Last year the planning was a bit off and we were a bit late for the peak fall season in Colorado, when the famous Aspen trees are covering the state in a beautiful yellow and golden carpet. This year, we wanted to be there the last week of September. Due to the coronavirus situation, instead of flying, we drove across the country in two days. We were rewarded with some spectacular fall scenery.
Estes Park | Rocky Mountains National Park
Our trip started in Estes Park right at the edge of Rocky Mountains National Park. We had some time exploring the beautiful alpine lakes Bear lake and Sprague lake.
My favorite part was our hike up to Dream lake and Emerald lake. We woke up at 4 am to arrive around 5 am at Bear lake, where our hike started. We hiked in the dark to Dream lake, which took us about 1.5 hours. I must say I was a bit nervous about hiking in the dark. The path was easy recognizable though and with our headlights it was no problem at all. We arrived in time at Dream Lake just before sunrise, it was extremely windy and cold. However, we picked the wrong day. Heavy clouds blocked the sun from getting through, so I didn’t get any light on Hallet Peak. We waited a bit and continued our hike to Emerald lake. The sun was getting harsh when we arrived. The scenery was stunning though and I definitely, would like to repeat this hike, hopefully with more luck next time.
We decided to spend one night in Gateway, Colorado. Gateway is located at the border of Utah. We drove by the resort in Gateway last year and wanted to return ever since. While getting closer the landscape started to change from alpine lakes into desert landscape and canyons. The resort is located next to the red rock formations. We had a private terrace with a fire pit and enjoyed our dinner and some drinks on the terrace.
Next morning, we woke up early in order to photograph the red rock formations at sunrise. Afterwards, we had a beautiful drive exploring the canyons and Adam was able to test his car while off-roading on the dirt roads. The resort has a beautiful Auto Museum that is worth to be checked out. We were very impressed with the collection.
Carbondale and Aspen
After packing up, we headed out to Carbondale and Aspen. The landscape was covered in beautiful glowing Aspen trees. I was looking forward to take a sunrise shot of the Maroon Bells at Maroon lake. Unfortunately, we were not able to get into the park. Due to covid there were more restrictions in place and access was only possible with reservation. But nevertheless, we had a beautiful time driving out to Marble, exploring the Crystal Mill. And I was able to photograph Mount Sopris instead.
Crystal Mill in Marble in Colorado.
We drove out on Castle Creek Road to Ashcroft, that is located about 10 miles south of Aspen. Ashcroft is a scenic silver mining ghost town that features the remains of several historic buildings. The drive on Castle Creek Road is very interesting too, giving away some stunning views of the Elk Mountains.
Million Dollar Highway
On our last days we drove out to Durango. We took the famous Million Dollar Highway, part of the San Juan Skyway and one of the most beautiful roads I have seen. The scenery was breathtaking with stunning views one after the other. There are no safety measures on this road, no guardrails and shoulders or whatsoever and some dangerous drop-offs on parts of the road.
We had just stopped at Silverton for gas when I noticed the beautiful light and clouds forming above the San Juan Mountains. Adam filled only half of the gas tank seeing my face ;). We continued our drive while hoping that the forests that only gave a glimpse of the beautiful mountain views would open up soon. We got lucky when suddenly a small park came up. I rushed out of the car and was able to catch a few shots of the mountains in the last beautiful light.
This was my favorite part of our entire trip and it made up for missing out on the Maroon Bells at Aspen. The conditions were perfect and the composition worked out great, even though there wasn’t any time for exploring. You don’t get that much luck very often, most of the time, you have to visit a location several times before having such conditions. And in my experience, we usually have the most beautiful sunsets while being on the road with no composition in sight.
We had a wonderful time in Colorado, but we had to get on our way back home again. We drove through some parts of Route 66 on our return and stopped in the ghost town, Endee. We did a Route 66 trip about 2.5 years ago and had been here before. It was our first longer trip together and I lived in Europe back then. Revisiting this location brought up some nice memories and it was interesting to see how time stood still in this place. Not a single thing changed, the cars where in the same place as 2.5 years ago.
Abandoned cars in the ghost town of Endee.