#TravelTuesday with My Public Lands
#TravelTuesday along Colorado’s Alpine Loop National Backcountry Byway with Guest Photographer Bob Wick
Southwest Colorado’s Alpine Loop National Backcountry Byway provides access to some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere in the Rockies. Here, jagged peaks up to 14,000 feet in elevation rise above rushing streams and wildflower filled meadows. My favorite time to photograph here is in mid-late July when the wildflowers reach their peak. Another amazing time is late September when the aspen turn the mountainsides golden.
Heading west from Lake City, make sure to stop at Cataract Gulch. This trail here is a somewhat arduous but very rewarding climb along a forest clad stream plunging over rocks and falls. Even a short hike up part of the trail offers great scenery and photo opportunities.
A few miles further West, the American Basin in Handies Peak Wilderness Study Area has a plethora of wildflowers including fields of Colorado’s state flower, the columbine. You can scale 14,000 foot Handies Peak with a long non-technical but demanding day hike. Stop by alpine Sloan Lake along the way with its turquoise waters and alpine flowers. Photo tip: I try to photograph wildflowers in the morning before it gets windy. I also get low; shooting from the same height, or even looking up from below taller flowers as it provides a fresh and interesting perspective. Use a very small aperture (F-16) to keep both the flowers and distant landscape features in focus.
You’ll need four-wheel drive to reach the higher passes on the Alpine Loop which top-out above treeline at over 12,800 feet on Engineer Pass. Just to the west of this pass is the ghost town of Animas Forks, at 11,200 feet. The restored log cabins offer excellent photo subjects. The surrounding communities of Lake City, Silverton and Ouray offer a variety of services including jeep rentals. Photo tip: When photographing at high elevations around light colored rock or patches of snow, your camera’s light meter can be tricked into underexposing the image – set your camera to snow/beach mode or overexpose by one or two stops to get the correct exposure.
Photo of Handies Peak Wilderness Study Area by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management