Improbable Leviathan – The Kebler Pass Aspen Grove

April 21, 2013 ·

Miles Hecker

The Leviathan is a sea monster referred to in the Bible. According to the old testament, the Leviathan was created on the fifth day of creation. Originally God produced a male and a female leviathan, but lest in multiplying the species should destroy the world, He slew the female, reserving her flesh for the banquet that will be given to the righteous on the advent of the Messiah.

In recent literature, the word has become synonymous with any large sea monster or creature. The most famous leviathan of modern times is of course Moby-Dick.Moby-Dickis a novel by Herman Melville, first published in 1851. It is the story of the wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleshipPequod,commanded byCaptain Ahab. Ishmael quickly learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage, to seek out Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab’s boat and bit off his leg, which now drives Ahab to take revenge.

Then as now, the whale was a believed to be the giant of giants. The largest of all living things. Little did most people know, that the real giant was a hidden one. It is in fact Populus tremuloides. More commonly known as the Quaking aspen. A stand of aspen is in actuality only one very large organism. Aspens normally grow in large clonal colonies derived from a single seedling, and then reproduce and spread by root sucker. With enough sunlight, suckers sprout up from the roots. This process continues until a whole stand, of what look like individual trees, forms. The colony of root suckers are one, single, genetic individual, named a clonal colony. The clonal colony can cover 100’s of acres and weigh 1000’s of tons. A whale by comparison is a mere pipsqueak.

Imporbable Leviathin

The Improbable Leviathan

Aspen Canopy

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Kebler Pass, located in the West Elk Mountains of Colorado is home to one of the largest aspen groves in the United States. This aspen grove has been tested and found to be a clonal colony. It therefor grows from a single root system and is a single living organism. This hidden leviathan is ostensibly the largest living entity in the state of Colorado and one of the largest in the world.

From the landscape photographers point of view, it has one of the best displays of fall foliage found anywhere in the North American continent. This golden fall spectacle normally reaches its peak the last week of September. The easiest way to reach Kebler Pass is to take County Road 12 up from the resort town of Crested Butte. This road starts off paved and turns to a well graded gravel road just before it reaches Kebler Pass. It continues on over Kebler Pass and eventually descends to Colorado Highway 133 which is paved near Paonia Reservoir.

The photographic opportunities on the Kebler pass road are quite varied. The classic shot one sees from this area, is an ultrawide angle view, looking up through the canopy formed by the massive aspens that make up this grove. The best time to take this type of shot is late morning on a day with clear skies.

These aspens are particularly large, tall and healthy. A human walking among them feels dwarfed and somewhat like an ant. They are certainly not as big as the California redwoods, but the feeling you get walking amongst them is similarly to a stroll on the bottom of a redwood forest.

Be warned that much of Kebler Pass is at an altitude near 10,000 feet. If you are a flatlander, you will notice that the air is quite thin there. Altitude sickness is a possibility. If you feel at all ill, descend to a lower elevation and return to photograph another day. It takes more time for some people to acclimate than others. Only you know if you are having a problem.

The low humidity combined with the altitude result in a high evapotranspiration rate. Even if you don’t seem to sweat, your body will lose a lot of moisture through normal breathing. It is wise to carry a good supply of liquid and drink frequently. Don’t drink out of the streams as theGiardiaparasite is quite common in the mountains.

Kebler Aspen

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The Dyke

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Another of the classic shots found on Kebler Pass is a photograph of “The Dyke”. This area, located near the top of the pass, has several patches of Aspen which turn a brilliant red. This is unusual and stands in stark contrast to golden stands that surround it.

One thing I’m fond of doing, is taking a large telephoto lens, 500mm or so in focal length, and looking for small areas of the groves which make an interesting composition. This can be a bit tricky, but with practice, you can get the hang of it.

It is not unusual for the first fall mountain storm to occur during the period of peak color. The snow and temperatures as low as 20 degrees F. will create spectacular shots of golden hillsides blanketed in white. Unfortunately the next day the leaves will turn brown and drop to the earth.

To find more about fall color photo opportunites in the state of Colorado, check out ourColorado Fall Color Photoguide.



About Miles Hecker

Miles has been involved with photography for over forty years. He teaches digital photography at Casper College in Casper,Wyoming. His photos have won awards fromNatures Best magazine,, The Luminous LandscapeandWyoming WIldlife . Miles’ photos have been published in American Vignette, Backpacker Magazine, Natures Best Images, Popular Photography, Wyoming Audubon, and Wyoming Wildlife. He is co-founder ofWyoFOTO LLC.


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August 2012


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