The road over Kebler Pass is surrounded on either side by one of the largest groves of aspen trees in the United States. Individual aspen trees do not each have their own root systems. Aspen groves form what are called “clonal colonies” with all of the trees sharing a common root system that originates from a single parent tree. Individual trees rarely live to be more than 100 or 150 years old, but the root systems can live for thousands of years, allowing new trunks to grow as older trees die.
In the Fall, Colorado’s mountains literally glow with the golden colored leaves of the aspen trees as they fall and cover the ground. Driving over the pass in the second week of September, I was a couple of weeks early for Fall colors. Instead I had to endure late summer green against a sparkling blue sky. What hardship!
Kebler Pass is traversed by a mosly unpaved gravel road that runs westward from Crested Butte, Colorado, to Colorado State Highway 133, some 33 miles away. The trip is an easy one – the curves are gentle and the slopes are not steep. I got started driving up the pass at around 8 in the morning on another crystal clear Colorado day. The peak in the distance is Mt. Axtell.
Looking west and slightly north from the summit of Slumgullion Pass, this image shows Umcompahgre Peak in the distance. The 14,320 ft (4365 m) peak in the center of the photo is one of Colorado’s tallest mountains. It was after 5 in the afternoon when this photo was taken and, while the sun is not directly in my face, I am close enough to facing it that I could not get any details of the mountains in the distance. They become pale silhouettes washed out by the sunlight.
In the lower left of the image, you can see Colorado 149 as it descends from the pass, winding its way to Lake City. By the time I got to that point along the road, the sun was close to dipping below the mountains to the west. Not being especially interested in driving a winding mountain road in the dark, I cut short any stops to catch images at dusk and hurried to the end of highway 149 where it meets US Highway 50 not far from Gunnison, Colorado.
After leaving the Rio Grande River, the drive along Colorado 149 took me over Spring Creek Pass. At summit of the pass, I crossed the Continental Divide. Rivers on one side of the divide, like the Rio Grande, flow to the east, while rivers like the Colorado that originate on the other side of the divide head towards the Pacific Ocean.
This late afternoon image was taken along the side of the road as I descended from Spring Creek Pass. At this point, the road began to climb again and eventually took me through Slumgullion Pass, which at 11,360 ft (3463 m), was the highest point on my trip.
One of my goals on my recent trip to the United States was to see parts of the country I had never seen before. To that end, a drive along State Highway 149 brought me through a part of Colorado I was visiting for the first time. I began the 117 mile trip where SH 149 turns north off of US 160 at South Fork in south central Colorado. The first part of the journey took me through the Rio Grande National Forest alongside the upper reaches of the Rio Grande River, which has its headwaters in Colorao’s San Juan Mountains. With a length of 1760 miles, the Rio Grande is the fourth longest river in the United States, following the Missouri, the Mississippi and the Yukon (which flows through both Canada and Alaska in the US).
This image of the Rio Grande was taken some 30 to 40 miles from where the river originates in the San Juans. I arrived at this spot on a crystal clear, late summer day at around 3:30 in the afternoon. With the sun moving towards the horizon, the light was just beginning to get soft. There really is nothing quite like Colorado’s high country on a day like this.