View Full Version : LF around Colorado / New Mexico

Bruce Watson
6-Apr-2010, 13:40
It's possible that I'm going to be able to visit Colorado and New Mexico in the not too distant future. Depends on Portland (another thread I just started (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?t=61007)).

In a similar vein, it's been 32 years since I was last in the Colorado / New Mexico area. Long before I knew what an LF camera was, or what LFers did. What are the "don't miss" features of Colorado and New Mexico for LFers? I'm thinking that Rocky Mountains NP might be on the list (depends on the time of year -- if it happens too soon it might be really cold up there ;) )

What do all you LFers in that area think? What are the side trips one just has to make with their LF kit when in Colorado and New Mexico?

I'm mostly interested in nature -- I'd like to find out sorta what defines the region. And I'm willing to hike quite a ways to find it, but limit myself to mostly day trips. I like to hold it down below 15 miles round trip, so I'll have time for photography along the way! Any help appreciated.

And lest anyone suggest Utah or Arizona (since I'm so close) I've already covered those states in the not too distant past. They are glorious; to that I can readily attest. But I'd like to limit this discussion to Colorado and New Mexico if you don't mind.

Kirk Keyes
6-Apr-2010, 13:53
I'm in Portland, and I go to Colorado and New Mexico to photograph.

How much time will you have and are there any places you want to go to already?

Kirk Gittings
6-Apr-2010, 13:55
Drop me a line and maybe we can get together.

Eric Biggerstaff
6-Apr-2010, 14:38
Like Kirk said, drop me a line if you are in Colorado.

I don't care much for Rocky Mountain National Park but there are many, many other places. It all depends on what you like to photograph and when you will be here. There are several LF photographers in the greater Denver area and I am sure several will see this and chime in on good ideas.

Eric Biggerstaff
6-Apr-2010, 14:48
Ok, here are some areas:

Great Sand Dunes National Monument
Eldorado Canyon
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
San Juan Mountains (SW corner of state, best in the state as far as I am concerned)
Maroon Bells (outside of Aspen)
Independence Pass (outside Aspen)
Bristlecone Pines, Mt Goliath (outside Denver)
Mt Evans drive (outside Denver, highest paved road, over 14,000 feet)
Engineer Pass (4 WHD, near Lake City and Ouray, CO)
Pikes Peak Drive (up to the top, 14,000 feet, dirt road much of the way)
Snowmass area (lots of aspen stands and lovely)
Crested Butte area (beautiful)
Tons of old ghost towns and mining areas, Check out the Victor, Colorado area, neat old town, photo friendly
Mesa Verde (native american ruins, 4 corners area)

and on and on and on and on. Just drive any old back road, keep the camera with a lens on and you will find lovely scenes everywhere.

Check out several of the state guides as they can direct you to many good areas and plan ahead to make the most of your time. Colorado is a very diverse state and lots to see, to much for one trip, so it really depends on what you want to do. The same goes for New Mexico, the list of possibilites is almost endless. I have yet to get bored in either state!

6-Apr-2010, 15:08
Summitville is a great ghost town. The road is off Highway 160 near South Fork.
I'm in Pagosa Springs in Southern Colorado.(May through September)
Drop me a line if you are in that area

Michael Roberts
6-Apr-2010, 15:16
Bruce, a lot of the roads and trails to the high country don't open until after Memorial Day--like Trail Ridge Road in RMNP and the Mt. Evans road to the summit.

If you are coming soon, you definitely have to watch the weather and be flexible this time of year. A few days ago it was 80 in Denver; today, 35 miles west, windchill is 11 and gusts are supposed to hit 60mph. Our second highest snowfall month is April.

What Eric said, except I happen to like RMNP.

If it's possible, you might want to start in NM where it might be warmer, then move into the Colorado Rockies later in your trip.

John Jarosz
6-Apr-2010, 15:32
San Juan mountains. I second that recommendation.

Durango is a big tourist trap these days.

But Silverton is really cool.

I also like Marble and the area around Red Cliff.

There is also a newly discovered old Colorado map published on the web that may have some interesting stuff to find that has been forgotten:


al olson
6-Apr-2010, 16:25
I happen to dwell in a small town nestled into the midst of the San Juans in the SW corner of Colorado. My favorite areas are off the beaten track. However, the snow at the lower elevations (I live at 7500') is just beginning to recede so it will be likely around the first or second week of May before many of the backroads are open.

There are plenty of things in this area to photograph without bumping into tourists -- old mines, ghost towns, Anasazi ruins, amazing scenery. You can do a day trip from Animas Forks to Lake City over Engineer Pass and return via Cinnamon Pass for a stunning view of Alpine meadows and peaks. These roads are busy, they are primitive and mostly one lane with few places to pull over and park for enough time to set up a camera. It is possible, however, to take advantage of opportunities as they come available.

Northeast of Silverton toward Animas Forks there are many side gulches with roads that go up past the tree line. On the western edge there are lesser traveled areas such as Dunton Hot Springs and the Canyons of the Ancients. There are also Aztec ruins near Aztec which is north of Farmington.

South of Farmington there is Bisti with the hoodoo formations. Farther south is Chaco Canyon, although well known I seldom find large crowds of tourists like at Mesa Verde. (It is about 60 miles from the nearest town that has a motel.) There can be some extensive hiking to reach some of the ruins, but others are near the parking areas. Then there is Bosque del Apache still farther south.

About 20 miles north of me you can get into the Weminuche Wilderness or stop at Williams Reservoir for some scenic reflections of the mountains.

About 27 miles to the east there is Wolf Creek Pass with gorgeous scenery in the basin and around Alberta Lake. As mentioned above by Sid, there is the abandoned mining town of Summitville going to the south from the east side of the pass. On the north side of US160 is Big Meadows with very nice camping areas and a scenic lake.

Most of the wild flowers don't happen until mid July to early August. Very popular are American Basin and Yankee Boy Basin. I prefer some the gulches such as Minnie Gulch and Maggie Gulch.

I'm a year around resident who likes to make 3 to 5 day trips outbound with my camping trailer. If you are going to be in the area, send me an email. I would be happy to give you a guided tour.

6-Apr-2010, 21:04
Both my family and my wife's are from SE Colorado going back 4 generations. While the San Juans, Aspen, Summit County and RMNP draw in the tourists in droves, there are other areas of Colorado with deeper history (much older than the mining boom towns) with character and great scenery to match.

I agree with alot of Eric's recommendations except that I would not recommend the drive to the top of Pikes Peak. Instead, drive up Rampart Range Road or Old Stagecoach and get great views of Pikes Peak.

My personal favorite scenic area is the Wet Mountain Valley. There aren't many lodging options, but the valley and the high peaks to the west are spectacular. The hikes into the Sangres are rough and you won't see as many folks up there as long as you stay out of the few basins serving the 14ers (South Colony Lake/Crestones and the road up to Blanca Peak). However, the late spring storms this year may make it difficult to reach the high lakes until late June or early July. The Sangres don't typically have as much wildflower activity, but they can be found up there. The peaks are dramatic and typically tower over the lakes.

Lost Creek Wilderness isn't exactly a quiet backcountry area, but it opens early in the year due to the lower altitude and typically lighter snowfall. Lots of scouts and visitors from Denver frequent the area to get an early season backpacking fix. Its home to enormous boulders and a creek that runs underground for long distances under those boulder piles. Its a popular backpacking circuit loop of about 30 miles. Plan on 8-9 mile RT hikes to reach the first big boulder areas. You can find other interesting boulder formations continuing down the South Platte Valley as well. This is also home to some great rock climbing areas. You'll drive through the Hayman Burn area to reach the wilderness. In June, you should see an amazing bloom of blue rocky mountain penstemon.

The areas around Buena Vista are probably my next recommendation. There are lots of high gentle 14ers in this area, and lots of nice areas for backpacking off the beaten path. Cottonwood Pass and Independence Pass both offer great vistas and nice alpine hiking areas. Lost Man via Independence Lake is one of my favorite hikes down there. I also like the hike from Cloyses Lake to Pear Lake.

I'm certainly not against a visit to Ouray, Silverton, Lake City, Teluride or the other towns in the San Juans. Lots of great scenery in the area. But it draws a crowd. Another area that is surprisingly crowded to me is the Holy Cross Wilderness, especially the Missouri Lakes area. The fact that Maroon Bells trailhead is served by a bus should give fair warning about that area.

Unfortunately I'm not much help for New Mexico. I've done mostly Colorado and Utah trips for the last 15+ years and still haven't run out of new places to explore.


Jim Edmond
7-Apr-2010, 06:54
The Colorado National Monument (just west of Grand Junction) has some interesting canyons and rock formations. I've been there in mid September and January and had the place virtually to myself.

7-Apr-2010, 08:08
Last year on Memorial day weekend we set out to drive up to some of the high passes out of Buena Vista. Every one was closed by snow so prepare accordingly.

Nathan Potter
7-Apr-2010, 08:57
I do like Great Dunes Nat. Park, where the high dunes are framed by the Sangre de Cristo Mts. A lot of unique design to the dunes. Not mentioned so far, and west of the Alamosa area is Creede CO. an old mining town where Bat Masterson ended his career more than a century ago. Just north of town of Creede is one of the most spectacular mine remnants snugged in a narrow canyon and in a nice state of preservation. Requires a day of working the area to elicit a sense of the place in images.

Also not mentioned is the bristlecone pine stand on the east slope of Mt Bros at about 12,000 ft. It's isolated well above the tree line accessible by a 4 wheel road north of Fairplay and Alma CO.
Another decent stand along the road up Mt Evans west of Denver.

Nate Potter, Austin TX.

7-Apr-2010, 09:22
If you explore the Colorado Plateau (SW Colorado, NW New Mexico), you won’t miss signs of Anasazi ruins – both the famous structures, and all-but-unknown ones. During your previous trip 32 years ago, I’m sure you noticed that day-hikes can bring you face-to-face with both. The architecture’s relationship w/ the land is one of my favorite photo themes...

(But maybe you’ve “seen enough” of the Anasazi in Utah and Arizona.)

Still, this remote, high-desert area of Colorado and New Mexico has so many attractions to justify the inconvenience of getting there…

Just one more: the exposed geology in a rainbow of colors, mainly sandstones and shales, of course – red, brown, light greens, purples, grays. So if you visit and you’re shooting b/w film, don’t forget the filters! For example, in many of these formations, a green filter creates the contrast I like.

I was about to recommend specific locations, but this is one of those rich areas where the “best locations” happen to be wherever you are…

Peter York
7-Apr-2010, 09:51
The timing of your trip is critical as it will determine what areas you can gain access to.

To add to the list: Castlewood Canyon State Park, Roxborough State Park, Garden of the Gods, the Pawnee National Grasslands and Weston Pass.

I think John Fielder's Best of Colorado is a useful guide for trip planning.

And if you do visit RMNP, I'd recommend the hike to Sky Pond.

7-Apr-2010, 10:57
Ditto the Dunes - get out on the trails for non-tourist perspectives; the Sand Ramp trail from Medano Creek trailhead is my favorite but be mentally and physically prepared for soft sand and wind. Snow will not be a problem after late winter, usually. Medano Pass road through the sand to the trailhead will require attention - don't dither.
Upper Huerfano valley - on the other side of the Sangre's from the Dunes. Definitely not on the way to anywhere else. Access out of Gardiner. At the top of my list of lovely alpine valleys. From the trailhead a nice flat valley walk with Blanca Peak looming over all then a short steep climb to glacial Lily Lake - about 12 mi round trip. The access road (replete with many landscape views and easy for any kind/size of truck or suv) will be open by Memorial Day but, depending on the year, snow may still be very deep on the trail and Lily Lake still frozen over.
If you want to take the road less photographed - the intimate canyons, grasslands, homestead ruins and pictographs of SE Colorado are a gem.

Bruce Watson
7-Apr-2010, 18:02
All interesting. It should be an interesting trip, should I get to make it. I've been wanting to explore the Colorado and New Mexico area for decades. Hopefully I'll get to do it while my knees will still let me hike up the mountains with 17Kg of view camera kit on my back. :D

Oh yes, if I do get to come I'll have my AWD Subaru. Not a full sized SUV, but does OK with logging road levels tracks. Sounds like this could be a useful tool.

7-Apr-2010, 22:37
Just a question, are there any large cactus in the area of northern New Mexico? Or is that cacti? I'm going there too in the not to distant future, around Santa Fe and area.

8-Apr-2010, 01:02
You have to go south to Las Cruses and that area to find Large cactus. I assume you mean Saguaros. Commen in southern Arizonz and New Mexico.

8-Apr-2010, 01:03
Hey Bruce don't worry about your car Subaru seems to be one of the official cars of the Rockies along with Jeeps and really big pickups.

Darren H
8-Apr-2010, 07:50
For nature in Colorado and New Mexico, I'd say look at the northern NM and SW Colorado. Several neat and different areas to draw your interest. Some of my fav's from that general area that offer scenery/hikes/day trips/etc in fairly close areas.

Great Sand Dunes NP
Ridgway/Ouray great base to take forest service roads to hikes or views of the San Juans
Rio Chama country in New Mexico
High country around Red River Angel fire is scenic
Bisti Badlands
Chaco/Mesa Verde for historic landscapes

The best part is all of these are only a few hours apart. On the other hand its a full days drive from RMNP to Ouray.

Check out the Rocky Mountain forum on Nature Photographers Network (some of the posters here are regulars there too) for alot more info as well as location info.

Have fun!

al olson
8-Apr-2010, 08:44
To clarify my prior post, outside of Engineer Pass, American Basin, and Yankee Boy, the other locations I mentioned are pretty light on tourist traffic.

As far as New Mexico is concerned, Aztec Ruins, Bisti, Chaco Canyon, and Bosque del Apache, that I mentioned previously, are all located on the far western side. A little more toward the east there is Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, habitats of Georgia O'Keefe. Ghost Ranch has some very picturesque formations and not a lot of tourists. Then there are the artsy towns of Santa Fe and Taos, very touristy, but quaint and photogenic, especially if you are looking to get people in your photos.

If you are looking for a little bit of history there is an abundance of narrow gauge railroads, besides the Durango-Silverton, such as the Cumbres and Toltec between Chama, NM, and Antonito, CO, and the La Vita out of La Vita, CO. There are more narrow gauge railroads farther north in the Georgetown area. The Old La Vita Pass Road (not the RR) is rustic and has a lot of possibilities.

If you venture farther to the north, there is an abandoned mining town called Russell's Gulch that is located on Oh My God Road between Central City and Idaho Springs. In recent years they have added a few guard rails on the hairier sections of the road. The last time I was through there many of the abandoned buildings were occupied by squatters. I should mention that there has been a lot of tree kill along the I-70 corridor with entire brown mountain sides.

On my list to explore this summer are a couple of old mining towns south of Taylor Reservoir, Tin Cup and Pitkin. They are north of Creede, already mentioned by Nathan. The Creede mine tour route is excellent for fall Aspens if you should come back later. There are many old mine structures. I also find abandoned mine structures, cabins, and houses up many of the gulches that go up from the Animas River that lies to the northeast of Silverton. There are more gulches that I have not yet explored.

Compared to looking at the map, the distances in the SW Colorado - NW New Mexico area are vast and outside of major highways, the mountain roads are much slower because of the potholes and large rocks embedded in the road surface. Considering travel times plus the time you will be hiking means that I would recommend you select an itinerary that encompasses a manageable area.

Wishing you the best for your trip.

15-Apr-2010, 12:21
Hmmm. The Pueblo, the Ranchos church and the Gorge Bridge ridge are the most photographed things near Taos. Not saying that you need to do so as well, but the other day I saw someone on the gorge bridge with an 8x10. Most would say these are the "don't miss" type places in the area.

The rivers, which are what most places would call creeks, are high with snow melt right now, and there is still some dirty snow in the higher mountain areas, this will persist in patches until late July or so, we had a heavy winter. Rio Grande gorge is pretty this time of year and the river is up. Currently you will also find water in some places which are typically dry.

Really, I can't see going wrong almost anyplace in Northern New Mexico between Chama and Las Vegas and Santa Fe. I can't think of a single place I've been that isn't sometimes photogenic depending on the clouds, weather, light, etc. You have mountains, gorges, architecture, open areas surrounded by mountains, strange people, old trucks in fields, llamas and lamas, culture and clouds, adobes and tipis (hippies live in them sometimes, as well as school buses and tire houses).

Ishould note that wind storms are common this time of year, and high winds are typical, almost daily sometimes, in the open areas and ridges. This will persist until mid-late May and the summer monsoons will probably come early like last year and the year before starting sporadically as early as late May and becoming almost daily by mid-late summer. These make for beautiful skies and muddy back roads, bring a shovel and supplies to gracefully handle being stuck even if the roads are dry when you first venture down them- watch your oil pan and transmission on ridges between the ruts even when dry. In the higher areas of Northern New Mexico it can snow any day of the year but mostly doesn't from now till Oct.

Just a question, are there any large cactus in the area of northern New Mexico? Or is that cacti? I'm going there too in the not to distant future, around Santa Fe and area.

Not really, not like you are thinking of. We have some Chollo cactus which are really pretty when in bloom and can grow taller than a man, but are spindly like tree branches. We have some large clusters of prickly pear here and there and some yucca. Its all smaller than what you are probably thinking of as large cactus though. This is mostly in the lower areas below the juniper and pinon, though some nice yucca grows in the fringe areas where it starts turning to trees, again really nice when in bloom. Really big cacti are much further south and at significantly lower elevations.

John Schneider
15-Apr-2010, 14:17
I used to live in Montrose and Al about covered it, IMO. Anywhere between Lake City and Silverton is amazing. If you're up for hiking I'd recommend Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre Peaks. In the area north and east of Animas Forks, Hurricane Pass is a special favorite. Black Bear trail if you've got a stout 4x4 is great as well. Yankee Boy Basin is about the best in the lower 48 for wildflowers in the late summer.