December 28, 2017
This is a story of self realization and the journey life can take you on as you buck the 9-5 trend. Peter Zelinka is a nature photographer currently based in Northeast Ohio. He bought his first DSLR in 2014 after spending years hiking in the forests of Pennsylvania and Ohio with just a point-and-shoot camera. His journey across Colorado will be told in three parts with the full version being available at peterzelinka.com.
(Read part 1 here)
(Read part 2 here)
Kebler Pass is home to one of the largest living organisms on the planet, the aspen forest. Aspen trees are actually clones, all derived from a single seed. I had driven through the forest twice now, and each time I felt a magical energy here. Kebler Pass is also world-renowned for its fall colors. Unfortunately the fall colors were lagging here as well, so it looked more like summer. That didn't stop me from enjoying it though! I spent a few days camped out amidst the aspens. There wasn't much to do in the way of photography, with the beautiful sunny skies and green forests. This would be a quick break then, a time to relax and enjoy the forest.
After spending a few days living amongst the aspen trees I was ready to head back to Crested Butte, just a short drive away. I knew the fall colors were in full-swing down there and I couldn't let that opportunity pass. Thankfully I was blessed with another snow storm! The storm had hit the mountain peaks overnight, leaving them covered in fresh snow! By 7am I was out in the valley, photographing the mountains as the clouds swirled around them. It felt like Christmas again!
Telluride was one of my favorite locations of my 2016 roadtrip. It's a beautiful mountain town, which really emanates that "Colorado vibe" that people are seeking. There's ample opportunities here for skiers, hikers, photographers, 4wheelers, climbers...basically everyone who enjoys the outdoors! I was excited to see it in the fall though, with the yellow aspens and hopefully some snow!
As I was driving into Montrose I looked over to my left. I was stunned!! Way off in the distance I could see the Dallas Divide and all the mountains were covered in snow! This would be perfect! After a quick stop at Arby's, I raced towards the mountains, hoping to arrive before sunset. I got there just in time! Of course, the overlook was filled with people already. Even though the sunset colors were mainly obscured by clouds, the view was incredible! I had been waiting for this moment for years!
Last Dollar Road is one of the most scenic drives in Colorado, and that's saying a lot! Just like Schofield Pass outside Crested Butte, Last Dollar Road isn't for the faint of heart. When the dirt road is wet it becomes incredibly slick. Not only that, massive puddles tend to form in the middle of the road. I actually had conquered most of this drive in my little Chevy Malibu last year, but it was nice having all-wheel drive this time around.
During my final journey along Last Dollar Road, heading back to Telluride I spotted something large on a nearby tree trunk. It was starting to get dark, so I didn't recognize what it was at first. Then I realized it was a gorgeous Great Horned Owl!! Owl's are my favorite animal and I've only seen a few in the wild. This was the second time I'd ever seen a Great Horned Owl. I was lucky to have my camera sitting up front with me, and the telephoto lens was on too! I started snapping photos while the owl looked at me sleepily. She didn't seem to mind my presence at all. This was one of the highlights of the entire roadtrip, I felt so honored to encounter this beautiful bird.
What an amazing experience! This was the perfect way to end my time along Last Dollar Road. The following morning I completed another journey down the road to Telluride. Since it was supposed to be a warm and sunny day, I wanted to check out Mountain Village. There is a free gondola that takes visitors from Telluride up to Mountain Village. The views along the way are spectacular, especially this time of year. From the top of the ski-lift area you can get out and hike or bike back down to Telluride. I got out to snap some pics, before continuing on to Mountain Village.
I awoke early the next morning, it looked to be another beautiful day! Since I was in the area, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to visit Rico Hotsprings, a hidden gem outside of Telluride. I was first introduced to this magical spot when I made friends with some people who worked at the nearby National Park, Mesa Verde. Having been on the road for over 2 months now, spending almost every night sleeping in my car, I was looking forward to a nice long soak. The hot spring water felt amazing, especially on this chilly fall morning. After relaxing in the spring for an hour I was ready to go for a hike in the mountains nearby. Lizard Head Peak had been calling to me, so I decided to make that my destination for the day. It was a steep, arduous hike up into the mountains. It didn't help that the mountain pass was at 10,000 feet. Being a native Ohioan, I was still not accustomed this altitude.
To get the full story, as well as a ton of photos, head over to my website!
You can also visit my blog and read about the 2016 roadtrip through Colorado.
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