Tag Archives: Rocky Mountains

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

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mesa Verde National Park – Cedar Tree House and Long House

(Click on images for a larger view)

Mesa Verde National Park has long been on my list. Located near the Four Corners and home to an extensive network of abandoned dwellings from the Ancestral Puebloan Indians, it is a magical place I should know well. After all, it is in Colorado and its an UNESCO World Heritage site (so is Macchu Piccu, the Roman Coliseum, and the Pyramids of Egypt).

But time and distance had conspired in my head to keep me from going. Why? It is 8 hours by car from Denver … so is Billings, Montana.

I last visited when I was two years old. Naturally, that shouldn’t count as “having been there.” However, one of the earliest memories of my life is from when we went into the kiva at Cedar Tree House (below). I think it stands out to me because we descended a ladder into a hole in the ground. That’s got to mess with your head when your that young.


So we arrived at Mesa Verde after another long afternoon in the car. Varenna had slept for much of the uneventful journey, but by the time we weaved through the emerald gambel-oak forest that covers the mesa just inside the park entrance, she was kicking and screaming. Emotionally, I kept feeling like we were being selfish for going on this trip, but the wonderful thing about six-month-olds is how short their memory is. One stop, one good break to roll around on a blanket, and everything is right with the world again.

After checking into the underwhelming Far View Lodge (run by ARAMARK, a hospitality company that only works where it has no competition: like stadiums, national parks, college campuses, etc., explaining why the standards for food and bedding are so low), we gently buckled Varenna back up and drove 20 minutes south to see the only dwelling we could reach before sundown — Cedar Tree House (left in second photos above), considered the best preserved dwelling, and home to the reconstructed kiva that you can climb down into.

By the time we reached it, however, it was closed for the day, gated off across the grotto, with a phalanx of 50 to 60 vultures watching vigil over it from the trees above. It appeared that a forest fire had at one point reached the top of the dwelling and been beaten back. The sky burst into lavendar and pink, and an eerie silence permeated the whole scene. No wonder the Ute Indians didn’t like this mesa after it was abandoned. There was definitely a haunted vibe. The only sign of life came from a family of turkeys on the rocks above the dwelling who humorously chased the vultures.

The next day, we traveled to Wetherill Mesa, which practically comprises half the park but only sees 20% of the park’s visitors. There we took a hiking tour to Long House with a nasally, patronizing guide who — despite her smarter-than-you tone — provided an impressive amount of information on the Ancestral Puebloan Indians, their way of life, and their subsequent disappearance from the mesa. Long House was especially fascinating because of the seep spring at the back of the dwelling, which filled cups chipped into the stone drip-by-drip (above right). How they were able to keep the entire population of the dwelling hydrated off this meager faucet is mystifying, amazing and admirable.

There was also an amazing structure hanging above the dwelling (below), apparently reserved for food storage.

Taking photos on a guided tour can be a little awkward (“uh-huh, uh-huh <click> … I’m listening <click>”) but its the only way to gain access to the dwellings, and for good reason. They would certainly get trashed (accidentally by the klutzy and intentionally by the greedy) if they weren’t heavily policed and patrolled. Even backing up to frame a shot, I had to be careful not to bump into an ancient brick wall.

Maybe if you gave tours to people like me, you’d take on a patronizing tone over time.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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….

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Time Out … Fall Color Preview


Going to briefly interrupt the Southwest Colorado trip with a quick preview of this past week’s trips to Steamboat Springs, Snowmass and Aspen for fall color in the Rockies. We usually have an autumn trip to Steamboat, but this year we added another to the middle part of the state. It’s pretty cool when you can compare and contrast fall color locales in the span of a week. Steamboat was a bit past prime, and a little less vibrant than previous years (but still gorgeous), while Vail (which we only passed through) had all the colors of the aspen spectrum.

We were in Snowmass so I could attend the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism. I spent much of the time in conference rooms, banquets and exhibit halls, while Hailey and Varenna got to explore. By Friday, however, I was liberated from the indoors and allowed a few hours to see Maroon Bells (above), the most famous mountains in Colorado, if not North America. They were stunning.

More to come … but first I’d like to plow through the rest of Telluride, Mesa Verde and Pagosa Springs.

And for the record, after these past three months, I am more in love with Colorado than ever before.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Telluride, Colorado – Part 1

The New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride, Colorado(Click on images for a larger version).

There is something to be said for living in a fantasy world. Check that: there is something to be said for visiting a fantasy world … for a few days.

Telluride defies description — at least one without hyperbole. Such as “the prettiest town in the United States.” (OK, there. I said it.) But for all of its majestic grandeur and quaint homeliness, it is a not a place that one would call “down-to-earth,” “approachable,” or “realistic.” We toured an open house — a 2500-square-foot Victorian two blocks off main — that was going for $3.2 million. I witnessed a morning rush hour on quiet little Lizard Head Pass that consisted of commuters driving in from Rico (28 miles south), and maybe even Dolores (67 miles south) — all flocking to this enchanting little town to work in the wine bars, day spas and five-star hotels. How this community functions is a bit of a mystery, but it does function. It functions magnificently. I want to go back. I’d put it on top of my U.S. destination list all over again.

Hotel room in the New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride, Colorado

And incredibly, in late August, it wasn’t too steep. We stayed at the New Sheridan Hotel on Main Street (that’s Varenna in our room, above) for less than $175. In the middle of winter, that would go for about $335. We ate a superb dinner, one of the best meals of the year, at 221 South Oak Restaurant for the same price as pretty much any nice sit-down restaurant in Denver. Hey: we were on vacation. Why not? And when you consider the crappy room we paid more for in Mesa Verde (not to mention the regrettable $13 “Navajo taco” Aramark doled out there), Telluride seemed like — gasp! — a great value.

Main Street in Telluride, Colorado

Still, this thought about people actually living there would not leave my head. Maybe it was because the night before, while eating dinner in an empty dining room at the Chipeta Sun Lodge, I told Hailey I could retire to Ridgway. It is gorgeous there as well, but it also felt cozy, livable, and … realistic. Telluride? It just didn’t add up how you could get to a point in your life where that was attainable.

Full moon over Telluride, Colorado

But ask me now what the highlight of our late-summer trip was, and I wouldn’t hesitate. It was this place. I’m a sucker for massive mountains, waterfalls spouting off in every direction, lush greenery everywhere you go. I like my scenery without subtly, and if I can have a medium-rare elk chop with asparagus and lingonberries for dinner beneath that landscape? Sold.

Panorama of Telluride, Colorado under a full moon(Hello, I’m a great big panorama … click on me for larger version)

Night one concluded with an amazing scene on Main Street. A full moon rising over the San Juan’s at the end of the valley. It was one of those stirring scenes you can’t turn away from. They happen all the time in Colorado, but this one was especially gripping. I stood out in the middle of the street with my camera on a tripod, firing off exposures trying to get it just right. Trying to put in perspective the magnificent beauty of these mountains … until a drunk stumbled out of the New Sheridan and asked me for a good burger.

Like I said … it’s nice visiting a fantasy world for a few days.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ridgway, Ouray, Red Mountain Pass and Dallas Divide

Despite our unfortunate auto mishap outside Delta, we were able to recover our vacation in quick fashion, and it was a good thing, too. It had been since 2002 that Hailey and I had traveled to this pocket of the state, and without a doubt in my mind, it is the finest corner of Colorado. Look at a map, and draw an imaginary circle from Ridgway to Red Mountain Pass to Lizard Head Pass. That’s the spot. It is simply sublime, and unfortunately, we don’t swing through these parts too often.

Our evening in Ridgway was spent mostly at the Chipeta Sun Lodge, a fantastic adobe inn where Varenna got back into her rhythm. She took a bath, ate some pears, and rolled around on a blanket for a few hours … exactly what she needed.

The next morning, we walked around the downtown, a sleepy but interesting place which continues to milk the fact that True Grit was filmed here in 1968 (turns out the Coen Brothers and Matt Damon have remade the film and it will be released around Christmas … ummm, awesome). It was brisk and soggy, and any opportunity to photograph my favorite mountain in the state — Mount Sneffles, seriously, what its called — was foiled. But we were soon on the road back to Montrose to retrieve our repaired car, and soon after, we reached Ouray, one of Colorado’s most phenomenal towns.

Situated in a box canyon, Ouray is the best place to get an introduction to the San Juan Mountains. You get a taste here, and then you can dive in for the more amazing scenery in pretty much any direction. Chocolate- and burgundy-colored cliffs rise to the west and east, and U.S. Highway 550 switchbacks up a steep slope to its south. Two waterfalls pour into the town; one visible, the other nestled in a box canyon just on the outskirts. We found an incredible little taco stand on Main St. and ate lunch al fresco with the locals. After wandering the downtown for half an hour, we hopped back in the car and opted to press on further south. This trip was increasingly about filling in the blank spots on our map, and for Hailey, Red Mountain Pass was a drive she’d yet to experience.

Just beyond Ouray, the highway twists and turns up a seemingly convoluted course until its two lanes are clinging to a cliff side. This drive is hell in a snowstorm, and I hope I never have to experience it. In fact, there is a memorial here to three snowplow drivers — Robert F. Miller, Terry Kishbaugh and Eddie Imel — who died from avalanches while servicing the road. Even in summer, its sketchy, but the stunning vistas and overflowing waterfalls make it absolutely worth it.

Above the most dangerous stretch, the highway weaves passed a creek stained with ore (below). Just beyond is Red Mountain (pictured above), a massive lump of a mountain with a magnificent red stain on its bare face. Yes, this place was heavily mined, and I would have preferred to see it before it was touched by industry, but nonetheless, it is still a majestic and wild place despite the occasional mine heap.

Already we were pushing the limits of Varenna’s patience in the car seat, and we still had to double back to Ridgway and wrap all the way around to Telluride for the night. Beyond Ouray we passed emerald ranch land speckled with hay bales, and soon after Varenna fell asleep, we climbed up Dallas Divide, my favorite stretch of scenery in the state.

The conditions weren’t quite what I was hoping for. Spreading out for miles is Ralph Lauren’s ranch, an incredible piece of rolling property covered in aspens and gamble oak that lead up to pine forest and eventually the broken summits of the Sneffels Range. It’s these mountains that are often used as the hallmark of Colorado. They’re massive, rugged, daunting and yet pleasantly green and purple in color — a nice dichotomy that pretty much sums up the Rockies. But on this day they were draped in clouds. I would have to get that ideal shot of the Sneffels Range another day.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 845 other followers