For the past 4 days we’ve been camping a little west of the town of Gunnison. Thanks to our LD friends Jim & Gayle for writing about the Stevens Creek Campground next to the Blue Mesa reservoir in the Curecanti Recreation Area. The reservoir is actually quite low – down to 60% of capacity – but the receding water created a really nice scene where grasses sprouted along the edge. We mostly had the place to ourselves after the first day. It has a commanding view of the entire area and is very open, so getting a full charge on the solar panels is easy. It’s also very quiet here – a great base of operation.
The ride over Monarch Pass on the way here really got us motivated for fall color photography. In many places it was simply spectacular. It killed me not to be able to stop right then and there at any number of pullouts, but driving the LD and towing made it a difficult proposition. It is pretty steep in places and we chugged up at around 40-45 mph. Going that speed did allow us to look around a lot and I decided I would return in the next few days to photograph what I missed. Once over the top, there were far fewer patches of gold aspen, but still a beautiful view everywhere we looked. We resupplied in Gunnison and got set up at Stevens Creek.
On Friday the 21st, we set off on our first drive into the mountains in the area. Crested Butte was our first choice as we had heard the color was at or near peak. We were up and out by 9 AM and headed back into town planning on going north out of Gunnison on Ohio Creek Road (CR 730). Driving along Highway 50 as we got near Gunnison, I noticed a motorhome coming the other way flashing it’s lights at me. Normally other Lazy Daze owners will do this to say Hi. Otherwise, it’s a warning of something. The RV wasn’t another LD so I started looking around as to what the warning was. Yes, another deer in the middle of my lane. A big one, probably twice the size of the last one that hit us and probably only about 20 yards away. It blended perfectly with the surrounding brush. I hit the breaks hard and swerved. I don’t remember hearing a screeching sound so I assume my anti-lock breaks did what they were designed to do, and unbelievably this deer did the unexpected – it moved out of the way. Way too close. These surprises are getting pretty old. On the way home later that day, we say another large deer dead on the side of the road at right about the same spot we encountered ours. It may have been the same one actually.
The aspen began appearing soon after we gained a bit of altitude and we stopped often for pictures. Doing this kind of subject matter is far harder than it seems. The trees all look great when standing at the side of the road, but it is a real challenge to get interesting compositions. I look for pattern in the foliage, odd shapes in tree trunks and combinations of both. Finding the right open spot in order to isolate sections was difficult on this road. Many of the views were outstanding, but difficult to compose, but it is great fun trying.
We eventually ended up in the town of Crested Butte. Mary tends to like these trendy little mountain towns, but I find them a bit boring. This one is pretty upscale. One clue was the $17 burger, another were the many weird gourmet dishes like beef cheeks with asparagus foam and such. We kicked around town a bit before moving on. We followed a couple of other mountain roads through Mt. Crested Butte and Gothic looking for more color, but didn’t find much to photograph. Still very nice scenery, but not “blow you away” type stuff. It was a long drive home since Mary took over and would not drive over 45 mph even in the 60 mph areas – too deer freaked.
On Saturday we caught up on laundry, washed the car and did more food shopping. We figured the roads would be full of leaf peepers today so decided to stick close to home. We did hike in the morning at the Neversink area of Curecanti. Not a very long hike, but it got us out a little. Part of the Gunnison River flows along the trail, and though very low, we had a pleasant time photographing trees and reflections all along it.
Later we drove up a road we saw a whole caravan of cars drive up the day before. It seemed like maybe it was a photo group going somewhere off the beaten track, so worth an investigation. It was Mill Creek Road and it turned out to be quite nice, if not a bit rough. It is more of a 4-wheel drive track, but we just did a portion that was pretty drivable. We came across some nice groves, people out picking colorful brush, hikers, bikers and hunters. Seemed like a real slice of Colorado life. In the evening, because I brought along the satellite receiver, we watched the Giants clinch the western division. More playoffs to look forward to.
Sunday, I decided I had to go back to Monarch Pass. If we would have encountered amazing scenes of color in the mountains around us, I probably would not have wanted to. It’s a 50 mile drive back there and I wasn’t at all sure it would still be as great – which it turned out not to be. Once again, still very nice, but the trees had dropped enough leaves so that it had just lost that extra edge. I still did stop many times and got some nice images, but the quest continues for outstanding scenes. Weather is supposed to cloud up with a chance of thunderstorms in the next few days, and in fact we got a little rain just last night (Sunday). We are headed south a bit today (Monday) to Montrose. We read some good write-ups of some drives there. More to come.