When I first decided on taking a road trip out west, Colorado was sticking out in my mind pretty heavily. Maybe it was the mountains, the tall pines or just the fact that it wasn't where I was at the moment, (I live in the city so I always want to get out). Whatever the reason, I had it set in my mind that I would make it happen one way or the other. That I would get my Jeep & me out on the road heading west through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas to make my way to the Rockies in Colorado & then go from there. I headed out on May 28th after a few months of mental preparation & a few weeks of outfitting the Jeep for the long trek ahead.
Like any early morning drive through Indiana country highways, fog makes itself very visible & thick, a beautiful & reassuring visual start for this journey I thought. Before I knew it, I was crossing into Illinois & needed to fill up the Jeep's tank (thankfully cause my legs needed some use in them & I needed my third cup of coffee already at 8:30am). After a quick stop, stretch & stumble at the gas station, I jumped back on the highway & headed to Kansas to setup camp for the first night. After the twelve-something hours driven today, I reached an area in Marquette, KS that is located in the Smoky Hill region. I ended up camping at Kanopolis Lake's campground, set up a fire & relaxed on the lake rocks & finished off some trail mix with my feet soaking in the water. This spot was amazing, the hill sides & prairie's surrounding me & the water were remarkable. With thoughts of seeing snow capped mountains & wild animals roaming just in the next 24-hours, I graciously got into the Jeep & dove into a weird state of rest while a pretty decent lightning & rain storm unleashed throughout the night.
The next morning I headed onto the K-28 "dirt" highway to catch up back onto the 70-West, with the storm from the prior night, it made those 20 miles pretty dirty, even got stuck at the bottom of a hill in a foot of slop. But with a Jeep, I live by the rule of "No Worries" in situations like this. Threw some mud around & feathered my gas pedal until I got us out of there & filled up at the closest station. Next stop, Colorado baby.
With Kansas chasing us out with rain storms off & on, I was happy when we drove across the state line & saw that I was now in "Colorful Colorado". My happiness turned up a few notches once the view of the Rocky Mountains were in my sight. I was still far away, but they were waiting for me. Finally I reached a beautiful town "Estes Park" which rests in Larimer County, Colorado & lies along the Big Thompson river. Estes was a town I thought had only existed in movies or my better dreams, the sight of mountains exist on every street corner. I headed to the RMNP to get the week pass then immediately headed up to Bear Lake trailhead, the weather had been rainy all day but as the Jeep reached the trailhead around 9,400 feet elevation, the weather was a steady rain & hail mix which brought us back down to the lower grounded trails. Ended up hiking Sprague Lake's trail which ended up paying off with a Moose sighting just at sunset, I was speechless.
The next morning, I returned back to the Bear Lake trailhead. Unlike the day before, this day was beautiful & sunny with promising colors in the landscapes. With a bag full of loaded film cameras & my water bottle, I started my hike on the trail heading to Alberta Falls. I was hiking over chunks of ice & snow since this trail was up in the higher ground of the park, it was crazy having snow under my feet again since just a week ago, I was sweating like a dog at the skate park in the Kentucky heat. The falls were breathtaking & the trails were just pristine, I finally came to grasps that I was here, it was happening.
Next, I headed to Emerald Lake, which is about a 3.5 mile roundtrip (700 feet elevation gain throughout hike) trail that takes you through three different lakes in total, so I took a swig of water after snapping some shots, took off my fleece (layer yourself in the mountains folks) then continued on my way to the first lake, which was Nymph Lake.
Nymph was the smallest lake we'd see that day, It was gorgeous & had some really cool smaller rock tops to climb up to get a better view of the lake & the snowy mountain caps, as I was switching out film rolls on this cliff side I climbed up. I looked to my left & saw the view of the beautiful Continental Divide in the distance, I can't remember that smile I had ever really go away once I saw that. I took a moment to just remember the history & beauty this planet holds & how lucky I am to be able to experience it this way.
Shortly after passing Nymph, the trails snow got deeper & I could tell we were gaining some elevation due to the hills ahead of us, I felt like I was inside of a Jack London novel. The trees were singing to me & I was in hiker's heaven, I was reaching the second lake of the trail which was Dream Lake, this was my favorite lake of the trail. It stretched across the edges of the mountainsides & half of the lake following the trail- was covered in icy slush while the other parts were flowing beautifully. I met some great fellow hikers & photographers along the trail, mainly inquiring about the cameras I was shooting with. After snapping photos, finishing off my granola bar & skipping a few rocks into the icy waters, I headed towards the final lake, Emerald.
Finally getting to the base of these mountains was truly something I cannot express a feeling for. It was just surreal, Emerald lake at this time was basically 98% frozen over, but there was some exposed sides of the lake to the right which was satisfying enough since the lake got it's name for the color of it's water. Being 10,110 feet in elevation felt great, the air wasn't thin, but clean. It did get colder, so I slipped my jacket back on & finished off my water on a Cliffside. I did it, I hiked a trail I've wanted to hike for the past 4-years. It was even more beautiful than I had even imagined & the experience will remain dear to me for a lifetime.
As I was adjusting my pack on for the hike back to the trailhead parking lot, a heard a deep cracking that I haven't heard since I hiked Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala, 2013. It was an avalanche, a small one for measure. But an avalanche. It sounded like someone snapped a tree branch directly into your ear drum due to the echo pool we were in being surrounded by these mountain tops. Even half way back on the trail, a older couple stopped to ask me "Was that sound an avalanche a while ago?" I grinningly replied "Yes ma'am it was, it was a beauty!". Once I made it back to Hank the Jeep, I headed back into Estes park to grab some coffee & some groceries for camp that night. After leaving the market with some fresh fruit & nuts, water & cocoa mix I headed back to RMNP to setup camp at Glacier Basin campground. After setting up my tent, I wrote about the adventure at that point & looked through some of my Polaroid's I had shot that day. Snacked on some peanuts & took a quick walk around the campground, I came across a little herd of large deer that were grazing just 40-feet away from my tent. Another reminder that I am in the wild, I am their guest. Once the sun went down, I slipped off my boots & into my sleeping bag & drifted off to sleep before I could even realize it. If I've learned anything from this lifestyle, it's that a good days hike will put you to sleep no matter the sleeping conditions or weather.
Once we left Colorado, the plan was to head west towards Moab, Utah (Mars basically.. in America). Ended up working out after driving eight hours through all of Colorado's highest passes which was sketchy at times, I'd have my foot on the floor & we were barely hitting 45 mph due to the steepness of the inclines & elevation gains, but we pulled through & the Jeep was a champ. I probably saw 5-7 cars that were crawling up the other side of the highway heading east, have their engines blow out on them or something crazy. I was glad when I got back down to the lower ground & on my way to the desert, the landscape changed drastically..as well as the temperature.
After checking on a campsite off the side of a gas station (They wanted $30 a night to park there & dry camp), I found a pull off where truckers rest & people can pull off to look at park information at signs they have available in the lot. That was home for the night, as I was laying in the Jeep, the full moon was blazing, the stars were so bright, I saw three shooting stars within an hour. Purple & grey colors forming up the night sky with the jet black silhouette of the canyons surrounding us. I was just singing Neil Young's song "You & Me" from his Harvest Moon album in my head until I passed out for the night. The following morning I woke up as soon as the sun was prying on my eyelids, so around 6:00am. Fired the Jeep up, drove to the Arches NP which was about 5 miles down the road from where I slept. Pulled into the park & headed onto the road directing towards the Delicate Arch trailhead to get a morning hike going. Once I reached the trailhead & got out of the Jeep, I thankfully had my Stetson to help with the sun because it was beaming at 100 degrees with no shade around in sight. I filled up my water bottle & headed on my way to the Arches in this red desert.
After the beautiful & burning hike to the Arches, I made the decision that it was time to head back east, I had the desert kissed skin & a flood of emotions from all the visuals I had absorbed that past week, I missed my son Levi to a point where I wasn't too much worried about sleep until I had him back in my arms although I had just seen him seven days ago, I guess the 1,600 miles away from home made it seem longer. I was happy with the images I shot & even more pleased with the experience of this exploration I just had. Traveling is so much more than photographs & say so, it's everything in between the two. The experience, the smells, the fears, the undocumented memories, the complications. Once you come home with all of this, your a explorer with awareness & discipline. The West has always owned a piece of my soul, even before I ever visited. It's like no other place in the world, this trip continues to prove so.
To see the full gallery of the images from the trip, checkout the "Howling West" page on the Homepage & if your interested in owning any prints from the series, checkout the availability over at my print shop www.etsy.com/shop/startofthehowl