Tuesday, July 21, 2015

5 Great Wildflower Locations in Colorado

5 of the best wildflower locations in colorado flag

Summer is wildflower season in the Rocky Mountains.  The snow melts and the hills come alive with color making for a photographer's paradise.  Nothing seems to compliment a stunning mountain backdrop better than a foreground of fiery blossoms.  There are many locations that are known for their abundance of budding beauties, but the areas listed below are ones that stand out in my experience:

1. Boulder Flatirons

Yellow wildflowers and the Boulder Flatirons in springtime with moon, Colorado

The entire area surrounding the Flatirons is a great spot in the springtime to find some color. The flat plains of the Front Range come to an end as massive rock formations shoot out of the ground.  One of the most popular places to hike is Chautauqua Park located right on the edge of the town in Boulder.  Here, you can walk only feet away from the parking lot and find yourself in the middle of rolling hillsides full of flowers.

When to go: Late May to Early June

2. American Basin

Beautiful blue columbines in American Basin, San Juan mountains, Colorado

American Basin is a most beautiful setting in the San Juan mountain range.  Located near Lake City just off the Alpine Loop scenic byway en route to Cinnamon Pass, the basin is better known as part of the standard route that leads to one of Colorado's "easiest" 14ers, Handies Peak.  This short hike into the valley is best done at sunrise when the first rays of light hit American Peak in the background.

When to go: Mid July to Early August

3. Shrine Pass

Wildflowers at Shrine Mountain with Mt. of the Holy Cross near Vail Pass, Colorado

Shrine Pass is accessed just a couple miles off of Vail Pass on I-70.  From the pass, a short (and popular) hike up to Shrine Mountain will reward your effort with countless clusters of indian paintbrush and lupine wildflowers.  The 360 views are awesome!  From here you can frame the famous Mt. of the Holy Cross as a backdrop, or capture the whole length of the rugged Gore range to the north.

When to go: Mid July to Early August

4. Crested Butte

The town of Crested Butte is called the "wildflower capitol of Colorado." Endless hillsides of yellow mules ears and white cow parsnip are seen in every direction on a drive through town. Mt. Crested Butte and Gothic Mountain are the dominant peaks here and can best be viewed along Gothic Road just past the ski area. The Brush Creek Road is another great drive and can be extended much further if you have 4-wheel drive.

When to go: July

5. Yankee Boy Basin

 A popular 4 wheeling/hiking location just outside the unique town of Ouray, Yankee Boy Basin is one of the best ways to witness Colorado's finest scenery.  Ouray is called the "Switzerland of America".  The peaks of the Sneffels Range are arguably the most jagged in the state.  The waterfalls, wildflowers, and dramatic mountains are just breathtaking.

When to go: July/August

To view more wildflower art/photography visit: http://aaron-spong.artistwebsites.com/art/all/all/all/wildflowers

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Teocalli Mountain - July 2015

Teocalli Mountain with an old Barn along Brush Creek road near Crested Butte, Colorado
Old farming house with Teocalli Mountain - Prints Available

KD ready to go!

Cami, KD and I drove down to the Brush Creek road with the intention of 4 wheeling up to the Teocalli Mountain trailhead to set up camp Wednesday night, but by the time we had everything loaded, it was almost dark and raining hard.  We drove a couple hundred yards up the trail on the ATV and turned around to take refuge in the truck where we slept that night.

The next morning after sunrise, we headed back into town to grab some food and explore the scenery around Crested Butte before giving it another try that afternoon.  The entire area was just filled with fields of color.  Crested Butte is called the "wildflower capitol of Colorado."   After this trip I'm inclined to agree with this label:

Sunrise in the Elk mountain range with bright yellow wildflowers and lupines
Sunrise the first morning.

Gothic Mountain in the Elk Range near Crested Butte, Colorado with wildflowers and low hanging clouds
Gothic Mountain
Mount Crested Butte in summer with lush alpine wildflowers
Mt. Crested Butte - Prints Available
Lupine wildflowers with dew drops from the rain
Lupine Wildflowers - Prints Available

We 4 wheeled up the road and set up the tent right at the base of Teocalli Mountain. KD is now 2 years old and getting much better at not driving her parents crazy on long trips. She loved riding the ATV and "helping Daddy drive."

I woke at 3am and headed out in the dark hoping for a unique sunrise view of Castle Peak, the tallest 14,000 ft. peak in the Elk Range.  I reached the ridge right about at sunrise, but the cloud cover was pretty dense.  In fact, there was only a quick 30 second period of time where the actual summit of Castle Peak was visible before the clouds engulfed it again.

Fire on the mountain
Photograph of Colorado 14er Castle and Conundrum Peak at sunrise in the Elk Mountains
Castle Peak - Prints Available
Black and white version of Castle peak with a fresh dusting of snow in the summer sunrise
Fresh dusting of snow at the top!

Here's a time-lapse of the sunrise.  It's about 2 hours condensed into 30 seconds:

The views south were also stunning!

Distant alpenglow

Sunrise on Mount Crested Butte and Whetstone Mountain from the Teocalli ridge
Mt. Crested Butte and Whetstone Mountain from just below the summit.


There almost no visibility on the summit.  We were literally walking in the clouds.  Hiking back down through the fields of wildflowers was awesome though.  Hmm... I must have missed them on my way up.

Looking back down the route.


KD actually fell asleep in my arms while riding the ATV on the way back to the truck.  It was a quick, but beautiful trip that I would highly recommend.

Teocalli Mountain reflected in a small pond near Crested Butte, Colorado
Parting Shot

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Willow Lakes Backpacking Trip - June 2015

Upper willow lake in the Eagles Nest Wilderness at sunset with the Zodiac Ridge reflected in the half frozen waters
Upper Willow Lake at sunset - Prints available

The Willow Lakes area is kind of a hidden gem located deep in the Eagles Nest Wilderness of the Gore Range mountains north of the town of Silverthorne.  The hike in requires 9 miles and 2k ft. of elevation gain one way with a full pack on if you're going to stay overnight.  This kind of distance eliminates a large percentage of the population from ever being able to even reach the lakes which, in my opinion, makes it a little more special. 

My brother, Zach, Josh and I had complete solitude all 3 days of our stay.  Most of the trail was clear  and dry until near the lakes where there was rushing water all around due to the heavy snowfall this spring.  The lakes still had quite a bit of ice on them. We camped right at treeline at the upper lake where the Zodiac Ridge dominates the scene.

The rocky side of Red Peak at upper Willow Lake

Red Peak at sunset

The first morning Zach and I rose early to catch sunrise on the lower lake as the wildflowers were blooming.

sunrise on willow lake with wildflowers and the Zodiac Ridge in alpenglow near Silverthorne, Colorado
Lower Willow Lake sunrise - Prints available

My brother and his buddy left that morning.  Zach and I stayed back and did some fishing.  We could see brook trout swimming right up near the shore.  I went to get my lures from my pack and...Oh NO!  I forgot them at home!  Afraid that I was going to have to eat ramen noodles for the rest of the trip, I found a safety pin and fashioned it into the shape of a hook.  We couldn't find any bugs or anything to use for bait so I just threw it out there in front of the fish to see if they would be interested.  I caught one right away!  No bait.  No lure. Nothing but a gold piece of metal.  I couldn't believe it.  We had enough fish to make a nice lunch within about an hour.  You could probably catch fish in those lakes until you got tired of catching fish.

makeshift hook made from a safety pin

Later that afternoon I hiked up high on the south side of the basin to see the views.  I was wondering if a climb of Red Peak was possible from the Willow Lakes side.  The answer is yes, but it's a long way.  Once I reached a class 3 wall I decided I better not start any climbing in the middle of the day on a route I know nothing about when my only partner is my dog.  Don't get me wrong, the temptation was there!

Gore Range mountains deep in the Eagles Nest Wilderness with Willow Lake, Mount Silverthorne, and the Zodiac Ridge
Gore mountains from the northern flank of Red Peak

Grays and Torreys in the distance from later that evening

I returned the next morning for a sunrise at the same unique location from the previous afternoon.

Same angle (almost) at sunrise

"Call 911"

We did not stop at all on our hike out.  I also did not eat or drink very much that morning.  It was 75 degrees when we reached the truck.  We got in, cranked up the AC and started back toward Silverthorne.  All of a sudden my face and arms started tingling.  The tingling started spreading up my arms.  I pulled over and looked at Zach, who looked at me like, "What are you doing?" Soon, I couldn't feel or move my hands at all and the numbness was spreading into my chest and abdomen.  My heart was racing and I was struggling to breathe.  I told Zach, "Call 911!"  There was no phone service.  He jumped in the driver's seat and quickly drove down the hill to a gas station where he could make a call.  I was about to pass out afraid I was having a heat stroke or heart attack or something.  I don't remember a whole lot of what happened from here other than focusing all my energy on breathing.  The EMT's arrived and told me I was hyperventilating and having a panic attack.  They helped slow my breathing until my heart rate started dropping.

Once the feeling returned to my arms, I thanked the paramedics.  Then I thanked Zach for handling the situation so well.  Then I thanked the Lord for watching over me.  I also felt the need to apologize for the event.  It was a bit humiliating.  I have never had a panic attack before and was a bit confused why it even happened.  I didn't feel any anxiety or stress.  In fact I was feeling relief that we were done with such a strenuous hike.  I'm guessing that elevation, dehydration, lack of sleep, fatigue from hiking all week, the heat of the day, and malnutrition, all contributed to the cause of the stress on my body.  Thankful to be back to normal, we stopped at Wendy's and had some burgers before our drive home.  I'll be getting my heart checked out by a doctor before I go hiking again, just to be safe.