In my bag this week No. 19: Rocky Mountain Highs

Moonrise near Somerset
The moon, deceptively large to the eye, is just a blurry dot to the iPhone. Nevertheless, the mountains near the headwaters of the North Fork Gunnison River were lovely just around sunset on our drive west. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Just a quick update to show a little bit of the area we’re in right now.

I’ve greatly limited what I brought with me this trip — trying to avoid the mistake of carrying too much gear that I’ve made in the past.

I brought the the Pentax 6×7 and the pile of film I showed last week, and two 35mm cameras — the Konica EE-Matic Deluxe (still in testing) and the Pentax ME Super (hoping Kate will finish the roll of film in it, which is hers, so I can add it to the testing roster).

Aside from a missed turn and a lingering cold that’s really wrecking my sleep, we are off to a great start. Yesterday we explored Marble, Colo., and some 4×4 trails east of town that connect with Schofield Pass. Rather than Schofield pass over to Crested Butte, we took a loop around Sheep Mountain and stopped to see the famous Crystal Mill powerhouse, whose works dangle about 40 feet from the rock outcrop it sits on down to the river, where a water wheel once turned an air compressor that powered the mill.

Crystal Mill
The Crystal Mill powerhouse just outside of the “ghost town” of Crystal. Quotations because there is a book store and some summer cabins; it just doesn’t have that ghost town feel. A shaft ran through the wooden structure to the river where a wheel turned and provided rotational power back up to a generator, which powered the mill (now gone). (Daniel J. Schneider)

We weren’t able to explore the “ghost town” of Crystal, whose remaining buildings appear to be largely in good condition, as it all appears to be on private land now. Most have family names by the doors and look like summer cabins. Not quite what I was seeking, but I’m glad to have seen it with my own eyes.

We also rolled over Kebler Pass into Crested Butte and beyond, through Gothic (a ghost town that has now become a high altitude biological research station for a local college) and over the Schofield Pass summit to the Schofield townsite.

We were about two miles from Crystal and I debated returning via the Devil’s Punchbowl, but it’s had enough bad press that, with encouragement from Kate, I gave up that dream. I’ve since learned that the direction we were going is considered the “easy way,” and that one of the major obstacles for which the route earned its deadly reputation was removed by the U.S. Forest Service in 2012. Oh well, some other time.

Kebler Pass aspens
Dense stands of aspen trees cover the bulk of the west side of Kebler Pass between Paonia and Crested Butte, Colo. Young spruce trees get established in the shade and will be ready to take over as the aspen forest begins to die around the the coniferous trees. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Along much of Kebler Pass we were surrounded by dense, old aspens with young spruce trees growing in their shade. In just a few places the more mature spruce trees are already beginning to take over and in a decade or two I bet it will all be spruce again (barring a disastrous wildfire).

We also took a jaunt up a side road to Splains Gulch — a place with a name almost as memorable as the view from the shady campsite we stopped at for lunch.

Splains Gulch
Up a short, rough road east of the summit of Kebler Pass lies Splains Gulch, a wide meadow filled with wildflowers and a meandering creek that leads to Ohio Pass (eventually). It’s a popular spot for mountain biking, snowshoeing and cross country skiing. (Daniel J. Schneider)

We’ve been other places, too, and seen other things. A sheep farm with some unique black Welsh sheep; a local brewery; one of the state’s only year-round farm-to-table restaurants; a bridge. There are pictures below.

We aren’t working off a set itinerary so who knows where today or tomorrow will find us. Just feels good to get away and explore a bit.

Desert Weyr black sheep
A herd of distinctive Black Welsh Mountain sheep at the Desert Weyr farm in Paonia, Colo. These ewes will be sheared and their distinctive black wool fleeces scoured, combed, carded and spun into yarn, destined to be knitted into scarves, mittens, hats and sweaters. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Kebler Pass flowers at sunset
Purple wildflowers were overpowered by yellow in a lot of places along Kebler Pass, but here a few stood up high enough to catch the near-last rays of sunlight on the west side of the pass. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Paonia truss bridge
This pin-connected, seven-panel Pratt through truss bridge was built over the North Fork Gunnison River in 1911 and is still open to traffic. According to, it sees a little under 300 cars per day. (Daniel J. Schneider)