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colorado

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Sayonara, summer!

September 3, 2015
medotshoosier2

I hit a breaking point yesterday.

It was hot (again) and I was sweaty (again) and I couldn’t find my shorts (again) and I was just … over it. Over the heat. Over the baking sun. Over the layers upon layers of sunscreen. I was craving fall with every fiber of my being.

Summers in Colorado are downright glorious and I spend the better part of January through May lusting after them. I dream of the days when I can ride singletrack in the high country and snuggle down in my sleeping bag at night. I long for sun dresses and flip flops and endless evenings spent drinking wine on the deck. I watch as my Chaco tan develops and celebrate when it hits its peak because I know it is the sign of a summer well spent.

But to be honest? I’m over it.

Furry dog, furry husband. Somewhere off Hoosier Pass.

As the days start to grow noticeably shorter and rogue leaves are already starting to turn yellow, I’ve got fall on the brain. And winter too. I’m thinking about snow and cyclocross and whiskey and hearty meals cooked to perfection in the dutch oven. I’m thinking about boots and scarves and agonizing over which ski pass to buy (I think I’ve made a decision …). I’m wondering if this will be the year that I get comfortable on my snowboard and whether or not I will finally try nordic skiing. I’m planning hut trips and spring getaways and making lists of places I want to try to capture snowy winter scenes.

One of the Benedict huts outside of Aspen, CO.

Maddie snowshoeing off Hoosier Pass.

I’ve got cold weather on the brain in a really big way. And I know I will be eating these words come January but for now I’m going to say it: Hey winter? I’m ready. Bring it!

I can’t be the only one feeling this way! Who else is crazy enough to be looking forward to cooler temps?

Play, Travel

Dispersed Camping: Why and How

August 25, 2015
tigerroad

Back when we lived in Kansas our camping options were pretty much limited to established campgrounds in state parks. What that meant for us, most of the time, was that our neighbors were either 1) college kids having a big party or 2) RVs with noisy generators that ran all night long. It was better than spending a night at home but it wasn’t what I would consider remote or relaxing.

Our first few camping trips after we moved to Colorado were pretty much the same thing. And while the scenery was a lot better, the level of privacy left much to be desired. I was explaining all of this to a friend several years ago when he looked at me and dropped a little morsel of truth that changed my camping life forever: In the National Forests, you can camp pretty much anywhere.

Wait, what?! You mean we can set up shop … anywhere?!

That was almost a decade ago and I’m pretty much convinced that I owe all of my continuing love of camping to that person. Remind me to thank him.

In the years since, we have discovered the pure awesomeness of camping in places that are quiet, free, and far from other people. This was a good thing when it was just us and the dogs but it became an even bigger bonus when the kid came along. Camping in a place where you don’t have to worry about your crying kid disrupting other people who are trying to enjoy some semblance of peace and quiet? It’s freaking fantastic.

Now when I hear people talking about camping in campgrounds I find myself wondering … why? Why would you pay money to camp in such close proximity to other people? Why would you want to listen to other people’s generators all night long? Why don’t you want to get out to where it’s actually quiet and you can change your clothes without having to hide in the tent?

People, there is a whole world out there that is well beyond the bounds of established campgrounds – and trust me when I say that life is way, way better there.

There are places where dispersed camping is hard to find and a couple spots where having neighbors is just plain fun (like 18 Road in Fruita or Kalalau) but for the most part, we avoid campgrounds like the plague. And sometimes I wonder how we ever did it any other way.

Want some tips on how to leave the campground behind and set up shop way far away from everyone else? I’m here to help!

How to find a spot: This may be easy or hard depending on where you’re located. For the folks in Colorado and the rest of the west, look for property owned by the USFS. We’ve had a lot of luck just picking random Forest Service Roads and driving around. To reduce your impact, look for places where others have already camped (fire rings made from rocks are a good indicator of this). The internet can be a great place to get suggestions on dispersed camping in unfamiliar areas but don’t be afraid to set off on your own! Before you set up the tent, be sure that there are no signs warning that camping is allowed only in designated campsites and you should be good to go. If you have any doubts or are out of ideas, consider calling the local ranger station for advice.

What to pack in: Remember that pretty much none of the creature comforts of established campgrounds will be available to you when you’re out in the woods. You’ll want to pack your own water, toilet paper, and whatever else you’ll need to get you through the night. Camp chairs are also a must and if you are going to be cooking you may also want to bring a small folding table (no picnic tables here, remember!). You should plan on bringing your own firewood because, while you may be surrounded by trees, chopping them down to make your campfire is no bueno.

What to pack out: Everything you brought with you! This probably goes without saying but it is very, very important to leave the place better than you found it (and no, building a log cabin or installing an outhouse at your off-the-beaten-path campsite is not considered an “improvement”!). Remember that no one is coming out to the middle of nowhere to clean up after you. Be a responsible user of our public lands and remember to Leave No Trace.

Be a good neighbor: While your neighbors are likely to be much farther away than they are in an actual campground, other people may still be able to hear your shenanigans. And while some noises are acceptable and somewhat unavoidable (see: crying baby), others are just really poor form. If you’re planning on throwing an enormous rave, a mostly deserted Forest Service road is probably not the place to do it (and yes, this happened to us!). You may be a half mile (or much more!) from your nearest neighbors but if you are being really loud, you might be bothering them anyway.

Be safe. The farther you are from other people, the more you’re on your own. While I fully support enjoying a nice bourbon or a few brews around a campfire, remember that when you’re off the grid you’re pretty far from any possible help. Any damage done to you or the environment (think wildfires …) could be far worse than if it occurred where help is nearby.

 

If you are a car camper who has never ventured outside the bounds of the campground, it’s time to up your game and give it a go! I promise you’ll thank me later!

Do you have additional advice for aspiring off-the-beaten-path campers? Want some suggestions on where to go in Colorado? Leave a message in the comments!

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Play, Shoot, Travel

A Morning With a Moose at Brainard Lake

August 22, 2015
brainardmoose

I consider myself a morning person but I don’t consider 4 a.m. to be “morning”. 4 a.m. is pretty close to “middle of the freaking night”. And that’s what time my alarm went off. I may have hit snooze a few times but at 4:30 I was pouring a cup of espresso down my throat and by 5 a.m. I was out the door, on a mission to find some moose.

Last summer was my first time shooting the moose at Brainard Lake and I had such a great time doing it that I knew I wanted to get up there again. I was hoping to go on a weekday (you’ve heard of the “bear jams” at Yellowstone, right? Same thing happens at Brainard with the moose.) but it wasn’t in the cards so this weekend I just decided to go for it.

One of last summer’s moose.

Another one from last summer.

I made the long and winding drive up Lefthand Canyon, paid the entrance fee at Brainard, and found a parking spot near the lake. I hung out by the shoreline for a while, hoping to get a picture of one of these beasts as it wandered down to the water for a drink. It didn’t happen. I saw no moose and the longer I waited the more I felt like maybe I was missing something. I walked back up towards the car and then down the road.

When I heard a rustling in the bushes next to me I damn near jumped out of my skin. There, about 10 feet away, was an enormous bull moose. He munched happily on the willows as I tried my best to collect myself. I watched him for a moment and then scurried away to the relative safety of some nearby trees and a group of photographers that were hanging out a short distance away.

We have a lot of “dangerous” animals here but it’s the moose that worry me the most. I feel like mountain lions and bears are smart and skittish enough to move away when they see you coming. They want nothing to do with you and do their best to keep their distance. The moose, on the other hand? They don’t like you either but they also don’t do much to move out of your way. They just do their thing and watch you get closer and closer until you are suddenly WAY TOO CLOSE. And then they’re all antlers and hooves and hundreds of pounds of pure, unpredictable fury.

Yeah, I’m a little scared of moose.

But just because I have no interest in tangling with a moose doesn’t mean that I don’t want to shoot them. In all honesty, I love these guys. Their enormous size, cartoonish appearance, and honeybadger-don’t-care attitude makes them hard not to love. You have to just let them do their thing and hope to get a good shot.

The big bull that I saw today was just doing his thing but, unfortunately, that thing was standing in really tall willows, munching away. It was impossible to get a good shot of anything but his antlers or butt without crowding him, which was unfortunate because he was a beauty!

Not cooperating.

Almost cooperating!

Nope.

Eventually I gave up, went back to the car, and began heading toward home. And that’s when he decided to leave the willows behind and venture back across the road. I jumped out of the car and shot a few frames before he headed back up into the forest.

I had high hopes for this morning’s outing but didn’t walk away with any shots that I loved. But it was hard to feel to down on the experience. Any morning that I get to spend in the presence of an animal like this (without getting trampled to death …) is a pretty good morning in my book.

Happy weekend, y’all!

 

 

Live, Play, Shoot, Travel

Snapshots: A Cool and Creepy Night Up on Hoosier Pass

August 9, 2015
hoosierpass

I’m not afraid of the dark, I said to myself confidently as the furry dog and I headed out the door.

It was around 11 p.m. and the first clear, moonless night since I had arrived in the mountains. I had been waiting for a few weeks to go shoot the stars and if ever there was a time to do it, this was it.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I thought, as I made the short and twisty drive from my family’s house in Blue River up to the summit of Hoosier Pass. With no light and no moon, the hairpin turns on the winding mountain road were infinitely harder to see. I found myself slowing to a near stop to make sure I stayed in my lane.

I arrived at the trailhead parking lot near the road’s summit and pulled over. I noticed the semi parked across the street and the white van that was nestled in over by the trees. I fiddled with my camera settings, got out of the car, and set up my tripod. I had forgotten a headlamp and was relegated to using the flashlight on my phone for light. It was less than ideal.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I said, less confidently now, as I waited out the 30-second exposure I was using to try and capture the Milky Way. Those thirty seconds, so short in normal life, seemed endless with no one around, no light to be had, and nothing to do but wait and think.

It doesn’t sound like much but thirty seconds is really an awful lot of time for thinking.

I thought about that semi and that van. I thought about how someone could exit either of those vehicles and I’d never see them coming. I got spooked. I took three shots and packed it in. I had been out of the car for maybe five minutes but my nerves had gotten the best of me. I am not easily rattled by these types of situations but, for whatever reason, this time I was. Goosebumps popped up on my arms as I drove down the mountain.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I thought. But, tonight, I am afraid of what it hides. 

I wandered into my parents house and breathed a big sigh of relief.

I though the night was a bust, a waste. I thought I would have been better off sipping wine on the couch and finishing the book that I’m currently obsessed with. And then I pulled up the pictures on my camera and saw, in those three shots, this one. When I was up on that dark and spooky pass I didn’t notice the thin layer of clouds covering the stars or that a UFO had apparently landed in Fairplay, which sits down the hill in the bottom left side of the frame. And the night didn’t seem like such a waste anymore.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I thought, but next time I’m taking a damn flashlight. 

Play, Shoot, Travel

The Goats of Blue Lakes

August 6, 2015
bluelakesgoat

It’s no secret that mountain goats are favorite animals on the planet.

They are adorable, character-filled creatures that look like they are straight out of a fairy tail. They’re also tough as nails. They live in places with shaky footing, low temperatures, and very little oxygen, the kind of places that leave most animals (and most humans) longing for lower ground. But not these guys, and do you know why? Because despite their friendly appearance, they are certifiable badasses.

I like to think that the mountain goat is my spirit animal. I’m probably flattering myself.

A few days ago my mom, son, and I went for a drive up to Blue Lakes, outside of Blue River, Colorado. It was the middle of the afternoon when the light was terrible and the toddler was desperately in need of a nap. And there were mountain goats everywhere! I knew that I needed to go back as soon as possible. And lucky for me, my chance came that very night.

When that evening rolled around I loaded up my camera gear and made the short drive from my parents’ house up the road toward the Quandary Peak trailhead. I was desperately hoping that the goats would be out and, let me tell you, I was in luck!

I spent a good hour or two watching and shooting them before heading down the hill a bit to check out the waterfalls. I could have watched them all night.

Here are some shots from the evening. Enjoy!

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