“Columbine Cluster on Talus Slope”

Columbine Cluster on Talus Slope, Alta Lakes, SW Colorado (c) Mike Utley

Alta Lakes are a handful of small alpine lakes in the Uncompahgre National Forest near the town of Telluride in southwest Colorado. Perched above 11,000 feet in elevation, these tiny lakes epitomize the wild, rugged beauty of the Colorado Rockies. As I hiked near the lakes one summer afternoon in the late 1990s, I came across a talus slope at the foot of a cliff near one of the lakes. The broken rocks were painted with multi-hued lichen, and navigation of the slope was treacherous (these rocks were real ankle-breakers). Columbines clung to life amid the slabs of stone, and this particular cluster nestled precariously on the steep slope. The overcast lighting was perfect to enhance and saturate the already brilliant colors of the flowers and lichen and to eliminate harsh shadowsβ€”perfect lighting for flower photography. I like how the blossoms and leaves are separated along a diagonal line, and how the textures of the stones just seem to beg to be caressed. The contrast between the harsh, rough surfaces of the rocks and the delicate softness of the blooms and leaves is startling, and shows how tenacious life can be in high-altitude alpine settings. There’s a timeless feeling to this place, a silence that permeates the forest and peaks, an almost reverential hush in which these flowers exist but for a moment in the eternity of the embrace of the mountains. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

36 thoughts on ““Columbine Cluster on Talus Slope”

    1. I had to verify this was a talus slope and not a scree slope (another cool word–scree is similar to talus, only much smaller). This particular talus slope was dotted with columbine clusters and I picked my way across the slope to find one that appealed to me. Alta Lakes is a gorgeous place, but sort of difficult to get to. Even with my 4-wheel drive truck, I wasn’t able to return to a couple of the lakes on a different visit. It’s like being at the top of the world. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks so much, Grace. You know me and my love of columbines by now, eh? I always liked the textures and colors of this image, and the memories of that trip to the lakes are very pleasant ones. I’m happy to know you liked this one. πŸ™‚

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    1. It’s my pleasure, Filipa, and thank you for your kind words. I love columbines–my favorite flower–and I enjoy telling these small stories about my adventures with my camera. I’m pretty sure you’ve got a lot of stories of your own to tell of your explorations with a camera. All these memories are recorded and I can go back and revisit them and relive the experiences. Brings back happier times. πŸ™‚

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  1. Beauty can be found in the most unexpected places. Imagine the delicate flowers pushing through the jagged rocks. They probably know that they are the showstoppers. Haha! And you and your camera did full justice to them. The colors are popping out softly and the entire feel is so heavenly. Awesome work, Mike. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks, Terveen. I sort of have the feeling these flowers understand the beauty they possess, in a humble way, of course. πŸ™‚ This scene was rather breath-taking. The talus slop was steep at the base of a cliff face, with the small alpine tarn below. Lichen was everywhere, trying to compete with the columbines for attention. The air was crisp and redolent of the scent of trees and earth, with a hint of impending rain, and it was so still and quiet. You can’t get much more perfect than that. I look at this image and I feel a calming peace. I hope you do, too. Thanks for such a nice comment. I truly appreciate it. πŸ™‚

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  2. See how they bubble up with joy and strength amid rocks! Simply stunning. I always love seeing flowers, they often put a broad smile on my face. And these ones have come along with something else unique on top of that, a message. Indeed, nothing can stand in the way of hope. These flowers are a clear indication. πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘

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    1. Thanks, Lamittan. I’ve seen tiny flowers growing up through cracks in the sidewalk, but these columbines have taken that a little further, eh? It’s astounding how life fights and endures, even the most fragile of living things. I have photos of stunted juniper and pinyon trees growing on top of sandstone boulders in the desert. Now that’s tenacity and a single-minded approach to survival. I need to take a good look at those images again…perhaps I can learn a thing or two about hope and not giving up. This cluster of columbines certainly embodies hope. I’m so glad you could connect with this image and this theme. Thanks as always for your kindness, good sir. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words. It’s so hard to believe the Columbine shooting took place twenty-three years ago. I can’t look at one of these flowers or read that word without thinking about it. I can only hope the survivors have found their way at last and have healed as best they can. So, for me, there’s a bittersweet feeling surrounding these flowers, but their beauty and resilience offer hope. I feel bound to these flowers in some fundamental. way, and it’s hard to explain why. They’re so delicate and last for such a short time, but they exude such beauty. Much like life in general, I suppose. Thanks again for such a nice comment. Most appreciated.

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    1. Thanks a bunch, Mark. I was truly fascinated by this scene. It was as though some artist had spent a lifetime on that talus slope painting lichen on all the rocks. They just seemed to glow in the overcast lighting. Columbines will grab my attention anytime. I’ve always liked these “personal portraits” of nature. There’s so much detail in everything. You could take a magnifying glass to these rocks and never run out of details to ponder. It’s a beautiful area, and the lakes themselves are so small, nestled in the intimate confines of the mountains. On a later trip, I took my two young nephews with me (baby-sitter Uncle Mike) to the lakes and we were caught in a thunderstorm. The cannon-bursts of thunder were really loud. There’s a deserted “ghost town” in that area–remnants of the town of Alta–and the old Gold King Mine nearby. From what I’ve read, out-of-state owners are trying to develop the area for “rich people” residential housing. Leave it to the obscenely wealthy to destroy pristine natural environments…I hope they’re not allowed to develop this place. It’s unnecessary and more of a vanity project than anything else. Anyway, glad you liked this photo. It’s a gorgeous area to explore if you ever find yourself in the Telluride area. πŸ™‚

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  3. This is such a beauty Mike, you always capture it so perfectly. You must do a segment of how to take a picture perfect photograph in your blog, I’d love to learn it from you and I’m sure everyone else would love it as well 😁

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    1. Aw, thanks, Daphny! I’m glad you liked this one. I love columbines (I don’t think that’s a secret anymore!) and find them fascinating. This clump was holding onto the steep slope so tightly, and despite the harshness of the rocky environment, it still managed to appear beautiful. That says a lot to me about how we as humans should conduct our lives. We can endure this harsh world and still be hopeful and let our beauty shine. Perhaps I can write a post sometime detailing how I made a particular photograph. I love talking about this stuff. I’ll see what I can come up with, and hopefully it will lend some insight into the process I used when I was actively involved in nature photography. Thanks as always for being so kind. πŸ™‚

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      1. That is absolutely no more secret haha… I love that you are bringing us along in your journey and now I get why you adore the place so much. That my friend is quite an accurate comparison, I agree with you no matter harsh the world there’s still hope that shines through and this one picture is proof of that. I’d love that very much, it would make an amazing read and very much to learn from. You’re very much welcome! πŸ€—

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    1. Thank you, Xenia. Yes, they’re such a unique flower, so delicate and long-stemmed, and they seem quite tenacious at times when it comes to surviving in some difficult settings. To me, they epitomize the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Flower-burst meadows painted with a constellation of lavender and white stars… πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you kindly! I’m really fortunate to live so close to some incredible locales. My images are mini-time machines–they transport me back to the place and time the images were made, and the memories are so clear and enduring. I’m happy you liked this one. Much appreciated. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks, Cindy. Yes, that area is wild and the terrain is so rugged. Just getting there can be a challenge. But it’s worth the trouble, and it’s such a tranquil place, so quiet and still. There’s beauty in every object in every direction, and the tiny lakes feel so intimate as they snuggle up against the mountains. It’s a magical place indeed. πŸ™‚

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    1. Many thanks, Aaysid. I am such a push-over for columbines! Jeez… πŸ˜€ They’re gorgeous flowers and remind me of delicate stars lighting up a meadow (or in this case a talus slope). Thanks for your kind comment. I appreciate it so much. πŸ™‚

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