Category Archives: Mountains

Camping with Kids at Pearl Lake State Park, Colorado

Camping with kids, Colorado

Each summer as a kid, I could always count on at least one family camping trip to Pearl Lake State Park north of Steamboat Springs. It would usually be the highlight of my summer break. Deep in the woods where the cranes call at dusk and dawn —and the only thing that could wake you up at night was the call of a great horned owl — I found my family at its happiest. Dad could fish as much as he wanted, Ben could capture crawdads all day, Mom could look for birds or identify wildflowers, and I could venture off down the sawgrass-laden shore and play pretend.

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Backpacking in the Holy Cross Wilderness, Colorado

Savage Peak and one of the Missouri Lakes, Holy Cross Wilderness, Colorado

Halfway down a broken hill — where the trail under my feet was gnarled with roots and busted slabs of granite — I came to a realization of sorts: Backpacking was a coming of age. As a 20-year-old, I found an exercise in manhood. It required setting off into the wilderness with a backpack loaded up on essentials. It required a friend or two or three for companionship and shared endeavors. And it required that I dig a hole and poop in it when I felt the urge.

Welcome to manhood, Young Kevin. No wonder I was so in love with hiking and camping in the backcountry.

On that broken hill, it occurred to me that this not only explained why I embraced backpacking with such gusto back then. It explained the enthusiasm deficit I had experienced on this entire trip. From its inception to its conclusion, there was a lingering voice saying do I really want to do this anymore? It had been so long since I’d last done it (2007) and life had gone in such a new and exciting direction (fatherhood) … I just didn’t feel the desire like I used to. What was going on? Continue reading

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Photographing Great Sand Dunes National Park – Part 2 (Into the Dune Field)

Footprints in the sand, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

So I set forth into the Great Sand Dunes with 32 ounces of water and my camera backpack. Climbing into the dunes is an exercise in deception. The approach is easy — perhaps a quarter mile over tightly packed sands. The first incline is like a slap in the face. “Oh yeah. I forgot … one step forward, half step back in sinking sand.” Continue reading

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Photographing Great Sand Dunes National Park – Part 1 Medano Creek

Medano Creek, Great Sand Dunes National Park

(click on images for a larger view)

Colorado is having a lean year. Not in terms of the economy, or even sports (yes, the Rockies are a farcical shit show, but we now have Peyton Manning). No, I’m talking about the most important resource where we’re coming up short: water. The summer of 2012 has so far been eerily like the summer of 10 years ago when “all of Colorado was burning.”

Whether this year is worse or not depends on perspective. The most destructive fire in our state’s history is still burning, and there have been four deaths. Just yesterday, two new fires erupted in heavily populated areas. But in 2002, monster wildfires were everywhere: Durango, Glenwood Springs, the Flat Tops, Trinidad, Cortez, and the one we all remember, the Hayman Fire, which simultaneously put the suburbs of both Denver and Colorado Springs on high alert and remains the largest fire in our history. In the end, which year is worse doesn’t matter. Summers like this are humbling. Continue reading

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How to Photograph the Matterhorn

how to photograph the matterhorn

Imagine you took the world’s 50 most famous mountains — Everest, K2, Denali, Fuji — and put their image on a flash card. Now imagine that you’ve flipped through the entire deck and quizzed yourself. Could you name most of these mountains based on their profile alone? The unique silhouette they cut into the sky? Odds are, only two of those mountains would be gimmes. Kilimanjaro and the Matterhorn. Even Kilimanjaro might be a maybe, but the Matterhorn? Their ain’t another mountain on earth that rivals its facade.

On the train ride into Zermatt last summer, I had my back to the town as we rolled up the tracks. What I saw in reverse was the sight of every passenger leaning out the train windows seeking their first glance of the Matterhorn. At one point, I turned around, looked up the hillside, and bam: there it was. The sight of it made my heart skip a beat. I’m not kidding.

Photographing the Matterhorn is easy. Creating a unique image that hasn’t been done before … now that’s hard. Here are some things I learned on how to photograph the Matterhorn during my all-too-brief stay in Zermatt last June. Continue reading

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The Moment: New Year’s Day, Roxborough Park

Half moon, Roxborough State Park, Colorado

Roxborough State Park — located about 45 minutes southwest of Denver — has long been a favorite stomping ground for me, especially in the last 11 years, since my parents moved out that way. It’s quiet, filled with wildlife, and defined by a series of sandstone fins rising upwards of 175 feet over the valley. This is the same geological formation as Red Rocks Amphitheater and Colorado Springs’ Garden of the Gods, only it rises up from the hogbacks in a more hidden, lesser traveled part of the Front Range, making it more intimate and — in my mind — more spectacular.

I had very close friends from Tennessee visiting for New Years, and since we didn’t have time for a run up to Steamboat Springs — or any of the mountains for that matter — I opted to take them out to my parent’s house and walk into the park. As soon as we set off from the house, we were greeted by this scene, of the half moon positioned right in the midst of a formation we’ve always called The Molar. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as the Matterhorn eclipsing the moon, but it was cool nonetheless.

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Switzerland: Desaturated, and in Black and White

A banner cloud drapes around the summit of the Matterhorn near Zermatt, Switzerland.

(Click on images for a larger view)

I recently spent two weeks touring around Switzerland with my wife and our one-year-old daughter. It was a magnificent trip — one of those get-it-out-of-my-system-now kinds of trips while Varenna is young and portable. Ha! That’s at least what we thought when we booked the trip in January. She’s a bit more … mobile, shall we say.

But we had a very good time, and ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised with the images I returned home with. In the moment, we both were a bit distracted trying to keep our daughter entertained, engaged, and safe. We worked hard every hour of the trip, just not on photography. Or so it seemed.

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Fall Color at the Maroon Bells

The Maroon Bells in fall color outside Aspen, Colorado(Click on images for a larger view)

I’ve struggled to photograph the Maroon Bells in the past. Struggled because of two things: (1) everybody has photographed them and an original angle is getting more and more rare, and (2) they perfectly face to the east and, as a result, are often 2 stops more bright than their surroundings, making an even exposure especially tricky.

A six-month-old girl plays near the Maroon Bells outside Aspen, Colorado

But then my wife took our daughter there for a day trip this past October (I was attending the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism in nearby Snowmass) and she returned with a series of astonishingly original photos of the Bells. How did she overcome my two stumbling blocks?

Solution #1: visit the Maroon Bells with an adorable baby and let her eat the dirt on the shore of Maroon Lake — original photos abound — and …

Solution #2: visit in the fall when the sunlight is slanted and the exposure is more even.

The Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake in fall color outside Aspen, Colorado

Our daughter’s middle name is Autumn, and this being her first fall, well, it was especially meaningful to have the two of them join me in Snowmass for the conference. After the day’s sessions, I’d take Varenna off of Mom’s hands for a little bit, and go for a short jaunt through the aspens with her near the hotel. She’d squeal and kick with delight at being outside, at facing forward in the Baby Bjorn carrier, and at the sights and sounds and smells of the woods. She’s a Coloradan by birth, and already she is acting like one.

Enjoying the Maroon Bells in autumn, Aspen, Colorado

So when the conference ended and I had a little freedom to wander, we returned to Maroon Bells as a family and spent a few hours in the aspen glades and along the lake shore, watching a blizzard of leaves flutter over the lake as autumn had one last gasp before winter.

Close-up of the Maroon Bells outside Aspen, Colorado

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Graspin’ Aspen 2010 – Steamboat Springs

Since 2007, Hailey and I have made a special long-weekend trip in the fall to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Yep, the same Steamboat Springs that seems to grace every other post on this blog. I know. We go there a lot. However, it just keeps revealing itself to me in new ways, each time.

Each time we go there, whether its in July, the dead of winter, or even mud season at the tail end of April, this wholesome little cow-town with a massive ski resort glued to its hip seems to get more and more nuanced for us. With all due respect, I don’t think many other Colorado towns would stay fresh after so many visits.

This trip, however, had a different complexion to it, and that’s because of three ingredients: 1) our six-month-old daughter Varenna (now eight months old); 2) our good friends Tim, Lexi and their 19-month-old daughter Cora; and 3) our friend Jenny, who is expecting her first in March with her husband Matt, my best friend. This made September’s trip — dare I say it — a “family friendly adventure.” God, what a hideous cliche, but that’s the new reality. We get excited about places where our rambunctious little girl can be her most rambunctious, and playmates are an added bonus.

For the previous two falls, we’ve done this fall color trip with the Jordayzerton crew — the aforementioned folks, plus Stu and Shannon Kilzer. Unfortunately, this year, it didn’t quite work out that we could get everyone to come. Matt had a fencing tournament, and Stu and Shannon had a family emergency. Even the Lambertons had to head back early, but all was not lost. By Saturday afternoon, we did our traditional drive up Buffalo Pass to drink in the endless expanse of golden aspens that drape across the Zirkel Mountains.

We’ve had better years for color, in particular, the 2008 trip when every tree was 100% vibrant yellow, gold and red all at the same time (must have something to do with the dry spell we’ve had since July). But whatever we lacked for in this trip was made up for by our two girls, Varenna and Cora.

Their curiosity and enthusiasm for being outside was infectious. Varenna even figured out what my camera does. At one point while she was in the Baby Bjorn carrier, we ran down a road while I held the camera out and fired shots back at the two of us (third from top). She quickly picked up on how her face appeared on the camera back, which inspired only more giggles. Daddy’s little girl …

Tim and Lexi parted ways with us from Buffalo Pass, with their Saturday night of driving back to Denver in front of them. Through Monday, it was just us and Jenny, hanging out at the condo, going for walks, and letting Varenna explore things like aspen leaves with her fingers … until they ended up in her mouth. Such is travel with an infant, but if this weekend was any indication of the future — of seeking out other kids, other new parents, and laid back activities like going to the bookstore for two hours — that’s fine with me.

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Telluride, Colorado – Part 2

Wilson Peak and a series of barns near Telluride, Colorado
Before sunrise, I was awake, packed and bundled up for first-light photography of Wilson Peak. Located just southwest of Telluride, this perfectly sculpted mountain has graced its fair share of Coors commercials, and for good reason. Few mountains embody the drama of the Rockies better.

Sunshine Mountain and Lizard Head Peak near Telluride, Colorado

I knew of one good vantage point — Sunshine Campground, located just off Highway 149. But from that angle, the peak is a bit tucked back and not nearly as dramatic. So, I decided to head to the Telluride Regional Airport, which is situated on a plateau across from the peak. As light crested the San Juan Mountains, I headed up the winding road, passing one drool-worthy/scorn-inducing estate after another.

Wilson Peak and a barn near Telluride, Colorado

My only problem was that the foreground was still obscured in a long shadow, which limited me to my long telephoto lens, a fixed 200mm. And while I got some great shots — like the second image in this post as well as this one of Wilson Peak — my composition opportunities were limited. So, off the plateau, and up to Sunshine Campground, a good 20 minute drive. By the time I got there, my coffee was gone and that rush hour into Telluride from points south was in full force. I’d shoot some and then return to the airport road … I’d seen some awesome barns along the route that I wanted to work with.

Wilson Peak and a barn near Telluride, Colorado

In 2002, Hailey and I camped at Sunshine Campground in the middle of Colorado’s worst wildfire season on record. Two weeks earlier, we had unwittingly rafted into the out-of-control Coal Seam Fire in Glenwood Springs with my parents just as it roared over a ridge and down toward the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers. Stranded, the four of us spent the night at a family friend’s place in Carbondale before heading over Independence Pass the next day, only to see the volcanic-like plume of smoke coming from the Hayman Fire, which was on its second and most destructive day. That evening, my parents’ house in southwest Denver was put on notice for possible evacuation.

The base of Cornet Falls, just outside Telluride, Colorado

Their status was in limbo for five weeks as the Hayman Fire advanced, retreated, spread, double-backed, exploded, and played tricks on fire forecasters. To this day it was the most unsettling summer I’ve experienced.

By the time our Telluride camping trip arrived, the Missionary Ridge Fire in Durango had flared up, casting haze all over Southwest Colorado. Governor Bill Owens got flack for saying that “all of Colorado is burning,” but there was some truth to it at the time. No matter where you went in the Rockies that summer, you found smoke.

On a personal note, something was burning a hole in my pocket on that trip — an engagement ring. I’d saved for it, I’d asked Hailey’s parents for permission, and I was going to pop the question regardless of the haze and smoke, probably on our hike into the Mount Sneffels Wilderness. But I didn’t quite get that far — on a short 1-hour hike to Cornet Falls (above and below), I popped the question.

Cornet Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, both near Telluride, Colorado

So after I shot a bunch of images of the barns and Wilson Peak, I returned to the New Sheridan to meet Hailey and Varenna for the journey to Cornet Falls — a nostalgic must for us. We set Varenna in the Baby Bjorn and made the steep but short climb to the burgundy box canyon falls. Varenna giggled, flailed her arms and kicked repeatedly, as she usually does on hikes. But I took it as a sign of something more cosmic. Here we were, returning to the falls for the first time since that amazing moment, and we were bringing our child — and she was thrilled to be there.

Moments after reaching the falls, Renna fell asleep. It was a very sweet sight … curled up on Hailey’s lap, with blue socks on her hands to keep them warm. Eight years had passed since the proposal — a lifetime it had seemed — and now things were advancing even faster with the trajectory of Varenna’s life and development. We hiked back out, and she awoke with smiles as we passed the creek.

The Sneffels Range and a chairlift as seen from Telluride Mountain Resort, Colorado.

We wrapped up the Telluride portion of our trip with a ride up the gondola to Mountain Village for pizza in an empty piazza. American ski resorts and their phony European charm are rather hilarious places to be. However, I must say, on this day, the San Juan Mountains surrounding Telluride and Mountain Village looked a little like the Dolomites. With the gondola speeding over the piazza, with our waiter actually being Italian, with a glass of cold red wine on a warm day, could it be?

Nah….

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