Larry Meckel has photographed thousands abandoned buildings and ruins throughout the area. He’ll display his photos as part of the “Ghosts of the San Juans” exhibit, which opens Sept. 21 at the Wright Opera House. (Courtesy photo)

Larry Meckel is an explorer at heart. With a doctorate of geology, Meckel spent most of his career in oil and gas exploration, and has tens of thousands of photographs highlighting geology and historic sites from around the world.

For his exhibit, opening at the Wright Opera House in Ouray on Sept. 21, he has curated a selection of his most intriguing photos of abandoned equipment and buildings in the local mountain landscapes. Titled “Ghosts of the San Juans,” the exhibit takes the viewer to remote destinations from jeeping and hiking trips enjoyed by the photographer and his wife, Barbara Meckel, over more than five decades.

“I’ve never counted my photos just on this topic, but I have literally thousands. I started photographing here when on vacations. Then, we bought our first house in Ouray in 1970, and most of my photographic activity took place after 1970,” said the semi-retired oil and gas consultant, who also taught 12 years at the Colorado School of Mines and continues to teach various subjects at other universities and community organizations such as the Wright.

His interest in photography was casual at first. Then, while at Johns Hopkins University in the early 1960s, he had to photograph outcrops and geologic features for his doctoral thesis.

“I also took photos of farms, trees, backlit weeds and other subjects, and I did my own developing and printing,” said Meckel, who used single lens reflex 35mm cameras until 2003 or 2004, when he switched to digital. “In the early days, I found I liked human interest photos and printing in black and white. I think my big breakthrough came in 1968, when I worked for Shell Oil Company in Denver and took a creative photography class at night at the University of Colorado in Denver. Jim Milmoe, a foremost photographer in Colorado, was the teacher, and he really did a wonderful job of helping us view things through the camera.”

Every week, students were assigned different subjects from children to sunrises and sunsets to photograph. One of Meckel’s favorite assignments was reflections.

Besides photographing geology, he realized he really liked old, abandoned farming and mining equipment. Throughout his travels, he “was always popping out of the car” to take photos of deserted work sites.

“The San Juans are really outstanding. A lot of the buildings, of course, are suffering and falling in from weather and snow, the elements. Some are still there and preserved. The Animas Forks area is really outstanding. That area, Placer Gulch and California Gulch, is really outstanding. Probably my two favorite photography locations are there and Silverton because of the old cars, buildings and train cars,” he explained.

The Wright photo exhibit contains photos from across the northwest San Juan Mountains, including above Telluride, Ridgway and Ouray. From Owl Creek Pass and Dallas Divide to Red Mountain Pass, photos produced from both his 35mm and his Nikon digital cameras reveal rusting, decomposing ranch equipment, mills, mining buildings, mining equipment, train parts, and abandoned cars and trucks.

“The photos in the exhibit are basically relics and artifacts of past history, all abandoned and not being used. I chose ones with interesting lighting such as early or late in the day or when storms were approaching. Some are from the first snowfalls in the fall,” he added.

“Ghosts of the San Juans” will be on display at the Wright Opera House, 472 Main St. in Ouray, from Sept. 21 until Nov. 9. An opening reception will be held on Sept. 21 from 4-6 p.m. Admission is free and refreshments will be served.