Far Horizons


The mountains are calling, and I must go — John Muir

Well hello! How was your weekend? Cool, let me just stop you there. My weekend was EPIC. I’d love to show and tell you all about it. I will try to be as brief as possible, and keep this post to a max… 35 photos*.

I flew to Denver bright and early Friday morning, and picked up my rental car, a Jeep Compass®, which is not the car I reserved BTW. After they were out of the SUV I reserved, “they” offered me a sedan and I’d get a discount, but I wanted an SUV for driving in the mountains, dammit! I drove to Estes Park, the gateway to the Rockies, or something. I couldn’t check into my hotel for a few more hours, so I drove into Rocky Mountain National Park and got started. I had no game plan. Didn’t have on my hiking clothes. I was driving faster than I could plan. Rocky Mountain National Park is loaded with stunning, breathtaking scenery. I knew wherever I found myself, I’d have no shortage of things to do and see. COLORADO-52COLORADO-13COLORADO-16 I mean, I don’t even know where to begin with this. Start with gear: I ventured westward with my 70D, Sigma 18-35 1.8, Canon 100 2.8 Macro and a new one which is kind of ridiculous: Tamron 150-600. 600! It’s not top quality but the range. And the value, too. It was a cheap lens for that range.

You get kind of bowled over by not only the size of these mountains, but the vastness. It’s just layers upon layers of mountain range before you, a you feel very tiny.  I had my beloved Skyrim soundtrack playing in the car the whole time, and it was 1000% the correct music. COLORADO-33Skyrim IRLCOLORADO-54Jeep Compass®COLORADO-55From this valley, I could’ve gone up Old Fall River Road, which is: one way, gravel, and had warning signs of steep cliffs and narrow turns. Nope. I went up the nice paved highway and found the intersection of 36 and 34, aka Trail Ridge Road. While the intersection didn’t seem particularly notable, the view was enough to have me get out of the car to snap some photos. That happened a lot on this trip. That, or pulling over to the side of the road, rolling down the window and sticking the camera out of it.  COLORADO-64COLORADO-60COLORADO-67COLORADO-68By the time I was on Trail Ridge Road, I was losing daylight. I had… Issues remaining focused on driving while also trying to take in the view, all while hugging a twisty mountain road with no shoulder or rail. But it all turned out ok. Eventually the road wound up to an epic lookout spot, which was scary as shit (like a big wraparound deck on a mountain), but it was so beautiful and awesome (like, literally awesome). COLORADO-70 COLORADO-73You could get a real good view of Long’s Peak, the highest summit in the park (although not in the Rockies, or even Colorado. Lame!). It’s difficult to appreciate how huge they are when they’re that far away. Ah, just kidding.  COLORADO-76After a while of driving on the Trail Ridge Road, I started to get spooked by it. It’s hard to drive on winding, narrow roads with sweaty hands. Even though the gettin was good, I eventually turned back around because I’m a wimp. COLORADO-81Yeah no kidding. I’ve been dealing with headaches and excessive snot nose my entire time (at time of writing this, I’m squinting at my screen because my head hurts). It’s definitely the altitude, because fitbit makes sure I’m drinking enough water.  COLORADO-85There are those purple mountains and majesty I’ve heard so much about. COLORADO-87 COLORADO-91Lot of deer in the park. I get the sense that they’ve become sort of jaded by the presence of humans. But, I didn’t dare get too close to them, as per the law. This is where that super duper telephoto lens came in real handy. (top photo was taken with Sigma 18-35, bottom with Tamron 150-600. You can see the difference in quality of these lenses, eh?)COLORADO-95While I hopped out to take some photos of deer further down the road, I was crouched down in the grass, and heard some owls in congress nearby, and I thought, where the hell am I?COLORADO-96The next day I rose early but remained in my hotel room for a couple hours. I had one hike in mind: Emerald Lake, accessible from Bear Lake. It’s a popular destination. Signs told us that the Bear Lake parking lot was full, and there was a massive line for the shuttle at the Park & Ride. So, because I’m impatient and hate lines, I wandered over to a trail taking me to Bierstadt Lake, and from there I figured I could go to Bear Lake, and then Emerald Lake. This would’ve been a large undertaking, because as I found out in the Appalachians, mileage is a relative term on hiking trails. What would take 20 minutes to walk on flat, smooth land, could take an hour and a half on rocky trail and switchbacks. I discovered almost immediately that this would be some actual real proper mountain hiking, which I haven’t really done in probably 10 years (my brief stint on the Appalachian Trail notwithstanding). I was prepared though: I had a Camelbak full of water, good socks (my socks matched my location!), two Larabars, and my trusty day hiker’s guide.  Hiking is really tough. I was reminded of a church trip to Montana in 2004. We went on a multi-day backpacking trip through the Rockies, and most of what I remember is how much I hated hiking. I’m a new, empowered, self-assured woman these days though. I knew it would be tough, but at the end of the day, this trail was 1.6 miles, and eventually I would get to the end. Just keep taking breaks. Breathe. Drink water. And in the end, it was quite worth it. I felt accomplished. Bierstadt is a beautiful lake with beautiful vistas. COLORADO-101 COLORADO-103I blundered my way through editing these photos. Took a while to find a good preset. Took some noodling. Eventually I came up with this one, which is rather dramatic, but I think fitting of the scenery. It gives the vibe of vintage post cards, which is kind of how I think of these mountainous national parks anyhow. So I named my preset “Mountain Vintage.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯COLORADO-104COLORADO-105It really wasn’t too hard a decision to continue onto Bear Lake. Even though the trail to Bierstadt was so difficult (which gives a sense of my hiking abilities as the trail is rated Easy), when it was over, I felt good, and was ready to keep going. The trail began deceptively flat and smooth for the ~first mile or so, so I made excellent time. Then I hit some wicked switchbacks and had to slow down while I endured listening to some bro talk to his friends about what an adventurer he is, and how he wakes up really early to hit up hiking trails, and gets so tired at the end of the day he has to take naps on the side of the road. Ughhhhh, bro. COLORADO-109This was taken from a resting rock, all the really tough stuff behind me, and it was literally all downhill from there. The area around Bear Lake is even more wild and varied. I could see why it was such a popular destination. But I’m glad I walked there instead of taking a crowded shuttle. COLORADO-114COLORADO-117Bear Lake is great; it makes me really nostalgic for something but I don’t know what. It’s a pretty, big-feeling place while also being very small and insulated. And the best part, it’s relatively low grade, and a quick loop. COLORADO-127 COLORADO-128This area viewable from the road back to Estes Park gave me some serious Rohan vibes. COLORADO-129A bunch of deer were holding up the afternoon traffic out of the park. I was annoyed, but didn’t pass on the opportunity. COLORADO-131Sidenote — the view from my hotel room. COLORADO-132 COLORADO-133 COLORADO-134COLORADO-135Sunday morning I wanted to take it easy – after all, I had gone hard on Saturday and I deserved a little break. I went into town to get a big breakfast and thought, well, I should at least try to burn off some of these calories. I ended up driving back to Bear Lake and hiked down to Alberta Falls, which is a short hike, though with the whole way back all in the ascending. I knew walking down that back up it would hurt. But again, it’s such a rewarding burn. Feeling my heart pounding in my neck feels like accomplishment. After I finished Alberta Falls, I decided to do a couple loops ’round Bear Lake. You know, for some quick mileage. COLORADO-143COLORADO-155Afterwards, I still had a little energy, so I swung by Sprague Lake which is super cute and a super quick, easy .5 mile loop, so I did that twice. In the end, I managed to get a lot of exercise. Woohoo!COLORADO-156I thought this trip was amazing, for so many reasons. I feel like this is the first time I actually went out on my own, like, completely on my own. My New York trip was my first independent trip, but I was visiting friends and had a place to stay etc. Colorado was start to finish an idea I had that came from nowhere, and I did the research and booked the flights and hotel and car. I’ve been carried my whole life by people who love me, which I’m grateful for, but it also meant I maybe didn’t get to spread my wings very far. Now that I actually have an income, I can go out and do things on my own, and not have to worry about it. I can be independent. Finally.

Apart from that very coming-of-age-even-though-I’m-27-stuff, RMNP feels like another planet. It’s a completely surreal, magnificent, stunning place to be. I was in awe for every minute. And to think – this place is {theoretically} only about 4 hours away from home. Just a little more time than driving to the cabin. While America does have its problems, we do have diverse natural beauty that rivals all other countries. North America as a whole has just about everything you could ask for, and it’s certainly easy for me to forget about that. For so much of my life, I don’t think I realized what kind of stuff was actually in America. Look, I’ve been to both coasts, I’ve been in the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve canoed in the Boundary Waters and swum in the biggest lake in the world. I’ve backpacked the Rockies, been on the Appalachian Trail, and zip lined through the Hawaiian rainforest. But there is still much that’s surprising to me about the landscape here. Rocky Mountain is my first National Park, can you believe it! I’ve come far from my relative disinterest in the outdoors a few short years ago. I’d like to get to all the national parks. And maybe a good place to start is the one in Minnesota.

Peace out.COLORADO-160

*An arbitrary number chosen at random by me. Oh well, I couldn’t do it.
‡ The title of this blog post is taken from a song on the Skyrim OST. Re-read this post while listening to it, please.

About the Author

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Hi! I'm a graphic designer, photographer and female person. I live in Minneapolis with my husband Alan and our baby son Alexander and baby cat Arya.


Outdoors, Personal, Photo, Travel

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