Category Archives: Colorado

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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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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The Moment: Star Trails Over Western Colorado

Time lapse of the North Star over the Ute Lodge, near Buford, Colorado

(Click on image for a larger view).

The highlight of my trip to the Trappers Lake and the Flat Tops area was hanging out with my dad in a rustic, 400-square-foot cabin in the woods. I cooked up spaghetti with red wine sauce one night, and we polished off a bottle of Plungerhead — which plunged my head pretty badly the next morning, but man, it is such a good wine.

Sure, the lake was beautiful. Sure, the respite from the city was needed. But there’s nothing that compares to good conversation with a good friend over good food and good wine. It made the trip.

While we chatted, I set up my Canon 5D Mark II on a tripod outside the cabin and captured two 20-minute exposures of the night sky with a Canon 24mm f/1.4. This is a situation where the quality of this gear really comes through. Both the camera and the lens are remarkably clear when it comes to shooting the night sky.

 

Continue reading

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Trappers Lake – Flat Tops Wilderness, Colorado

A broad-tailed hummingbird feeds on a rosy paintbrush, White River National Forest, ColoradoClick on images for a larger view.

Summer’s end is fast approaching, which usually means two things in Colorado: luscious Palisade peaches are in season, and most of us are wondering whether we got into the mountains enough.

I started this summer with plenty in the way of mountain time, but they weren’t my mountains. They belonged to the Swiss, and they were ridiculously beautiful. But just recovering from the stresses of that trip meant a good three weekends in a row at home with our little family. By the time we unburied ourselves from the laundry, recharged our businesses, and spent adequate time with extended family, it was late July and I hadn’t seen the Rockies up close in months.

Continue reading

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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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Final Stop – Pagosa Springs, Colorado

The Springs Inn, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

To end the trip with fresh peaches, or to end the trip with hot springs? That was the question.

And an easy question at that. For 10 years now, I’ve been wanting to take my wife to Colorado’s best hot springs: The Springs Inn in Pagosa Springs. The only issue was its distance from Denver. A full six-hour drive. Hey, let’s do it together for the first time with a five-month-old, right?

In truth, it would be right on the way back from Mesa Verde, and rather than do the entire circuit in reverse (start in Pagosa, move to Mesa Verde, up to Telluride, back home through Palisade) we thought a long soak would be the proper conclusion to this road trip.

The Springs Inn, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Amazingly, nothing is close in this part of the state — at least by Denverites-with-an-infant standards. From Mesa Verde National Park it was two hours to Durango, and because of construction, another two hours to Pagosa. By the time we rolled into the Springs Inn, checked into our room, and changed into our suits, we were dying for some sulfur-mineral-water therapy.

Yes, that’s right: I said sulfur. These springs are delightfully stinky.

The Springs Inn, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

But as Hailey quickly found out (I’ve been a defender of sulfur for years because of this place), the big stink about the stink is simply overblown. For one, I think the smell has toned down over the years. Secondly, the high mineral content feels exceptional on the skin and has healing properties (and that’s not B.S. — I had a long skin ailment years ago that wouldn’t go away until I visited these springs. It’s been gone ever since).

The Springs Inn, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Six hours of tackling the hot springs in shifts was just what we needed, though it would have been nice to soak in the pools together after dark a bit more (ya know, little girl’s bedtime, someone’s got to babysit, etc.).

We’d need as much tension reduction as possible, because the next day was brutal. The six-hour drive took nine because of all the breaks Varenna required. The road trip had finally got to her, and her car seat had become her mortal enemy. But we rolled into Denver seven days, five peaches, four tanks of gas, one breakdown and 51 diapers later. It had been a remarkable trip, and as we found out, Southwest Colorado has remained the most remarkable part of Colorado.

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Mesa Verde National Park – Balcony House

Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The last day in Mesa Verde began with our last breakfast at the ARAMARK cafeteria. After this day, we’d at least have options for food, but up on the mesa, it was compromise, compromise, compromise. The day before we tried the “world-famous” Navajo Taco for lunch. It was an utter joke. For ARAMARK, fossilized shammy = flat bread. And I won’t even go into the toppings…

Despite the bleak food situation in the national park, we weren’t looking to skadaddle too quickly. The dwelling tours were captivating, and we had to complete the trifecta with a morning climb/jaunt/crawl/tour of Balcony House.

Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

While Cliff Palace overwhelms you with its grandeur, Balcony House moves you with its intimacy. There is no easy overlook off the road, no dramatic viewpoint on approach — just a nestled little community that you don’t really see until you’ve entered it via a 32-foot ladder. In fact, to leave the dwelling you have to crawl on your hands and knees through a narrow dusty passage before ascending two dramatic ladders back up to the mesa top. Not once do you have a stand-back-and-survey-the-whole-dwelling moment. It’s pretty cool because of it.

Upon entrance, to the right of the landing where the first ladder delivers you, is a small stone arch enclosing a pen of some kind (above). Archaeologists believe that the Ancestral Puebloans kept their turkeys in these pens, an ingenious construction that was part meat locker and part ADT security alarm. Spend any time among live turkeys and you quickly understand how frantic and nuts they are. If anything or anyone approached Balcony House, the turkeys would let the whole community know.

Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The dwelling takes its name from a 30-foot balcony attached to the second floor of one of the structures. You can see it in the middle left side of the top left photo of this blog post. Our ranger speculated that residents of the structure used the balcony as a hallway between rooms more than anything. Standing there, seeing 5-foot-9 tourists standing next to this balcony, you quickly begin to realize just how short the Ancestral Puebloans were. I asked the ranger about this, and sure enough, they averaged anywhere from 5-foot to 5-foot-3 in height, but then again, she noted, so did most people in 1300 AD.

Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

I’ll be honest: I’m not one for tour guides in any scenario. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that they show you a place in the way they want you to see a place. The focus of a tour is never in sync with my eye, and 75% of the information goes in one ear and out the other. It’s just how I’m wired.

Plus, I think there is something lost when your questions are answered. I know very little about Siena’s Duomo, about the history of the Pantheon, and about the symbolism of the Good Friday Parade in San Miguel de Allende — but I understand them in a very different way that is visceral, emotional and full of curiosity. That’s because I approached them through the lens rather than through a tour guide. I’m not saying my way is better than their way. Not at all. I’m just saying their approach doesn’t suit me.

At one point, the ranger scolded me for moving five feet to the right to take a photo while she was talking. She said it threw off her concentration. My first instinct was to feel bad, but in hindsight, I think it was a bullshit thing to do. Bullshit because the only way to see Balcony House is by guided tour. The least the guides can do is allow for silent periods of five minutes here and there so that you can process the mystery of a place, or see it with your own eyes. But in the end, they have 45 minutes to tell you everything there is to know about the Ancestral Puebloan people, and like I said, with me, a lot of that goes in one ear and out the other.

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