Anyone who knows me knows that I love the city. It doesn't matter what city we're talking about, all that matters is that downtown pulse. In my mind, cities are alive. They are creatures in their own right, never sleeping, and always on alert. Yes, I am an advocate for nature. But in many ways, city life is better for the environment than suburban or rural living. For starters, one's carbon footprint is much smaller in a city environment. Public transit is almost always superior, and places are usually located close enough to walk to. In addition, the part of town I saw was filled with as much foliage as possible. Trees lined many sidewalks, and planters held flowerbeds. It truly felt like a nice place to be.
I only had a few hours to look around downtown Denver, but I liked what I saw. For starters, the city seemed fairly clean. Granted, I only really explored the area around the 16th Street Mall, which is a 2km long outdoor shopping mall. Nevertheless, it was clear that the city is well planned out and well managed. I couldn't begin to count how many cyclists I saw, and the free shuttle service that runs along the length of the 16th Street Mall is a great idea. Yes, the rest of the city might have downfalls, but from a tourist perspective, the retail district is in relatively tip-top shape.
View more photos of Denver on my Colorado Flickr set.
Estes Park, Colorado: A primordial swamp of overpriced shops meant to attract the weary traveler. With a credit card, that is. Perhaps I'm being a bit too cruel. Estes Park is actually a very lovely place to visit, as long as you're off the beaten path. A good rule of thumb is to avoid the main street as much as possible. If you go towards the Rocky Mountain National Park Beaver Meadows entrance, you'll head down a street lined with decently priced inns and motels. Along here, you'll also find the Donut Haus. This is, by far, the best place in town to get donuts, and the prices are relatively cheap as well. Just stop by early, as they sold out pretty fast when I was there.
If you're looking to do some shopping, head down this same road until you reach the last little gas station complex before the National Park. It is in this complex that you'll find a quaint little locally owned and operated mom and pop grocery store, as well as a phenomenal gift shop with items priced well below what you'll find on main street. Around this same area, you'll also see a sign for Mary's Lake. This little lake provides a quick scenic drive around the outskirts of town. The lake itself is fairly small, and there isn't much to do, but it's still interesting to see more of the local side of Estes Park.
View more photos from Estes Park on my Colorado Flickr set.
Wikipedia describes the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado as a "138-room Gregorian hotel...[which] offers panoramic views of the Rockies." This statement couldn't be more true. The hotel, built in 1909 by Freelan Stanley, has been host to the rich and famous for nearly a century. I know this because I bought a 100 year anniversary mug. But I probably would have figured it out after awhile anyway. Nevertheless, the hotel is a reminder of a time gone by. Life was much simpler when this hotel was built, and the growth of the local community can attest to this.
When the hotel was built, Estes Park was nowhere near the size it is today. Even in the last twenty-five years, the surrounding landscape of the hotel has changed considerably. My parents went on their honeymoon to Estes Park, and my mother couldn't believe how much the town has changed since she last saw it. The most notable and unfortunate addition has been a full suburban-esque shopping center, complete with a Safeway, built at the base of the hotel, successfully ruining the initial image of the Stanley Hotel as one first drives into town.
Upon entering the hotel's lobby, guests are transported back to an earlier time. The lobby features an original Stanley Steamer, as well as a vintage piano (with a prominent "Do Not Play" sign). The hotel itself, the inspiration for Stephen King's The Shining, has gone through various owners over the years. And for much of its life, the hotel was in severe disarray. The most recent sale of the hotel was for a mere three million dollars, though I'm sure it was advertised as a fixer-upper. Still, the Stanley Hotel is a wonderful remnant of a time gone by, and is worth a visit.
You can view more photographs from this trip on my Colorado Flickr set.
One of the most unusual features of Rocky Mountain National Park is the Alluvial Fan at Horseshoe Park. On the morning of July 15th, 1982, twenty-nine million gallons of water rushed towards the valley floor as Lake Lawn broke through its natural enclosure created during the last ice age. The tragedy, killing two in a nearby campground and one along the river, had enough force to submerge the town of Estes Park under six feet of water.
Though damage in the town was minimalized thanks to Lake Estes containing most of the floodwater, a forty-two acre alluvial fan was created near the valley floor. Composed of boulders, rocks, gravel and sand, the alluvial fan is now known for its large waterfall and convenient location. When I visited the area, many tourists were already scaling the large formations, ruining my chances at most wide angle shots.
In order to eliminate the few individuals that found their way into my shots, I simply used an incredibly long exposure. Even though texture was eliminated in the water, most of these individuals were not stationary long enough to register on the sensor. Though my lighting wasn't ideal, I still managed to make a few good photographs at the Alluvial Fan.
Trail Ridge Road is a paved roadway high up in Rocky Mountain National Park. It reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet (3,713 meters), and is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. I was lucky enough to traverse this stretch of roadway near the end of the day, right as the lighting conditions became prime. As one drives along this highway, one encounters vast views of natural wonder and beauty.
Many overlooks dot the roadway where one can stop and admire the beauty of the landscape. Though I've never had much luck with landscapes, great shots come easy in an environment this visually breathtaking. The trail winds its way above the treeline into the region's alpine tundra, weaving through ancient lava cliff faces. After the crest of the ridge, the road begins its decline towards the Alpine Visitor Center, which was unfortunately closed when I visited.
There is, however, a short trail up a hill right next to the visitor center that offers a great view of the surroundings. When in such a grand environment, it is easy to feel a sense of insignificance at importance of worldly matters. Landscapes such as these were slowly carved out and created by millions of years of natural circumstances, and the preservation of such wonders is truly critical.
Of all the environments Rocky Mountain National Park offers, the most serene has got to be the park's meadows. One meadow I chose to photograph extensively was Moraine Park. This large meadow features two small rivers flowing in a snake-like pattern. The beauty on the ground is offset and complemented by the natural framing of the mountains, which is impossible to accurately reproduce through the lens of a camera.
Though there were many hikers in the meadow when I arrived, a quick afternoon "storm" rolled in, only lasting for a few minutes. This cleared out much of the immediate meadow, allowing me to get a clear shot. In addition, I happened to spot a fisherman out in the meadow, fishing in the river. I pulled out my telephoto lens, and snapped a few shots of him with the large mountains in the background. This particular photo, in my opinion, seems to personify the beauty of man coinciding with nature.
I had originally hoped to spend a lot of time in Rocky Mountain National Park on this trip, but my schedule unfortunately only allotted me a couple days time. On top of this, I had the misfortune of going over the fourth of July weekend, which meant the park was filled with tourists nearly the entire time. Nevertheless, I did manage to encounter some wildlife within the park.
Most of this wildlife came on Trail Ridge Road, high above the treeline in the alpine tundra. There, we encountered a group of what I assume are elk. With the abundance of dark storm clouds in the area and the fact that the elk were at a slightly higher elevation, I was able to compose some fairly dramatic images of these creatures. In addition, spotting these guys wasn't too difficult. The traffic essentially came to a standstill on the road whenever wildlife appeared, which provided me with ample time to photograph them.
Aside from this experience along Trail Ridge Road, the only other photographically successful encounter I had with wildlife occurred near the Alluvial Fan, a rock and waterfall debris field lower in the park. Here, I happened to stumble upon a lone doe, who quickly scurried off shortly after I spotted her. Though I certainly expected to see wildlife in the park, I never anticipated the impact these creatures would have on me. Having the opportunity to photograph these majestic creatures, if only for a moment, created a sense of personal connection to the environment around me.
I'm taking a break from my posts regarding tourist destinations to point out one of the most beautiful features of the state of Colorado: It's skies. It seemed as if clouds were ever-present during my stay, casting shadows and creating beautiful rays of light. I found many potential photographs while on the road going from one destination to another, and had no choice but to capture these moments with the threat of creating only mere snapshots.
In addition, the daily thunderstorms often brought photographable weather, as mentioned in previous posts. The photograph to the right was taken at night during a thunderstorm outside the city of Fountain, Colorado. Setting my camera to bulb mode on a tripod, I was able to capture multiple lightning strikes in a single frame. Though Southern California has beautiful weather, I already miss the variety of daily weather that Colorado offers.