Sunset Panorama from the Sneffels Range Overlook

Sunset Panorama from the Sneffels Range Overlook

Sunset Panorama from the Sneffels Range Overlook

I love maps, so I was delighted to discover a couple of years ago that the Ouray Trail Group had published an accurate, highly detailed and up-to-date map of the hiking trails in Ouray County and the Uncompahgre Wilderness, in the heart of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. As I studied their map, I noticed a place not marked on my Trails Illustrated map of the same area: the Sneffels Range Overlook. Intrigued, I spent a day scouting the area in the summer of 2020. As I had hoped, the overlook provided a spectacular view of Mt. Sneffels and most of the peaks of the Sneffels Range. A major bonus was the presence of expansive aspen groves in the valley below the overlook, which offered the promise of fall color. To top off the photographic potential, the valley ran downhill to the west, which meant late evening light would flood the valley. I made plans to return in late September when the fall color would be peaking.


The hike to the overlook is over three miles one-way, with about 1,800 feet of gain, so I decided to backpack in and camp for two nights just a quarter mile below the overlook. That would give me the opportunity to shoot two sunsets and two sunrises, greatly amplifying the odds that I would come up with a compelling image. There was no water anywhere near my campsite, so I planned to day-hike over to Blaine Basin on the second day and refill my water bottles.


I hiked in, made camp, and shot a mediocre sunset my first night. The following morning was equally mundane. I returned again the following evening, hoping for better luck. As the sun dropped toward the horizon, the shadows lengthened. The smoke from the summer’s fires had largely dissipated, but there was still enough haze in the air to make the sky around the sun intensely bright and to wash out the land. I shot several panorama sequences, but the contrast was extreme, and I wasn’t convinced I was capturing anything I could work with. Then the sun dropped below the horizon. The contrast softened. I waited. Slowly the swirling cirrus clouds filling the sky began to light up. I shot panorama sequence after panorama sequence as the color grew richer and richer. Sixteen minutes after sunset, the color peaked. Soon afterwards, it faded, and night began to fall. I walked back to my campsite, grateful I’d been granted the opportunity to make an exceptional image of an extraordinary place.