Monday, June 1, 2009

Waterfallin' In The San Juan Mountains

I've spent a good portion of the month of May in and around the San Juan Mountains (my "home range" here in southwest Colorado) searching for and photographing the many waterfalls present in this region. The month of May has proven to be an excellent time for this endeavor for two reasons. First, the spring melt swells the rivers and creeks to incredible volumes, transforming existing waterfalls to thunderous levels and creating seasonal waterfalls not present at any other time of year.

Basin Creek Waterfall (left) and a seasonal waterfall (right) in the La Plata Mountains

Second, the weather in the last half of May brought the premature arrival of the monsoon season, bringing thunderstorms to the area most every afternoon/evening. These thunderstorms bring the cloud cover that is vital for successful waterfall photography. If you've ever tried to photograph waterfalls on a bright, sunny day you know what I mean as the water becomes so bright that it becomes impossible to record the entire range of light within the scene. This forces a photographer to either blow out the highlights of the water or lose the details around the waterfall to deep shadow. Neither is a desirable alternative. With cloud cover the range of light becomes much more manageable and can be easily be captured with today's digital or film cameras. The only other option for shooting waterfalls (if cloudy conditions aren't present) is to do so either early in the morning or late in the evening when the subject is in full shadow or whatever light is present is very weak.

Treasure Falls Near Wolf Creek Pass

Concerning my little project of waterfall photography in the San Juans, I've come away with a few observations. While there are countless waterfalls in this range, only a small percentage of them are actually worthy photographic subjects. Part of this is due to accessibility issues as many require significant bushwacks or climbs up steeply sloped mountainsides to reach. To me, a bigger issue is simply the non-photogenic nature of many of these falls. Deadfall and scraggly brush often line the banks above and below many waterfalls detracting greatly from their esthetic value. Many others carve out deep, tree-lined gorges that offer few vantage points unless you're a billy goat!

South Clear Creek Falls Near Creede, CO

Despite these challenges, I still enjoy searching out and photographing these marvels of nature. Even if the photography proves difficult, there's nothing more relaxing to me than the sound of rushing water. I can spend an entire afternoon doing nothing but listening. If I come away with a good photograph or two...that's icing on the cake!

Lime Creek Falls Near Coal Bank Pass

For a more complete collection of the San Juan waterfalls I've photographed, click on the link below...

Waterfalls of the San Juan Mountains

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