In two months I’ve explored more of this state than I had living here for two years. Now that I have a car decked out for camping and an insatiable thirst for adventure, I’m adding places to my Colorado bucket list even faster than I can check them off.
* FOGGY FOOTHILLS*
When we first moved back to Boulder in early August, it seemed the PNW fog followed us home. So, naturally, I took advantage… Whereas in previous lifetimes I would have stayed home on a rainy foggy day, now I know to grab my camera and head into the mountains.
* ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK *
One of the best perks of living in Boulder, CO is the proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park. Within an hour’s drive you can be cruising through epic landscapes, spotting moose, and hiking to various alpine lakes.
One Sunday I decided to do a little solo overnight camping trip to RMNP to get more familiar with the park. Highlights included driving along Trail Ridge Road at 12,000 feet in a crazy storm, watching elk cross the road, as well as a beautiful pink sunrise the following morning when it seemed like I had the park all to myself. I even saw a bull moose just ten feet away from my car as I made my way to Bear Lake to catch the sunrise glow.
Layers of pines during a storm. I was the only crazy person driving up as everyone else was driving down. It was worth it.A private sunrise in the park.
* A SUNFLOWER SUNRISE *
Sunflowers stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. A pink glow filled the air as the sun slowly poked a bright yellow hole in the sky’s giant canvas, illuminating thousands upon thousands of gold petals.
And there I was, ready, with my camera and tripod. Bleary-eyed from the hour’s drive at 5 am, mosquito bitten, barefoot, and absolutely stunned by the absolute beauty surrounding me.
* ASPEN, CRESTED BUTTE, and THE SAND DUNES *
An ambitious itinerary for a 3 night 4 day road trip, but we made it work. We found ourselves winding through jaw-dropping passes and lush valleys on a 2 lane road. Behind each bend was an even more stunning view. It was like I was rediscovering Colorado’s beauty with every rise and fall of the mountains.
Intending to catch an infamous Maroon Bells sunrise in Aspen, we pulled up in the parking lot of this beautiful place around sunset and ate a hearty (lazy) dinner of cured salami and aged cheese on the shore of the lake.
It was a frosty morning as we joined the throngs of tripod-wielding photographers the next day. Before our eyes the sun slowly lit up the Bells, first hot pink, then orange, and finally a pale yellow. Magical is an understatement
After that (near-religious) experience, we drove to Crystal Mill where we persevered in the heat of the day on an 8 mile hike to visit the eponymous Mill, which is basically a ramshackle wooden mill from 1892 perched precariously atop a waterfall in the middle of nowhere, along a crystal clear river. It’s become a very popular place in recent years amongst photographers, much to the chagrin of the local fisherman who seemed rather grumpy about all the silly tourists. It was awesome, but don’t go there. 😉
Onward we drove along the deserted but breathtaking scenic route to Crested Butte, where we indulged our smelly, dusty selves in pizza, burgers, a local stout, Blueberry-Chai flavored ice cream, and an actual camp ground called “Oh Be Joyful” along the Slate River in a beautiful green valley.
Crested Butte might just be my new favorite place in Colorado. For a ski resort town, it’s unparalleled beauty feels understated, modest somehow. The old western-styled town is adorable and has a chilled-out, slightly messy vibe despite the presumable wealth of its ski-obsessed residents.
The last leg of our trip brought us to a unique landscape in South East Colorado: the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. A truly amazing place that you just have to see for yourselves… From the floor of the high-altitude desert of the San Luis Valley rise the tallest dunes in North America, surrounded by the impressive Sangre de Cristo mountain range.
As we arrived, a dark storm was rapidly brewing over the dunes and before long we were stuck in the middle of a downpour. We waited it out in the car, snacking and feeling about as delirious as you would imagine after driving for 3 days straight. Finally the rain stopped and we took the opportunity to traipse around in the dunes (our glutes & calves paid the price the next day). We ended the day at a perfect little campsite overlooking the golden dunes and rested our tired butts by the fire until our eyelids grew heavy.
My favorite cabin near Twin Lakes, Colorado. Maroon Bells at sunrise. I was hoping for still water to catch a reflection but alas… next time! Crystal MillGiant aspen grove en route to Crested Butte. When I stopped to snap this photo a large coyote ran across the road in front of the car and we almost thought it was a wolf. Cute downtown Crested Butte. (also known as Crusty Butt) I just love this.Bison on Zapata Ranch, a beautiful nature preserve and working cattle ranch owned by The Nature Conservancy near the Sand Dunes. I abruptly pulled over and hopped out of the car to snap this raven (?) presiding over this moody landscape. Incredible skies bearing down on the sand dunes. One second it was pouring buckets, the next golden rays illuminated the dunes with a supernatural glow.Exploring the endless depths of the dunes.Luxe camp spot with a picnic table, bear box, fire pit, AND spotless bathrooms with running water. AND THIS VIEW. It was our last night so we decided to treat ourselves.Ben enjoying one of life’s greatest pleasures.Soft morning light in the dunes.
I hope you enjoyed this photo journal!