Press "Enter" to skip to content

A Taste of Autumn in the West Elks

Fall Colors 2018 | Friday & Saturday, September 28-29, 2018

Aside from a quick unplanned evening on the Grand Mesa almost two weeks ago, my schedule at the end of September and early October didn’t really leave me much time for a proper Fall Colors weekend photography trip since I had a must-attend concert in Salt Lake City on Sunday evening and a river trip through Labyrinth Canyon the weekend before. Even with all the preparations for an upcoming week-long adventure into Utah I did manage to get out for a quick overnight trip to the West Elk Mountains after work on Friday. I just hoped that there was some color around for me to photograph during this narrow window of time in the mountains!

A variety of colors along a road near Horse Ranch Park.

Colorful Road

As usual, I left straight from work on Friday and stopped in Delta for a quick dinner before continuing on through Hotchkiss and Paonia to Kebler Pass Road. I arrived in the Horse Ranch Park area shortly before sunset and went for a short hike up the Cliff Creek Trail. There seemed to be a good mixture of greens, yellows, oranges and reds in the area with plenty of fallen leaves, too.

I went for a short evening hike up the Cliff Creek Trail.

Trail Curve

Green & Gold

Green & Gold

This area has become much busier since the last time I was here in the fall and there appeared to be a couple of large photography workshops wandering around. Normally I would have ventured further into the wilderness away from the crowds, but since I came straight from work I had limited time to get somewhere before sunset, so access had to be quick and easy. With clear skies I photographed the Ruby Range after sunset in the soft light of dusk and then headed back down the road to an open campsite above Ruby – Anthracite Creek for the night.

It seems there is always one red patch of trees located below The Dyke.

Below The Dyke

The Ruby Range at dusk.

The Ruby Range

I didn’t sleep very well overnight, but on Saturday morning I still woke up early and drove back over to the Horse Ranch Park Trailhead so I could hike to an overlook that I had visited earlier in the summer. I hiked through the dark by the light of my headlamp and arrived just in time to catch the early morning light that I was looking to capture. I was actually expecting to find other photographers at the spot when I arrived, but I ended up having the overlook all to myself. There is a great view of Marcellina Mountain and The Raggeds from the overlook and I enjoyed watching the sunrise from here. I even heard a few elk bugling down below me before the sun came up.

There was a nice view of Marcellina Mountain and The Raggeds from the overlook.

Autumn In the Raggeds Wilderness

A closer look at The Raggeds in the distance.

The Raggeds

While there was still a lot of green around, there were some nice yellows, too. I actually prefer the mix of colors.

Changing of the Colors

Looking down below from the overlook.

The Scene Below

Marcellina Mountain at sunrise.

Marcellina Mountain

Hiking back through the aspen forest.

Aspen Forest

I liked the contrast between the short and tall aspen trees here.

Short & Tall

I found a good spot to practice a little camera movement before it got too bright out…


Motion Sickness

Motion Sickness

It was a beautiful morning for a hike and I didn’t see anyone else on the trail until I was back at the trailhead.

Beautiful Morning For A Hike

Trail Colors

A view of East Beckwith Mountain as I neared the trailhead.

East Beckwith Mountain

After returning to my Jeep I continued driving over Kebler Pass and into Crested Butte. Then I followed the road along the Slate River, past the Oh-Be-Joyful Trailhead, and up to the Paradise Divide. Along the way I got stopped by a pair of Jeeps from Kansas that were parked in the middle of the road and had their recovery gear out. I couldn’t see what was around the bend, but someone told me that they had just pulled out a truck that was stuck and would be out of the way shortly. I assumed it was a pickup truck, so I was very surprised when a large box truck came driving around the corner a few minutes later! Apparently the driver of this truck was following his GPS up this road and had missed the sign about the steep and narrow road. When the truck and Jeeps were out of the way I finished the drive to the top and parked my Jeep at the pass so I could hike to the summit of Mount Baldy (12,805). I had actually wanted to hike this peak earlier in the summer but was turned away by closed roads at the time.

As I started hiking up the east ridge of Mount Baldy I had a good view back to Yule Pass and Purple Mountain (12,958).

Yule Pass

There was also a good view of Cinnamon Mountain (12,293) on the other side of the divide, which I had climbed back in 2012.

Cinnamon Mountain

Purple Mountain with the Paradise Divide below.

Purple Mountain

As I climbed higher up the ridge, Capitol Peak (14,130), Hagerman Peak (13,841) and Snowmass Peak (13,620) came into view.

Capitol & Snowmass

Once I reached the top of the steepest part of the ridge, there were still a bunch of ups and downs to get over.

Bumpy Ridge

Following the ridge to the summit of Mount Baldy, which is actually hidden completely behind that peak on the left.

Mount Baldy Ridge

As I was hiking up the ridge I started to smell smoke in the air and when I reached the top I was able to see thick smoke in the air over Gothic Mountain (12,625) around Crested Butte. It was most likely from the wildfires burning in Utah at this time.

Gothic Mountain

Even though there was a chilling wind this morning, the ridge walk over to Mount Baldy was nice and the views around were outstanding! Seriously, I would hike this peak again just for the 360 degree views!


There was a pretty good trail to follow that bypassed one of the higher bumps on the ridge.

Mount Baldy Trail

Finally, a view of the true summit! Capitol Peak is on the left in the background and Maroon Peak (14,156) is on the right.

True Summit

Soon I was on the summit of Mount Baldy, which makes this my 40th summit / highpoint that I have climbed this summer! Earlier this year I had made a goal for myself to try and climb 25 peaks this summer and I quickly blew by that number so I bumped it up to 35. It was nice to hit number 40 since this is probably my last summit of the year.

Mount Baldy Summit

Looking down to Paradise Divide as I hiked back down the ridge to my Jeep. The wind really picked up when I was hiking down from the summit.

Paradise Divide

After returning to my Jeep I drove back down to Crested Butte and over Kebler Pass again on my way home. I made one last stop at 133 BRGR in Hotchkiss for lunch and then finished the drive back home. Even though this was only a quick overnight trip, I think I was able to squeeze a lot in!

>> Autumn in the West Elks Photo Gallery


  1. Dianne
    Dianne October 15, 2018

    Such a rich, beautiful area. You did a great job capturing the golden phases of the aspen change. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing them in autumn. I agree that some green mixed in sets the gold off very well. I admire your tenacity to hike to places that are inaccessible to many. It takes a lot of effort to go farther out. Thank you for letting us enjoy the views.

  2. Debra
    Debra October 22, 2018

    Thank you for sharing. BEAUTIFUL photos.

Leave a Reply