Historic Colorado photos: Donald Kemp’s gaping gorgeous landscapes

A Colorado landscape photographer documents natural beauty.

Snow covers the banks of a creek near Eldora in Boulder County, Colorado. Snow-covered pine trees stand on both sides of the creek. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-187)five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Snow covers the banks of a creek near Eldora in Boulder County, Colorado. Snow-covered pine trees stand on both sides of the creek. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-187) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Snow covers the banks of a creek near Eldora in Boulder County, Colorado. Snow-covered pine trees stand on both sides of the creek. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-187)

When he retired from the army in 1935, Captain Donald Kemp returned to Colorado, his home state, where he would produce an abundant collection of landscape photography.

An unidentified man stands in the background on a snow-covered ridge in Jasper Basin, west of Eldora in Boulder County, Colorado. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-54) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
An unidentified man stands in the background on a snow-covered ridge in Jasper Basin, west of Eldora in Boulder County, Colorado. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-54)

Before the smartphone era, when natural scenes seem almost permanent in pop culture, Kemp slogged out to mountaintops to capture scenic views that most people could only store in memory.

ALSO IN THE HISTORIC COLORADO PHOTO SERIES: Henry Mellon Rhoads | Sandra Dallas | Burnis McCloud | Charles Lillybridge

According to researcher Randel Metz at the Denver Public Library, Kemp became fascinated by the history of mining in Colorado. His new passion led him to publish several books on Colorado history and produce “rare documentation” of Gilpin County’s gold and silver mining operations.

An unidentified man rides a horse along the Jasper Lake Trail west of Eldora in Boulder County, Colorado. Circa 1922. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-306) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
An unidentified man rides a horse along the Jasper Lake Trail west of Eldora in Boulder County, Colorado. Circa 1922. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-306)

In feeding his curiosity with history Kemp developed his skill behind the camera and shot a ton of natural imagery, which was donated to the library in 1973. While much of his work features trees, lakes and peaks, his camera also captured the last era of pioneer life.

The Western History Collection has nearly 500 of his images in its collection. Also be sure to check out Randel Metz’ full collection of acclaimed western photographers.

View of Echo Lake near Mount Evans in Clear Creek County, Colorado; pine forest and narrow beaches surround the water. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-338) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View of Echo Lake near Mount Evans in Clear Creek County, Colorado; pine forest and narrow beaches surround the water. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-338)
Pine trees stand on a hillside in the foreground in this view looking north toward a ridge of mountains in the distance from Berthoud Pass on the border of Clear Creek and Grand counties in Colorado. Small patches of snow are on the mountains in the distance. Cumulus clouds form a thunderhead anvil in the distance. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-88) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Pine trees stand on a hillside in the foreground in this view looking north toward a ridge of mountains in the distance from Berthoud Pass on the border of Clear Creek and Grand counties in Colorado. Small patches of snow are on the mountains in the distance. Cumulus clouds form a thunderhead anvil in the distance. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-88)
SummaryJ. B. Rowley, left, and John A. Gilfillan, right, sit at a table in front of a log cabin, probably in Eldora, a mining town in Boulder County, Colorado. The two men were pioneers of the town in the 1890s. Rowley was a prospector and a small mine operator in Boulder County. Gilfillan was a mining engineer who staked a claim on the Clara Lode on Spencer Mountain in 1889. Circa 1939. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-302) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Summary J. B. Rowley, left, and John A. Gilfillan, right, sit at a table in front of a log cabin, probably in Eldora, a mining town in Boulder County, Colorado. The two men were pioneers of the town in the 1890s. Rowley was a prospector and a small mine operator in Boulder County. Gilfillan was a mining engineer who staked a claim on the Clara Lode on Spencer Mountain in 1889. Circa 1939. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-302)
An unidentified man on horseback herds a group of cattle down a dirt road, possibly in Gilpin County, Colorado. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-46) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
An unidentified man on horseback herds a group of cattle down a dirt road, possibly in Gilpin County, Colorado. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-46)
A tree with bare branches, possibly a Limber Pine, stands on a ridge near James Peak on the border of Gilpin, Grand and Clear Creek Counties in Colorado. The image is framed in a dark oval as a result of its being retouched. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-64) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
A tree with bare branches, possibly a Limber Pine, stands on a ridge near James Peak on the border of Gilpin, Grand and Clear Creek Counties in Colorado. The image is framed in a dark oval as a result of its being retouched. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-64)
An unidentified man on horseback herds a group of cattle down a dirt road, possibly in Gilpin County, Colorado. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-46) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
An unidentified man on horseback herds a group of cattle down a dirt road, possibly in Gilpin County, Colorado. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-46)
Houses stand along three main dirt roads in Gold Hill, a mining district about 12 miles northwest of Boulder in Boulder County, Colorado. Gold Hill was one of the first gold mining camps in Boulder County. By the 1950s, it was used mostly as a summer resort. The snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide stand in the distance. Circa 1939. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-41) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Houses stand along three main dirt roads in Gold Hill, a mining district about 12 miles northwest of Boulder in Boulder County, Colorado. Gold Hill was one of the first gold mining camps in Boulder County. By the 1950s, it was used mostly as a summer resort. The snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide stand in the distance. Circa 1939. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-41)
View of Main Street in Nederland (Boulder County), Colorado; shows false front businesses, pedestrians, and cars. Circa 1916. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-80) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View of Main Street in Nederland (Boulder County), Colorado; shows false front businesses, pedestrians, and cars. Circa 1916. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-80)
A rancher on horseback ropes a calf in a corral, probably at the Green Ranch northeast of Blackhawk in Gilpin County, Colorado. Circa 1940. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-255) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
A rancher on horseback ropes a calf in a corral, probably at the Green Ranch northeast of Blackhawk in Gilpin County, Colorado. Circa 1940. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-255)
Snow blankets the ground and pine trees near the mining town of Eldora in Boulder County, Colorado. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-32) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Snow blankets the ground and pine trees near the mining town of Eldora in Boulder County, Colorado. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-32)
Silver Lake stands in the foreground in Boulder County, Colorado, with a ridge of mountains in the distance. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-97) five points; historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Silver Lake stands in the foreground in Boulder County, Colorado, with a ridge of mountains in the distance. Between 1935 and 1950. (Donald Kemp/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/K-97)
ALSO IN THE HISTORIC COLORADO PHOTO SERIES: Harry Mellon Rhoads | Sandra Dallas | Burnis McCloud | Charles Lillybridge

Kevin Beaty

Author: Kevin Beaty

Kevin Beaty is a media producer with experience in a variety of settings spanning Hollywood film sets to international backpack journalism expeditions. He is on a never-ending quest to meld artful imagery, functional design and intimate storytelling. His biggest struggle in any given moment is whether to shoot stills or video.