Independence day. The perfect weekend to get away and go spend some time in the great outdoors. Right? Well, unfortunately for us, everyone else thought the same thing. This time we headed to the Wildflower Capital of the world or the universe or whatever; Crested Butte. Planned this trip kind of last minute. I was planning to go somewhere and wasn’t exactly sure where but when my buddy was down to go chase some epic sunsets and mountain views, we decided to set our compass west, down 285.
Loaded up the 4Runner with my pup, Nakota and all our gear. Keeping gear organized is so crucial for me. I typically have most of my stuff organized in bins and a few backpacks and try to load it in a way that allows me access to the important stuff as i’m driving. For example, keeping the cooler near to the back window because I know i’m going to stop at the store on the way out of town for food, beer and ice. Also, when I load my bike on the hitch, it prevents me from opening the hatch. So, that is kind of a pain, but luckily I can roll down my back window and access the cooler without opening the trunk. Other little things like having a bin for the kitchen and another for clothes or gear…
Otherwise, I keep my camera gear right behind the driver seat so I can access that if we are driving into town and need to stop and take a photo of some some peak being lit up at sunset. Speaking of that, just do yourself a favor next time and stop the car if you see something like that. We experienced exactly that. Mt. Crested Butte was lit up at sunset as we were rolling into town and I kept wanting to stop but knew that it would be worth it to just catch sunset at camp. Little did we know, everyone and their mother was out there at every spot we checked, sparkler in hand and happy as could be. We, however, did not have sparklers and were not happy as can be. Because there was no where to camp. I swear we drove down every road on Kebler Pass and every spot was taken. After about 2 hours of driving and trying to turn around on tight dead end roads, we did find camp. Along the way, we caught sunset at Lake Irwin which was pretty rad. I think the view points along the way up there was the best part.
We woke up in the morning, cooked up a few pounds of Bacon, some coffee and hit the road. We were aiming to find a better spot with a view and plan out the day to do some hikes and maybe catch sunset. We drove down the pass and it was just flooded with cars looking to camp. Kinda insane. We passed this one spot that required us to cross a couple rivers that were fairly deep and navigate some 4×4 terrain. That’s how desperate we were to find something. Luckily, we were able to find the perfect spot and have base camp for the next few days. After all of that effort, driving a few hours to Crested Butte and searching a while for a spot, we decided to crack a cold one and kick back. It was nice that we didn’t have to worry about that anymore. We took the ole Camp Scrambler by Juiced Bikes out for a rip and had a blast riding some of the trails around camp.
Around 5:30, we decided that it was time to head out and catch an that sunset we drove all the way out here for. There was this lake that I had researched called Lost Lake. Which is also a fun little venue off East Colfax in Denver but that is not the destination we were heading to this time. This one was an alpine lake that you can park right at and get some amazing views. We got there a little bit before sunset but timed it perfectly to scout the area and figure out where we were going to shoot sunset. We found this perfect little spot with a nice reflection of East Beckwith Mountain and a nice tree trunk in the water. We still had some time before sunset and wanted to ride the bike so we stopped at the car and had a great little session ripping this curvy hairpin road. I kinda have a weakness for those curves. After a few laps we then headed out to capture these peaks that were currently going off!
One of my favorite techniques in photography is HDR. It’s a fairly easy way to make super unique photos and you can implement it in everything from real estate, sunset or night photography. Basically, whenever you can see everything but the camera can’t. For example, like the inside of a house. You can see out the windows but unfortunately a camera would blow out the windows if you were trying to shoot the interior. Well, you can set your meter on your camera to bracket your shots to shoot at multiple exposures of the same photo. Can you tell a difference between the photo at the top of the page and the one with me in it above this block? The top one was shot with HDR and this one was a single shot. Which you can still capture a great photo with a single shot. Its just when it gets darker, it’s nice to be able to capture exactly what you are seeing. It allows you to pull more of the foreground while not blowing out the sky and also capturing all of those deep hues. Luckily, with lightroom you can pull some of the shadows and drop the highlights and that will also enhance those photos a bit.
Make sure you are set up on a tripod and have your camera set to high speed continuous while bracketed and then just hold down the shutter until all 3 photos are taken. Now, one will look way too bright and one entirely too dark but this is where the magic happens. You will need to import the RAW files to lightroom. From there, you select all 3 photos that you want to use and right click- photo merge – HDR. It will then process the images and you can start having fun editing the shot and making it your own. There’s a couple tips. If you use Deghost in the HDR screen, it will adjust any movement in the shot from trees moving…etc. However, the photos should always be aligned. If they are not, it’s very likely that you moved the camera and you need to find which shot is different and remove that one.
The next day we got up and decided to hike up to some waterfalls by this campground we found. It was an interesting trail because you can walk along the river from above and that will zig and zag up the mountain and overlook the falls or you can take the main trail which is more inland. I guess we didn’t do enough research on where the best falls were on the trail so we decided to use technology to scout and also take some aerial photos. We flew the drone around searching for what looked like the biggest drop since a lot of the waterfalls were more at an angle and just flowing down the rocks. We found this spot that looked like there were 2 or 3 falls and it didn’t seem far. So we headed that direction and had to scale down this clif side. We got down to the base and took in the beautiful scene in front of us. It was kind of dark down there and perfect for dragging the shutter a little bit and getting the milky look to the shot. I actually didnt have an ND Filter which would allow you to shoot these falls way easier. But i was able to kind of manipulate the camera by opening up the aperture to F22 and ISO 100. Having settings like this allowed me to drop the shutter to .5 seconds and get some of the milky look to the water. If you have an ND filter you can drop the shutter much longer and not have to shoot at such a high aperture. I had chacos on so I was able to hike into the river and take some photos while also trying to keep some feeling in my feet. We continued on the trek exploring a couple other waterfalls until we made our way back.
I think every time i go on a trip, i bring a skateboard. I’ve always loved riding and finding the most epic roads to skate on. It’s nice to hop out and take even a couple turns down some mountain passes. I’m riding the Loaded Tan Tien in this pic. Its a solid board for cruising, doing some tricks and also an ideal size for throwing in the car and not having it take up a ton of space. Riding roads with beautiful scenery is one of the best parts of skating these days. Taking in the world around you and just living in the moment. Always worth the stop.
We made our way back to camp. Set up my CVT Tents – Mt. Hood and cooked up some bomb food. I think i cook better in the mountains than I do at home. Or maybe it just tastes better because you feel like you have earned your meals! We cooked up some sweet potatoes, asparagus and mushrooms with chicken and it was incredible. I use a Camp Chef Everest Grill. Great 2 burner stove that connects to propane and a cast iron skillet. Also a jetboil is super clutch for making coffee, soup, mashed potatoes or whatever else you can imagine up with it. May have even given Nakota a few pieces of chicken. I mean, it is her buzz word. Gotta spoil that good girl for hiking and being the best adventure pup out there @nakota_wild.
We decided to call it an early night so that we could wake up for sunrise. Packed up camp and went out to Lake Irwin again. We didn’t get the nice colors we were looking for. But the peaks did light up and it was still pretty spectacular. I really enjoy the 30 minutes before sunrise which required us waking up at like 4 to get out there in time. That’s the tough part with trying to get unique shots. You put in all this effort and sometimes you don’t always get what you’re looking for. However, it pushes you to find different perspectives and sometimes those do in fact turn out pretty nice. We then headed back to the car and cooked up breakfast. Used some left over veggies, some spicy chicken sausage and cracked a few eggs in there and that was exactly what we needed to recharge and kick start our day.
Wait….! What about this being the Wildflower Capital of the entire universe!? That’s what we said a ways into the trip but we hadn’t seen many! You know, a few here and there but we didn’t see them like we thought we would. That was until Snodgrass Mountain. This place was littered with wildflowers! Columbines, Lupines, Indian Paintbrushes, and a bunch of other ones i didn’t know the names of. We hiked about 6.5 miles and it was pretty amazing. Views of the town and Mount Crested Butte were spectacular. The weather was perfect. It was a little spicy but definitely nice having some of that cool mountain breeze occasionally.
We then started the descent back down the mountain. We got back to the car and chopped a watermelon in half and mashed that. That was honestly the most refreshing way to end a hike. My buddy ended up hitting the road back to Denver and I decided to press on for a bit longer. I just never want the adventures to stop… I made the wild drive up to Emerald Lake. It wasn’t too bad of a drive but you for sure need some 4×4 in certain parts and it also gets super narrow at times with massive drop offs on the left side up, which makes it a little sketchy when other cars are coming down.
Luckily, I had a few other cars in front of me which made it kinda fun trekking up the pass together. I love doing rad off road trails like this. A little technical but also very fun and super scenic. If you dont have a car that you think will make it, there are a few spots that you can park and hike the remainder of the way. You should be able to make it to at least the second parking lot which brings you with in a couple miles of the lake. Total drive to the lake is only about 9 miles from Snodgrass TH in town but well worth the views at the top. You can take the lower lot and park down at the lake but i would definitely recommend either driving or hiking to the upper trail as well. The water really glows blue from up above! Also, isn’t it kind of mandatory to jump in water this pretty!?
After exploring the lake, I had to make a decision what to do next. I was planning on staying in Crested Butte for another night but also was thinking that it would be nice to get back home and sleep in my bed and relax the next morning. But where’s the fun in that? I was looking at my map and noticed that taking the route north through Buena Vista on my way home rather than taking 285 would allow me to stop at Twin Lakes for the night. Since it was a Sunday, I figured it wouldn’t be too busy and i could get a pretty epic spot.
Sure enough, I pulled in and had a plethora of camp sites to choose from. Colorado weather is so wild at times. I swear it was sunny, raining, super warm and a massive double rainbow stretching over camp. All at the same time. But you know what they say, “If you don’t like the weather in Colorado, wait 10 minutes.” So true. With in minutes it was supper sunny, the rain stopped and the rainbow stayed. It was absolutely beautiful.
Spent the night listening to music, riding the bike around some of the local trails with Nakota and taking in this magnificent view. Solo nights are much needed occasionally. Especially out in the mountains with your wolf pup. Great way to reset and focus your goals on things that are only going to make you improve and be better. Be the best version of yourself and never settle on anything.
Woke up to a beautiful sunrise and decided to hit the road early. It was an insane trip and I will definitely be going on another one very soon.
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