“Lone Cone & Wild Flowers”

Lone Cone & Wild Flowers, near Groundhog Reservoir, SW Colorado (c) Mike Utley

The Lone Cone is a local icon in southwest Colorado. Located in the San Miguel Mountains about 24 miles from the town of Telluride, its 12,618-foot cone can bee seen from many miles in all directions. It resembles a pyramid on the horizon, and was clearly visible from the farm on which I was raised in southeast Utah. It’s a favorite local attraction of mine and I have several images of this peak. This particular image was made just beyond Groundhog Reservoir, about an hour and a half from where I live. It was early summer of 1995 and the wild flowers (mule’s ears, monkshood and lupine in this case) were just beginning to proliferate in the mountains. This vast meadow leading to the Lone Cone was awash in yellow and purple, and the late-afternoon sun warmed the flowers and the peak while a host of perfect summer clouds caressed the the sky.

This image was selected by the Bureau of Land Management’s Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores, Colorado for the cover of an archaeology textbook and accompanying CD in the late-1990s. Art Director Wayne Rice used the image as a background and layered several graphic elements on top. The original cloudy sky was removed and replaced with a gradient fill to allow the text to stand out more effectively. I was given proper credit for the use of my photograph on the credits page inside the book.

Textbook Cover–Wayne Rice, BLM

In 2001, this same image was again chosen by the BLM’s Anasazi Heritage Center for a poster commemorating National Archaeology and Historic Preservation Month in May of that year. Once again, Art Director Wayne Rice replaced the sky with a gradient fill and added graphic elements to the image to convey some of the historic aspects of Colorado’s past. A total of 7,000 posters were printed for this project and distributed throughout Colorado. After the release of the posters, I was told that Gale Norton, then-U.S. Secretary of the Interior, had one of the posters on display in her office in Washington D.C. What a thrill this was for me! It’s next to impossible to see, but the last two lines in the credits at the bottom of the poster list my name as the photographer. As a perk for contributing to the project, I received five copies of the poster.

Poster–Wayne Rice, BLM

It was a pleasant experience to work with Wayne Rice at the Anasazi Heritage Center on these two projects, and I was honored to be recognized in the credits of both projects as the creator of the image. Seeing up-close the process of a single image making its way into a finished product was intriguing and satisfying. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“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 shadows—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)

“Cimarron Range & Fall Colors”

Cimarron Range & Fall Colors, Owl Creek Pass, SW Colorado (c) Mike Utley

M19-1(S)—Cimarron Range & Fall Colors, Owl Creek Pass, SW Colorado
Several years ago, while exploring the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado near the small town of Ridgway, I came upon Owl Creek Pass. The San Juan Mountains are spectacular as only the Rocky Mountains can be, and Owl Creek Pass was no exception. I’d never driven these backwoods gravel roads and had no idea what I’d stumble upon as I navigated the dusty path. As the evening sun stretched its warm rays across the landscape, I was greeted by the Cimarron Range, located near Silver Jack Reservoir. It was autumn and the fall colors weren’t at their peak, but the aspens tried their best to oblige this day, and the deep blue sky was eager for attention. The blues, greens and yellows played counterpoint to the serrated gray crags of stone, their striations glowing like bands of quicksilver. I like how some of the white aspen trunks are so prominent along the bottom of the frame, and the diagonal split (upper-right to lower-left) between the sky and the earth pleases my eye. Generally, I prefer clouds in a sky to add character, but this sky had such a unique depth and clarity to its hue that it has a fascination all its own. You never know what you’ll find off the beaten path, so when those gravel roads beckon, heed their call. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“Chimney Rock & Courthouse Mountain”

Chimney Rock & Courthouse Mountain, Owl Creek Pass, SW Colorado (c) Mike Utley

M20-1(S)—Chimney Rock & Courthouse Mountain, Owl Creek Pass, SW Colorado
Years ago, I was exploring near Ridgway, a tiny town in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. I had photographed the famous Sneffels Range prior to that and was driving along and noticed a sign that said “Owl Creek Pass.” On a lark, I took the road and sort of stumbled across this scene in the Cimarron Range. I’d never heard of Chimney Rock and Courthouse Mountain and was surprised I’d never seen it in any of my photography books, magazines or calendars (this was during my pre-internet days). It’s a startlingly majestic place. I was there just as the leaves were turning, but it was a bit early as far as capturing the brilliant fall colors of that area. This is a place I’d love to revisit to observe its changing personality during different seasons and weather. The San Juan Mountains are world-renown for stunningly beautiful landscapes that would take a lifetime to photograph. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)