchbacks.

    Swift Trail Scenic Drive Mt. Graham Arizona Coronado National Forest

    The Swift Trail Scenic Drive heads up off the desert floor to the top of Mt. Graham

    Soon the landscape began to change, and hardwood trees in the peak of autumn color began to appear.

    Golden fall color Coronado National Forest Arizona

    As we drove higher, we began to see some fall color

    The road curved higher and higher, often making sharp, steep hairpin turns, and the colors became more and more vivid.

    Swift Trail Scenic Drive Mt. Graham Arizona

    The road passed through all the eco-systems of Arizona in a scant 20 miles

    Fall colors Mt. Graham Arizona

    .

    Golden yellow and brilliant orange leaves filled the trees, and we stopped to get out and savor the crisp autumn air.

    Fall arrives in Mt. Graham Arizona

    Evergreen and vivid orange side by side.

    Autumn leaves Mt Graham Arizona

    .

    A few miles further up the road we came across a small stream with water tumbling over rocks here and there.

    Mt. Graham Swift Trail Scenic Drive Arizona Waterfall fall colors

    A babbling brook was surrounded by colorful leaves.

    Vivid leaves floated in the water, and the air had a moist, pungent smell.

    Fall leaves on Swift Trail Scenic Drive Arizona

    Leaves submerged in the stream.

    Mt. Graham Arizona Waterfall in autumn

    The stream rushed by.

    Time flew by as we became immersed in our photography. We had so much fun trying to capture this special spot on camera.

    Photographing fall colors Mt. Graham Recreational Area Coronado National Forest Arizona

    We were both in our element, soaking up the bright colors and pungent smells of fall leaves.

    We had thought we’d missed the fall foliage season in our travels this year, leaving the famous states like Vermont and upstate New York and even Oklahoma way too early. Yet, here we had finally caught up with autumn and found fall aglow in all her splendor right in Arizona.

    Campsite Arcadia Campground Mt. Graham Coronado National Forest Arizona

    .

    There are quite a few small campgrounds on this stunning road up Mt. Graham, and we stopped to look around Arcadia Campground. Oh, to have a tiny trailer, van or pickup camper!! This campground was utterly charming, with paved loops and not a soul around but the campground host. What a place to become immersed in the colors of fall for a few days!

    Arcadia Campground Coronado National Forest Mt. Graham Arizona

    Arcadia campground would be a delightful place to stay for a while.

    Climbing higher still, we passed out of the last of fall’s peak and into a colder zone where the colors had already come and gone.

    Fall color Swift Trail Mt. Graham Arizona

    We got a last glimpse of color as we drove even higher up the mountain.

    And then we reached the highest summit of the road where the view stretched out across the rolling brown mountains to the valleys far below.

    View from top of Mt. Graham Arizona

    The view from the top was hazy and brown as we looked out over ripples of lower mountainsides

    The road continued on, but it turned to dirt, so we turned around. As we drove down, we passed back through the vivid colors.

    Autumn leaves Mt. Graham National Recreation Area Arizona

    .

    And then we stopped for a picnic lunch by the babbling brook.

    Picnic Swift Trail Scenic Drive Coronado National Forest Arizona

    A great spot for a picnic!

    What a truly beautiful day that was!

    RV boondocking in Arizona

    .

    The Swift Trail Scenic Drive is a wonderful excursion for RV travelers who find themselves in eastern Arizona. If you are lucky enough to have a short trailer, van or a truck camper, the drive is steep and twisty but doable, and the campgrounds beg to be camped in. For anyone with a bigger rig, there is a wonderful state park campground near the base of Mt. Graham, Roper Lake State Park, and the scenic drive is easy to do in your tow vehicle or toad! More info and links below.

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    San Juan Mountains Colorado – And then it Snowed!

    October, 2014 – When we first arrived in the Ridgway/Ouray area in Colorado, the aspen trees were just beginning their autumn golden glow. As the days passed, their colors intensified until we were surrounded by a vibrant mass of yellow set against a rich blue sky. Autumn is the harbinger of winter, though, and before long we found ourselves in the middle of a snowstorm. We have never been in a snowstorm in our RV, and it was quite exciting — and very surprising, as it was still early October.

    Fifth wheel RV Ridgway Colorado fall foliage

    Before…

    5th wheel RV Ridgway Colorado snow storm

    …during…

    Fifth wheel trailer in the snow in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado

    …After!

    Million Dollar Highway Route 550 with snow Colorado

    The “Million Dollar Highway” becomes a winter wonderland.


    The snow fell steadily around us, and slowly a gossamer veil of white settled on our world.

    There was enough of the white stuff to stick around awhile, and when we finally emerged out of the fifth wheel, the amber woods had become a winter wonderland trimmed in white lace.

    We tip-toed around in total awe of the scene and took our cameras out for a drive along the Million Dollar Highway.

    If it’s possible, the landscapes were even more beautiful now than before.

    Aspens in autumn with snow in Colorado

    Peaches and cream!

    The snow on the orange aspen trees looked like peaches and cream, and the stately evergreens added dramatic accents here and there.

    We were here because our friend Nasim Mansurov was conducting a photography workshop. One of the highlights was meeting John Sherman, a professional bird and wildlife photographer who was an instructor at the workshop.

    He lives in a custom built Class C motorhome full-time, and as we tromped around in the snow the first morning after the snow storm, he suddenly appeared between the trees.

    Evergreens and aspen in Colorado autumn snow

    Gorgeous scenery all around.

    He was shooting birds that morning, of course, rather than snowy landscapes, and he was using a staggeringly long 800 mm telephoto lens (yes, gasp, that price is correct, lol! Merry Christmas, anyone?!).

    The darn thing is so big that the lens mounts directly onto the tripod (usually the body of the camera is what sits on top of a tripod). I just had to get a photo of him with this thing! See the tiny camera body on the end of it?

    Pro Photographer John Sherman

    John “Verm” Sherman and his LENS!

    He ended up getting some wonderful photos of tiny birds high in the trees that we didn’t even know were there!

    In the following days we got to know John a little bit.

    Photographer taking photos in Colorado fall foliage

    We were almost in a daze as we walked around taking photos.

    He has shot two back covers for Arizona Highways magazine as well as some full page and two-page photos on the inside. How cool is that?!

    He also writes for PhotographyLife.com and his posts are written with a wry sense of humor that always makes us chuckle.

    Fall colors with snow in Ouray Colorado

    The spectacular colors seemed even more-so after the snow.

    His girlfriend Dawn Kish also shoots for Arizona Highways and has had more front cover photos on that beautiful magazine in the last five years than any other photographer.

    Good Lord!! We were keeping some pretty illustrious company — way out of our league! — but we were learning lots and having a blast at the same time.

    One evening John and Nasim did a critique of students’ photos, and it was a fascinating exchange between the two of them and each student as they went over the highlights and flaws in each photo.

    Travel trailer in snowy Colorado mountains

    This was cold camping, but oh so pretty!

    Everyone in the room was able to see how a slight adjustment here or there would have transformed a good photo into a great one. Many photos, of course, were fabulous already and just got big nods of approval all around.

    Out here in this newly snowy world, we were loving hanging around with a full-time RVer who shares our fascination with photography.

    A deer by our trailer

    This deer visited our trailer many times.

    John is a rock climber as well, and was Senior editor of Climbing Magazine for years. He’s also written several popular books about climbing and bouldering.

    Here’s a link to some of his very impressive work. Wow!!

    This was a cold world up here at nearly 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, but the wildlife was plentiful.

    One night we listened to elk bugling all around us as we laid in bed. We didn’t see any during the day, but their high pitched calls filled the night air.

    We did spot a little deer who hung around our trailer in the mornings and evenings for few days. We both marveled that he could manage all winter in this freezing climate.

    Autumn leaves in snow

    The bushes and trees hung onto their colorful leaves in the first snow.

    He didn’t have an ounce of fat on him, and the fur coats that deer wear are not very thick!

    Before the snowfall, he had come by our trailer one evening, munching the grass between the aspen. It was way too dark to get a photo of him, so we watched him quietly from our spot by our window.

    After getting his fill of grass, suddenly he lowered himself to the ground and folded his legs under his body.

    His ears twitched as he listened to all the night sounds growing around us. Every movement we made in the rig made his ears turn our way.

    The night got darker and darker and he stayed put in his little spot.

    Golden aspen in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado

    If you have a chance to go to Colorado in autumn, do it!!

    Snowy mountains and fall leaves in Colorado

    An amber window on a snowy world.

    Before long his head began to droop lower and lower, and in no time he had fallen asleep, right next to our fifth wheel trailer!

    We were absolutely delighted. We had a special neighbor — and a trusting one.

    When we got up in the morning he was gone, but the long grasses were all flattened out where he had made his bed for the night.

    This was a magical time in every way. The colors on the trees were still vibrant, and the snow was a brilliant white in the sun.

    Golden path near Ridgway Colorado

    Treading down a golden path.

     

    For a few days the trees and bushes hung onto their leaves tightly, cradling the snow that had fallen.

    The photography workshop came to an end and everyone disbanded, but we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the beautiful San Juan Mountains.

    We wandered down dirt paths and drove up and down the highways, catching each view in different lighting as the days passed.

    A second snow storm covered us in another frosty blanket of white

     

    Red Mountain Pass Colorado

    Looking up towards Red Mountain Pass.

    When we drove through the town of Ouray, we noticed that almost all the RV parks that had been full to overflowing two weeks earlier were now virtually empty.

    The red “No Vacancy” signs on the hotels had changed to “Vacancy,” and the outdoor bar on the second floor of the Ouray Brewery that had been packed every afternoon since we’d first arrived was now empty.

    It seemed like we were the last visitors in town! And no wonder — it was freezing cold.

    In fact, when the snow fell the first night and into the next day, we were so focused on trying to stay warm that we didn’t really think about the other systems in our rig.

     

    Fall colors in Colorado with a starburst from the sun

    Mark does some starburst magic in the late afternoon sun.

    Suddenly, near the end of the day, Mark gave me a lopsided smile and said, “You know, our solar panels haven’t charged one bit all day long.”

    Huh? Oh, right, they were covered in snow!!

    Oops!! He scampered up on the roof and found there was well over an inch of snow on top of them.

    We had been running our electricity-hungry RV furnace almost non-stop all day, because the 10,000′ elevation was so high that our vent-free heater would run for only an hour or so before the oxygen detection sensor shut it off due to lack of oxygen.

    Colorado Mountain stream with snow in autumn

    Just beautiful…

    Unfortunately, the furnace could barely keep up, and we were in shade until late morning. So, the batteries needed a little boost!

    For the second time this season, Mark fired up the Yamaha 2400i generator to save the day and charge the batteries.

    Motorhome on Colorado's Million Dollar Highway in snow

    After the snow, the RVs left for warmer places!

    The truly amazing thing about this underused generator is that, despite the cold, it started on the first pull, and it ran beautifully for the bulk of two days while we lived through this mini Arctic blast.

    We don’t use that thing very often, and we sometimes regret the space it takes up in our rig as we chauffeur it around, but it sure comes in handy at times!

    After the second snowfall, we sadly watched the colorful leaves fade to their winter shades. They began to fall from the trees like rain every time the wind blew. It was time to go! We packed up the buggy and headed up and over the Million Dollar Highway one last time — with 14,100 lbs of house in tow!

    For more info on this stunningly gorgeous area, check out these links:

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    RV Trip on Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway – Ouray to Silverton

    Red Mountain Pass near Ouray Colorado

    The Million Dollar Highway

    October, 2014 – We were loving our stay amid the golden aspen of Ouray, Colorado, where every view we saw in every direction we turned was a true jaw-dropper. Our cameras were going non-stop.

    Ouray sits in a valley surrounded by mountains with a narrow ribbon of highway running through it.

    This highway, US Route 550, is a part of the San Juan Skyway, a breathtaking scenic loop drive that takes in some of the best mountain views that Colorado has to offer.

     

    A fifth wheel RV starts over Red Mountain Pass in Colorado

    A fifth wheel takes in the views

    Swinging through Telluride, Ridgway, Silverton and Durango, the San Juan Skyway winds all through the mountains, soaring over the peaks and dropping down into the valleys.

    A motorcycle drives the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado

    This is great motorcycle country!

    When it gets to Ouray, drivers headed south are at the starting point of one of the most spectacular 25 miles stretches of road in America.

    Nicknamed the Million Dollar Highway, the views are worth every penny (lol)!

    The origin of this name is uncertain, but it may have come about because it was thought that a million dollars’ worth of gold dust was in the gravel and dirt that was used to build the road in the late 1800’s. Or, the name may have come from the cost of paving the highway in the 1930’s.

    Million Dollar Highway Route 550 near Ouray Colorado

    Million Dollar Views on the Million Dollar Highway

    If those stories aren’t the real source of the name, there is also a joke that perhaps this gorgeous bit of road got its nickname from an early traveler who, wide-eyed with terror, exclaimed, “I wouldn’t go that way again if you paid me a million dollars!”

    Really? Oh yes, indeed!

    The views along this road are beyond stunning, but you’ve gotta steel your nerves when you drive it, especially if you are in the passenger seat heading south from Ouray to Silverton.

    Nevermind the beauty. This road is one of the most hair raising and dangerous highways in America.

    Fall Colors on the Million Dollar Highway near Silverton Colorado

    As we approached Silverton the aspens were ablaze!

    As we drove it the first time, we both kept saying “WOW” the whole way.

    Half of those “wows” were because the scenery was so incredible. But half of them were because of the utterly sheer and totally unprotected drop-offs that fell away from the truck’s right tires, falling hundreds of feet straight down to a chasm below my door!

    We stopped a few times at various pullouts and peered over the edge.

    OMG. At one spot we saw an upside down car way at the bottom of the gorge below us!

    Scary drive on Million Dollar Highway Colorado

    Some consider this road among the most dangerous of America’s highways.

    Yikes! Lord knows if it was from a fatal crash or if kids had rolled a car off the highway to watch it fall.

    Over the decades I’m sure both of those things have happened!

    Yet, frightening as this drive can be for first-timers, semi-tractor trailers traverse it all the time, climbing up and over the three mountain passes that lie between Ouray and Durango, Colorado.

    I’m not sure that we ever saw any trucks hauling super heavy loads, but Freightliners and their like made up a significant percentage of the traffic on this narrow twisty road.

    Colorado Red Mountain Pass in the rain

    It’s certainly intimidating when the weather gets ugly!!

    This gave us heart, because we were planning, at the end of our stay, to take our fifth wheel over this road.

    We ended up driving the Million Dollar Highway and its highest summit, Red Mountain Pass (at 11,000+ feet), many times during our two week stay, because the peak of the fall foliage color was happening all up and down its wild walls.

    So we got to know the many twists and turns and scary parts of the road.

    When the weather turned nasty for a few days, and the road got soaking wet, the clouds dropped into the canyon and filled it with fog, and the rain fell in blinding torrents on our truck. At least we knew what lay ahead!

    Motorcycles riding from Silverton to Ouray Colorado

    On a sunny fall day, this is motorcycle heaven!

    But on beautiful sunny days this is a drive people come from miles around to enjoy.

    We watched lines of touring motorcycles, groups of shiny new Ferraris, and even a caravan of rental RVs out for a scenic drive on this thrilling road.

    After crossing over the summit of Red Mountain Pass, the road begins to descend towards Silverton, and the fall colors jumped out at us from all sides.

    Then the valley opened up, and Silverton lay before us, a tiny town with a big mining history.

    Silverton Colorado

    Silverton is one super cute Colorado mountain town.

    Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

    The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a fun stream train ride.

    Once home to 1,100 people (in the late 1880’s) when the nearby silver and gold mines were flourishing, Silverton houses just 500 or so hardy souls today.

    Tourists love it, and it is a great spot to spend an afternoon or a few days.

    The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway is one of the biggest attractions, and we saw it in the distance, chugging up into the valley under a thick cloud of black smoke that trailed off behind it.

     

    Western Photography in Silverton Colorado

    Not only is the town photogenic, but it’s a great place for western-themed portraits.

    This railroad was built in 1882, and it carried both mining supplies and tourists right from the get-go.

    Today it carries only tourists, and it is a major attraction in the area.

    40+ years ago in the early 1970’s, one of the train’s brakemen had a younger brother that was an avid cyclist, and one day they challenged each other to a train/bike race up the mountain from Durango to Silverton.

    The cyclist bested his brother on the train, and the Iron Horse Cycling Classic was born.

     

    Family readies for western photo shoot

    A family get ready for a western photo session.

    Now the Iron Horse is a huge affair with pro cyclists, recreational riders, volunteers and sponsors of all kinds participating.

    Their website gives the annual race results for each group of cyclists that competes, but the one thing I couldn’t figure out was: how did the train do?!

    No matter how you get to Silverton, by car, train or bicycle, this town is a great stopover.

    It’s very photogenic, with colorful old buildings lining the dirt streets that are set against a vivid mountain backdrop.

    Photographers set up western-themed photo shoots for tourists too, and we watched a family getting set up for a fun photo.

     

    Old mining houses on the Million Dollar Highway Colorado

    There are old mining ruins and old homesteads all over the place.

    Two little girls donned big flower hats and long dresses, and a little boy hugged a bottle of whiskey while his brothers brandished rifles. Mom had a pistol, and the baby wore chaps. What a hoot!

    Of course, it’s one thing to dress up like old times and have a meal at one of the western themed restaurants in town.

    It’s a whole different thing to have lived here in the mining camps 100+ years ago.

    An RV descends Red Mountain Pass near Ouray Colorado

    The Million Dollar Highway can be negotiated by the biggest rigs on the highway — if you dare!

    The ruins of both the mines and the homes are scattered among these mountains, and it is startling to picture that life.

    Living at 10,000 feet in remote mountains where snow comes in early October (and sometimes sooner) must have been an unbelievable challenge.

    What’s worse, the mining companies didn’t care a lick about safety. Falling down a mine shaft or having the whole mine collapse on your head were accepted risks that were just part of the job.

    In 1918, Silverton was brought to its knees by the influenza epidemic. A staggering 10% of the population died in a six week period.

    More recently, a rock slide in January, 2014, brought the town to its knees once again. Route 550 was suddenly impassable, and the town was cut off from its main supply route to the north.

    A motorhome on the San Juan Skyway in Colorado

    Just keep your eyes on the road (hah!)

    The few vehicles that made it to Silverton had to drive nearly 500 miles out of their way to get there.

    But hardships of remote mountaintop living aside, it was the gold and silver of yesteryear and the majestic scenery of today that put and keeps this area on the map.

    For all the grittiness of the mining life in these mountains, I imagine that when the miners found a spare moment to soak in the scenery, it was as precious to them in those days as it is to us today.

    Red stone lined stream and Colorado autumn color

    The scenery here inspired us for weeks.

    Back out on the road heading back to Ouray, we saw lots of big RVs navigating the hairpin turns on the Million Dollar Highway.

    I had looked for info on taking an RV on this road in some of the online RV forums, and lots of people had said there was no way they would ever take a big rig on this road.

    But many people do it, and we never saw anyone having trouble. Driving it a few times in a smaller vehicle first definitely helps!

     
     

    Prior to towing our 14,000 lb. trailer over these passes, we installed an Edge Evolution Diesel Tuner on our truck to give it a little more power, and it worked great! (Our installation of this engine tuner is described here).

    Fall color at a lake near Ouray Colorado

    Fall color at Crystal Lake near Ouray.

    For more info about this glorious drive and the Silverton area, check out these links:

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    Ouray – Finding the COLOR in Colorado on an RV Trip!

    Classic western store fronts in Ouray Colorado

    Ouray, Colorado, is a classic western mountain town.

    September, 2014 – Continuing our journey south through Colorado, we left the rugged Black Canyon of the Gunnison and traveled on to the classic Rocky Mountain town of Ouray (pronounced “you-ray”).

    This tiny town of just 1,000 people is tucked into a valley that is nestled in the clouds at nearly 7,800 feet, and it is surrounded on all sides by mountain peaks that soar into the sky.

    We first discovered Ouray fifteen years prior to this year’s visit on a tent camping trip long before we were RVers.  We promptly fell in love with the town and the entire area around it.

    We hadn’t been back since that first visit, and we were delighted to find that not much has changed.

     

    Ouray Colorado is a cute mountain town

    Home to just 1,000 residents, Ouray is a charming mountain town.

    Even the barista at the cute coffee shop and chocolatier called Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee confirmed that in the dozen or so years she’d been in town things have remained pretty much as they were.

    That’s a rare thing in the popular western states, and it’s a good thing there hasn’t been a huge press for growth, because there is absolutely no room for this town to grow.

    Sheer mountains frame every view in every direction, and the streets on the edges of town turn sharply upward.

     

    Victorian house in Ouray Colorado

    Most of Ouray’s architecture dates to the turn of the last century.

    The town fills the whole little valley, and the town’s dirt streets that are away from the main drag are wonderful proof that progress is taking its time here.

    Settled as a base for miners working the thirty or so gold and silver mines in the nearby mountains, Ouray was home 1,000 residents way back in 1877 too.

    An RV in the golden aspen of Colorado

    What a place to go RVing!

    From 1887 until 1930 the Denver & Rio Grande Railway brought people and goods to and from Ridgway 10 miles to the north.

    Today the town boasts beautiful architecture on the main street with wonderful Victorians dotting the view.

    Orange Aspen in autumn in Colorado

    The aspen trees were a brilliant orange.

    For us and for many fall visitors, the real draw to Ouray, which many call the “Switzerland of the Rockies,” is the stunning visual drama of the fall foliage season.

    Two years ago we attended a photography workshop in the Ridgway/Telluride area put on by the incomparable Nasim Mansurov of PhotographyLife.com, a massively popular website.

    At the workshop we were blown away by the brightly colored aspen that blanketed the mountainsides beneath the gray craggy peaks on the Dallas Divide.

    Nasim is a very unusual person.  Born and raised in Uzbekistan, he is gifted with that special kind of charisma and leadership ability that have ensured him a massive following (in the hundreds of thousands), not just for his photography blog but in past years when he led an online forum dedicated to Central Asian students studying abroad. To see just how unique he is, read his inspiring essay on why he traded a hugely successful corporate career for a simpler life doing what he loves. As you enjoy his eloquent writing, note that English is his second language!.

    When we discovered he was offering his fall foliage workshop in the Ouray area again this year, we rearranged our travel plans to get us there in plenty of time.

    Mother Nature did not disappoint.

    Bright orange aspen trees in Colorado

    Driving these mountain roads was sheer delight.

    When we arrived in Ouray, the mountains were on fire — not with smoky wildfires but ablaze with the brilliant reds and golds and oranges that transform Colorado’s aspen trees in autumn.

    Arriving a few days ahead of time, we eagerly explored the spectacular scenic drive that heads south from town on Route 550.

    After negotiating a series of incredibly steep 180 degree switchbacks that made us feel like we were driving skyward into a kaleidoscope of yellow and orange, the road skirted some very sheer cliffs and delivered us to Crystal Lake.

    Reflections at Crystal Lake near Ouray Colorado_

    Crystal Lake reflects the puffy clouds and vivid colors of the mountains

    This small lake was as still as glass in the morning hours, and we circled around the entire body of water, checking out the awe-inspiring views from every vantage point.

    I’ve become very fond of photographing reflected images in mirrored water, and I’ve made the most of the scenes we found in Grand Teton National Park Wyoming and Maroon Bells Colorado.

    Crystal Lake gave us the same kinds of fun photo ops and totally delighted us both.

     

    A hint of autumn at Crystal Lake near Ouray CO

    A few wildflowers were still in bloom at Crystal Lake.

    The mirror images of the white clouds hovered on the surface of the water while the rocks that were totally visible on the bottom showed their faces through the crystal clear water too.

    The golden aspens had just started to color the shoreline, and as the weeks went on during our stay, all the hillsides around the lake soon took on a bright yellow and rich orange hue.

    A few straggling wildflowers were still blooming at the water’s edge.  I’m sure if we’d been there a few weeks earlier they would have been even thicker.

    Crystal Lake and Adams Mountain

    There is beautiful scenery every way you turn!

    Mirrored water at Crystal Lake near Ouray Colorado

    I got a kick out of getting reflection shots at this lake.

    The spectacular fall foliage season in Colorado is hardly an unknown phenomenon, and we found ourselves in plenty of company as we repeatedly drove this jaw-dropping drive over the coming weeks.

    From iPhones held out car windows to photographers with huge cameras and tripods, everyone was out and about taking photos in the abundant sunshine and even more abundant color.

    As the road climbs into the mountains, taking one tight switchback turn after another, the views into the valleys become ever grander.

    The Million Dollar Highway Route 550 neary Ouray Colorado

    Is this a “scenic” drive? I think I would call it a “Knock Your Socks Off” drive!!

    An artist and her husband with an umbrella

    What a gentleman – he shaded his wife with his umbrella while she painted!

    Not far from town we came across a couple standing on a bridge.

    I did a double take as we passed because the guy was holding an umbrella.

    Looking closer, I saw he was holding it over his wife’s head as she painted the river scene in front of her with oil paints and canvas on an easel.

    It is crazy, but this is something like the fourth or fifth time we have run into “plein aire” artists painting out in nature this year.

     

    Golden aspen in autumn

    Mark captured this beautiful reverse silhouette of an aspen in autumn.

    From Phoenix, Arizona to Sun Valley, Idaho, to the Tetons we keep stumbling upon artists happily recreating beautiful landscapes on their easels in nature.

    I joked with the woman that she had found herself a very special husband if he would willingly stand next to her and hold an umbrella over her for hours on end, keeping her shaded while she painted.

    “Isn’t he lovely?” She agreed. “I’m very lucky!”

    Indeed!!

    And he didn’t seem to mind one bit.

    Autumn still-life in Colorado

    A perfect still-life was all set up for me here.

    The fall colors in Colorado can easily awaken the most artistic feelings in even the least sensitive soul, and we got caught up in the excitement of Nature’s vivid display along with everyone else.

    Cars were pulled over at one hundred yard intervals for miles along the highway, and we scampered around the meadows with all the others, scoping out one magical scene after another.

    Mark created a beautiful image of an aspen reverse-silhouetted against blackness, and I found the most amazing ready-made still-life with colorful leaves lying on a log.

     

    Mark has stars in his eyes!

    Starry-eyed with aspen leaves!

    I didn’t put any of it in place there, honest!

    The scenery was so majestic it was intoxicating.

    Caught up in the thrill, Mark suddenly grabbed two aspen leaves and held them over his eyes.

    “Take my picture!” He said.

    I laughed as I got his pic. What a goof-ball.

    But that’s the kind of silliness and joy this place inspires at this time of year!

    A motorhome at the peak of fall foliage season near Ouray Colorado

    Ouray is a gorgeous place to visit in late September and early October.

    Colorful aspen in autumn

    Sometimes we took pictures, but a lot of times we just stood and stared…

    The host “hotel” for the PhotographyLife.com fall foliage photography workshop this year was the KOA campground in Ouray.

    Nasim and his wife Lola are enthusiastic RVers, and they set up camp with their young family in their beautiful new 38′ Cougar fifth wheel trailer.

    Other attendees came in assorted RVs, and many stayed in the KOA camping cabins as well.

    The campground common room was quickly transformed into a lecture and seminar room, and people loaded down with eye popping photography gear of all kinds began to assemble.

    Colorful view of golden aspen from our RV window

    What a view to wake up to!

    The weather in the mountains at this time of year is very unpredictable, and Nasim deftly got everyone out onto the spectacular forest roads in the area when the sun was shining and brought the group back indoors for lectures when it rained.

    The mottled skies made for some beautiful photo ops, and no matter how many times we drove in and out of town or up and down the forest roads, our eyes were riveted on the gorgeous scenes all around us.

    The trees seemed to change even as you looked at them, fading from lime green to the lemon yellow and darkening from yellow to a rich orange hue as the hours and days passed.

    ___________________________

    This is an incredible area for an autumn RV road trip from late September through early October. There are several RV parks in Ouray in addition to the KOA. Just 14 miles away, lovely Ridgway State Park has hookups and sites for bigger rigs. For more information, visit these links:

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    Colorado GOLD – A Fall Foliage Photography Workshop

    Telluride Colorado Dallas Divide Photography Workshop

    Photo workshop students line up for the sunrise shot.

    Late September, 2012 – We went to Ridgway, Colorado, for a landscape photography workshop, and the Colorado Rockies were bursting with fall foliage colors when we arrived.

    Dallas Creek Road Colorado Fall Foliage Ridgway Telluride Golden Aspen

    The rising sun lights up our view.

    Our group of 20 or so photography enthusiasts gathered at Ridgway Lodge the night before the big shoot to review our camera equipment and basic photography techniques.  My, oh my, I have never seen so many top-of-the-line Nikon cameras in one room.

    The next morning, before dawn, we all piled into four cars and set off for our first shooting locale.  A scenic overlook along Route 62 heading to Telluride is a favorite among photographers, and we all lined up in front of a fence to get shots of the rising sun as it cast its pink and golden light across the colorful foothills leading to the San Juan mountains.

    Dallas Divide Colorado Fall Foliage Photography Workshop

    Sunrise at the San Juan mountains.

     

     

    Our instructor, Nasim Mansurov, gave marching orders for how to set up our cameras for this shot.  He wanted us to shoot in manual mode, something Mark understands but that I’d never done before.  His instructions were spot on, and as the landscape before us came to life, the images on our cameras miraculously did too.  How funny it was, though, to stand shoulder to shoulder with other photography buffs in the pre-dawn light, waiting for the magic to happen in front of us!!

    Telluride Colorado Dallas Divide Photography Workshop

    Golden aspens and evergreens.

     

    As we progressed from one shooting location to the next, Nasim explained the importance of using “leading lines” in our photos to draw our viewers’ eyes into our pictures.  “If you go to Rome or Egypt you’ll see that the ancient architects used leading lines everywhere,” he told us.

    At a small pond along Dallas Creek Road, he explained that the pier could be used to create a leading line coming in from the lower left corner of the photo.  Suddenly all the cameras pointed that way to try to get the shot he described.

    Dallas Creek Road Colorado Ridgway Telluride Autumn Colors

    We learned about using “leading lines” in our photos.

     

     

    We stopped again, trying this time to incorporate an old, crooked, wooden fence into our images.  Nasim explained that the fence in the foreground would lead to the golden aspen in the mid-ground and then to the craggy mountains in the background.  Neither Mark nor I were happy with our results, but an elk hunter who was watching all of us crazy photographers crawling all over the wooden fence got a chuckle out of the scene.

    Telluride Colorado Elk Hunter Dallas Divide

    A hunter tells me of a celebrity wedding on Ralph Lauren’s property.

     

    The hunter and I began chatting and he told me that at this time last year Jeb Bush’s son and Ralph Lauren’s daughter had gotten married on Lauren’s massive estate (he owns most of the stunning land in this area).  What an event that must have been, with Secret Service protecting two former presidents, and helicopters bringing in celebrities from all over.  Apparently all the national forest roads were blocked off for several days, annoying more than a few hunters and campers who were stuck on one side or the other!   Isn’t it ancient wisdom that if you’re gonna throw a big noisy party you gotta invite all your neighbors??!!

    Dallas Divide Colorado Aspen Grove Last Dollar Road Photography Workshop

    The aspen get paparazzi treatment!

    When we came to an unusual canopy of aspen trees shrouding a section of Last Dollar Road, Nasim asked us all to hold back before we walked in among the trees so we wouldn’t get in each other’s photos.  This made for a funny paparazzi crowd at the entrance to the aspen grove.  Those aspens were getting celebrity treatment worthy of Ralph Lauren himself!!

    Telluride Colorado Last Dollar Road Dallas Divide Aspen Grove Photography Workshop

    Photography students roam around under the canopy of aspen.

     

     

    After a few moments we all wandered into the stand of aspens and let our cameras loose.  What a blast!

    Last Dollar Road Colorado Aspen in the Dallas Divide

    Last Dollar Road Colorado Dallas Divie Aspen Grove

    True love.

    Mark and I were lucky enough to be passengers in Nasim’s station wagon for the entire workshop, so we were privy to some lively exchanges between him and the other very knowledgeable folks in the car about the merits of all kinds of gear and various photography techniques and tricks.

    Telluride and Ridgway Colorado Fall Foliage on the Dallas Divide

     

     

     

    Colorado Fall Foliage Photography Workshop - what's in your bag?

    A mascot comes along for the ride.

    We heard about polarizing filters, graduated neutral density filters, and the quality of this lens versus that.  We chatted about figuring out an image’s hyperfocal length and dividing an image’s composition into thirds.  The discussions were fast and furious.  For us, it was an intense immersion into a new, exciting world.

    As we piled in and out of the car all day, camera bags got loaded on and off laps at every stop.  And although each pocket of every camera bag was stuffed to the gills with the latest and greatest gear, Mark found one pocket that had been reserved for a special companion…

    Dallas Divide Colorado between Ridgway and Telluride Fall Foliage Colors in the San Juan mountains

    Inspiring Colorado views!

     

    When the day began to wind down, we stopped for a sunset shot looking back across fields of hay bales towards the mountains.  Unfortunately, the sky didn’t cooperate with magical colors, and many of us had worn out our shutter fingers by then and reached the point of saying, “No more!!”  But Mark was still going strong, and he took one of my favorites shots for the whole day of a fence tucked snugly into a field of wildflowers.

    Colorado wildflowers

    Folks had flown in from all over the country, and some didn’t have to leave for another day or two, so an impromptu group gathered to take more photos the next day.  But the weather was deteriorating rapidly, and the crisp blue skies gave way to clouds and rain.  When we finally left the area, a heavy rain had fallen overnight, which blessed us with a sprinkling of snow on mountains.

    Telluride Colorado Dallas Divide Fall Colors snow on mountains

    What a glorious drive from Telluride towards Dolores!

    Our drive from Telluride southwest to Dolores was among the most beautiful I have ever seen.  The aspens were rich in color and heavy with moisture, and the skies seemed to be brooding about the coming winter.

    Telluride Colorado Dallas Divide Snowcapped Mountains and fall colors

    Majestic scenery in every direction.

    The aspens filled in the valleys with a vivid tapestry of green and yellow, and when I caught Mark smiling beside the edge of the road at one point, it seemed like he was standing in front of a painting.

    Telluride Colorado Fall Foliage at the Dallas Divide

    Is that backdrop real??

    Route 62 Telluride Colorado Dallas Divide Aspens

    The views continued to inspire us as our buggy sashayed along the twisting mountain roads through the mountains.  We stopped briefly at Lizard Head Pass and again in the tiny hamlet of Rico, shivering in the growing cold and sharing the exquisite views with all the other lookie-loos who’d gathered in the scenic pullouts alongside us, cameras and grins flashing.

    Telluride Colorado San Juan Mountains fall foliage

    The misty mountains got a little blue sky.

    San Juan Mountains Colorado fall foliage

    Nature’s tapestry.

    Lizard Head Colorado Rocky Mountains

    Colorful mountains beside Trout Lake

     

     

    Finally, and sadly, the postcard landscape eventually came to an end.  We had been treated to a glorious stay in this gorgeous part of Colorado at the most colorful time of year.  As we dropped south out of the mountains into more mundane scenery, the brilliant images we had left behind became a blur in our memories.

    Dallas Divide Telluride Colorado Autumn Colors aspen

    Fields of gold.

     

    What a place.  If you haven’t seen the fall colors in Colorado, it really deserves a spot on your lifetime bucket list!!!  The magic happens sometime around the third week of September…

    Rico Colorado fall foliage

    Rico, Colorado – near the end of this magical drive.

     

     

     

     

     

    Of course, our next stop in New Mexico’s Bisti Badlands was pretty exotic too, and it capped off one of our best summers in our trailer!

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