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Cimarron Country Sunset

Cimarron Country Sunset, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Cimarron Country Sunset, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

I had first discovered this spectacular vantage point 2,200 feet above Silver Jack Reservoir, near Ridgway, two years earlier. The breathtaking view up the east fork of the Cimarron River toward 14,309-foot Uncompahgre Peak at the head of the valley had immediately captivated me. I knew from the map that sunset would probably work better than sunrise, but on my first two visits, in 2010 and 2011, sunset had been a bust. Reaching this overlook was always arduous, since it required packing in overnight camping gear, camera gear, and a gallon of water to a dry campsite high on the ridge overlooking the valley, but I was convinced that a great sunset shot was possible. I decided to try again in 2012 during a stormy period that brought frequent afternoon storms.

Dark clouds were gathering over Uncompahgre Peak when I arrived at my shooting location in late afternoon, but the sky to the west, where the sun would be setting in a couple of hours, was still clear. It was the ideal setup for landscape photography ‒ clear skies to the west, so the setting sun could illuminate the scene with golden light, and dramatic clouds filling the sky that just might ignite at the moment of sunset. But would such conditions persist, or would the clouds continue to build until they blotted out the western horizon, ruining the shot for the third time in a row?

I watched anxiously as the sun dropped lower and lower, shooting insurance shots whenever possible as the sun danced in and out of the clouds that began streaming in from the west. The color of the light became warmer and warmer, and the aspen in my foreground began to glow. As the sun touched the horizon, the aspen in front of me looked like they were on fire, and I shot furiously. One minute after the light left my foreground, the last rays of the setting sun turned the cliffs of Sheep Mountain a vibrant orange, and the clouds over Uncompahgre began to light up. Clouds to the west, out of my frame, lit up as well, bouncing a warm, diffuse glow onto the foreground aspen. When the light show faded, I hiked back to my nearby camp for a late dinner. The sky was completely clear at sunrise the next day, which meant the foreground aspen, still in deep shade, looked dull and muddy in the blue light. I didn't shoot a single frame that morning, but the trip had still been amply rewarding.

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