Day 16 - The Rockies  
    Dawn over Boulder    
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor Film: Kodak Portra 400UC

I woke up at about 5.00am in Boulder, wanting to try to get up into the mountains adjacent to the city for an early morning shoot. It was a Sunday morning, and the city was dead quiet with the only thing moving on the streets some particularly adventurous racoons, looking for an easy feed.

I struggled to find a road up into the mountains in the early morning half-light, but finally found myself on the road into the mountains, where I was eventually to find a point where I could park the car, and walk into the hills. Boulder is adjacent to the Rockies, and when you actually get there and look out on the world it seems amazing that you can have flat land as far as the eye can see, ending abruptly in towering mountains.

I carried my tripod and gear up a well trod path up towards the peak of this small mountain overlooking Boulder, all the time feeling wonderment at the land around me. It was incredibly picturesque, and while the light was not perfect for photographs, the tranquility of the surroundings had a great impact on me. As I followed the path up this mountain I passed a parcel of deer, grazing on the steep hillside. At my approach they moved further away, but it was a bit of a thrill for me - I loved the fact that I could be so close to civilisation, and yet here in a seemingly untouched wilderness, with wild animals roaming around. At that point I envied all of the residents of Boulder, who have this beautiful scenery in their back yards.

A view of the lovely grassed hillsides surronding Boulder
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor Film: Kodak Portra 400UC

One thing I realised as I walked up to the peak on this beautiful Sunday morning was that I was extremely unfit - carrying a heavy tripod plus two cameras and six lenses up a mountain path at a mile above sea-level is probably something I should have trained for! Nevertheless, it was an amazing way to wake up, and as I walked back down I was so excited because today was the day we started seeing the west.

The scenery was so beautiful I wanted to stay in the mountains all day.
Minolta X-570 with 200mm f/2.8 MD Tele Rokkor Film: Kodak Portra 400UC

After spending about an hour communing with nature I headed back down the mountain to where I had left the car. David and I had a long day ahead of us, with a 270 mile drive from Boulder to Grand Junction to look forward to, taking us through the Rockies on the I-70, one of the most picturesque roads in America.

I got back to the hotel, packed my bags and then David and I jumped in the car to start our day. Rather than backtracking to Denver to get the I-70 at its start, we had decided to take a route which led through the start of the Rockies, and met the I-70 a little way into the mountains. A short way East into the Rockies we came across Nederland, an alpine town, situated overlooking the Barker Reservoir.

View across the Barker Reservoir, near Nederland, Colorado.
Minolta X-570 with 200mm f/2.8 MD Tele Rokkor Film: Kodak Portra 400UC

We stopped in Nederland for breakfast, and got a donut and some coffee from the local supermarket. The town is picturesque and really has the feel of a mountain town - it is obvious that it spends much of the year under snow. We then headed south towards Black Hawk and Central City. These towns were established in 1859 as mining towns after the discovery of gold in the area by John Gregory. Within two months of the discovery of gold the population had grown to over 10,000 and the sheer abundance of gold in the area led to it becoming known as "the richest square mile on earth".

Central City was the larger of the two towns, and from 1859 to 1866 it was the most important town in Colorado Territory, acting as the County Seat for Gilpin County. Central City was destroyed by fire in 1873, and was rebuilt in brick and stone, most of which is still standing today, making it a very picturesque town for photographers.

The towns prospered for many years however by the 1920's had fallen into decline, and by the 1980's while Central City still had a core population, its neighbour Black Hawk was a virtual ghost town. Then in 1990 the area was permitted to introduce limited stakes gambling and the region once again boomed. Now Black Hawk, with its easier access has become the larger city, and is filled with dozens of small casinos. Unlike the wilder days of the 1800's, the bandits now all have one arm.

Scenery around Nederland, Colorado
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Kodak Portra 400UC
The simple beauty of nature in Colorado can be quite enthralling.
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X. Film: Kodak Portra 400UC

Leaving Central City, we went onto a smaller road that wound its way through the mountains, passing old abandoned gold mines, and ones that are still in operation. Shortly after leaving Central City, the sealed road ended, and a dirt road stretched out in front of us. We continued down the road, becoming increasingly concerned as the terrain became more mountainous, the thin dirt road snaking its way around hairpin curves on the precipitous slopes with not a safety barrier in site!

Interestingly, after we finished the drive and in a state of huge relief finally reached the I-70 I happened to look at the Boulder City brochure I had picked up the day before. In the map at the rear of the brochure I finally found the name of the road we had just spent an hour or so driving. It is called, quite appropriately, the "Oh-my-God" Road! If we had have seen that information prior to starting the trip our route may have been somewhat different.

An example of the not-so-safe "Oh-my-God" Road.
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala

After joining the I-70 we headed west through the beautiful Alpine countryside, zipping along at a much faster pace. The I-70 is a magnificent road, passing through some of the world's most beautiful alpine country, and opening up incredible wilderness areas and ski resorts to easy access. The road also features the highest vehicular tunnel in the world, the Eisenhower Tunnel, situated about 60 miles out from Denver. This tunnel (or tunnels in fact, because the eastbound and westbound tunnels are seperate) is at an average of 11,112 feet above sea level, or over 2.1 miles high!

The tunnels are approximately 1.7 miles in length, and span the peak of the great divide, that rises a further 1470 feet higher than the tunnel. While not such a great distance higher, this area of the country gets an average of over 26 feet of snow each year between November and April, so the tunnel helps ensure that the traffic can always flow.

The Eastern end of the Eisenhower Tunnel.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor. Film: Fuji Superia Reala
Some of the magnificent scenery after leaving the western end of the tunnel.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor. Film: Fuji Superia Reala

Approximately 40 miles from the western end of the Eisenhower Tunnel is the popular ski resort town of Vail. The area was originally settled in 1874 during the gold rush era that opened up the Rockies, but it was not until the late 1940's that the town started to become popular for what it is known for today, alpine sports.

After the Second World War three veterans of the 10th Mountain Division ski troop returned to their training grounds at Gore Valley near Vail. By 1962 the three veterans had fulfilled their dreams, turning acres of sheep pasture into the Vail Ski Resort. Today the Vail ski resort is world famous, and encompasses over six miles of trails. The area includes several large bowls that were destroyed by fire in 1879, which while a disaster at the time, have now left acres of open slope ski-trail, with sweeping vistas of the Colorado high-country.

The Hotel Gastof at Vail, a fine example of the European style of architecture that typifies the resort.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor. Film: Fuji Superia Reala
Gore Creek runs gently past the resort.
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala

David and I stopped at Vail and walked around the resort. Filled with expensive shops and architecture reminiscent of Europe it was a lovely place to visit, and the gentle Gore Creek runs past the edge of the town, glistening in the mountain light. It was interesting to think that stream passing by under the bridge beneath my feet would eventually become part of the mighty Colorado River, that would carve out the Grand Canyon.

The Sunday market was on in the village, and there were various different vendors of interesting food. We grabbed a bite to eat, and relaxed in the sun for a half hour or so, before getting back on the road. After all, we still had plenty of miles to travel before nightfall.

This way to the West!.
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD W.Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala

Along the I-70 it is naturally impossible to stop, except at designated rest areas. Thankfully, there are many of these, and the opportunity exists at many to explore a little. At one we took a break, and walked a little way along a lovely stream, admiring the scenery. After about an hour of me taking photos, even David's seemingly boundless patience was wearing thin, and we headed back to the car to continue our journey.

Rocky Mountain stream.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor. Film:Fuji Superia Reala

After mile after mile of mountains the scenery began to change, and we saw the first real signs that we had actually made it to the West. I was naturally very excited, because this was what I had been waiting for throughout the first two weeks of our trip. We stopped at several points to admire the incredible vistas that lay before us, and when we arrived at Grand Junction that evening I was a very happy man.

The white sneaker brigade enters the wild frontier!
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala

Well that's it, we have finally made it to the West. Over the next couple of weeks we will visit some of the most amazing sights in the American West, including Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Mesa Verde, and the Grand Canyon.

To Day 17 - Grand Junction to Moab
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