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Here and there

Our campsite near San Cristobal Lake was a nice one, with a river flowing through a canyon down below us.

San Cristobal Lake campsite

But we soon discovered that it had a drawback: it just happened to be the local shooting range. Every day, people showed up with guns and spent hours blasting away at targets they'd set up on the hillside a couple hundred feet from us. We noticed that the ground was littered with spent shells and the remains of clay targets... years' worth of them. It was hard for us to relax amid the "BANG!" of pistols, the "CRACK!" of rifles, and the "BOOM!" of shotguns every few minutes. And it made my cat Alix nervous.

The shooters were very polite. Several knocked on our doors to ask permission, or at least to give notice that they were going to be practicing. One man told me that residents of Lake City had been using this site for target practice for sixty years, "but the BLM folks in Washington flat-out refuse to let us post warning signs." Thus innocent campers like us, who showed up expecting to enjoy nature, were in for a rude awakening. It wasn't the local folks' fault; we were encroaching on their turf.

We put up with the noise for a few days, but then on Friday one of the locals told us that the annual Lake City Turkey Shoot was scheduled to take place the next day right where we were camped. Shooting would start at 10:00 and last for five hours, with various categories (including "Children under 12") competing for prizes. They were expecting about five hundred people, he said, and then added courteously, "Y'all are welcome to stay, if you don't mind the noise."

Well, it didn't take long for Jan and me to decide that the smart thing to do was to move to another campsite, pronto. Fortunately, we had scouted out other local sites earlier, so we had alternatives bookmarked in our GPSs. We ended up moving to a site much closer to town, which turned out to be ideal. A stream ran right alongside it, and we could even walk to town along a beautiful hiking trail.

Lake City campsite

I loved the dramatic cliffs and crags all along the stream. One familiar sight on our daily walks was this jagged, rocky spire, which loomed over the hiking trail like a Gothic haunted house in an old horror movie.

Rocky spire

Deer were common in Lake City, and pretty much fearless. This fawn, which we encountered in someone's yard on the outskirts of town while walking, still had his spots.


There was one more waterfall on our list: Little Nellie Creek Falls. We headed up there one cloudy afternoon on a very rough road. I hadn't been thrown around so much since we had attempted to climb to the Wheeler Geologic Area, only to turn around after the first couple of miles—that road was too rough even for Jan's jeep! This one was almost as bad in places.

Rough road to Nellie Creek

So bad, in fact, that a couple of days later I was sporting a large swollen bruise on my left elbow, due to the pounding it took from the Jeep's not-too-well-padded center-console armrest. I've learned to keep my arms in my lap when traveling rough roads.

But we made it up to Little Nellie Creek, where the falls were visible from the road through the densest stand of aspen I'd ever seen.

Aspen forest

We slipped and slid our way down the steep hillside to get closer...

Nellie Creek Falls

...finally reaching an overlook where we could see the waters close up. The green mosses growing around the falls were almost surrealistically lush.

Nellie Creek Falls 2

The next day we returned to Deer Lakes, at the top of Slumgullion Pass, in hope of seeing moose again. A few of the trees were turning orange, making startling bursts of color against a background that was still mostly green.

Deer lakes

While Jan walked around the edge of the lake looking for moose (there weren't any), I got interested in the occasional ripples in the still water, caused by random bubbles, insects and fish. Trouble was, I could never predict where they were going to occur, so it was hard to get a good shot. So I picked up a few small pebbles and tossed them into the water one at a time, using my camera's 12-frame-per-second burst mode to capture the results. The splashes turned out to be more fun than the ripples.


I'll have to try it again sometime under more controlled conditions, and shoot detailed closeups from a tripod. (These photos were shot handheld and cropped from larger images that showed more of the lake.)

Speaking of experiments, I've been fooling around with a circular polarizer. I used to use one of these twenty or thirty years ago when I was shooting Kodachrome, but only recently added one to my digital camera's bag of tricks. In addition to darkening skies—the most common use—it makes a big difference when shooting reflections in water. Here are two shots of the same stream, with the polarizer rotated to minimize and maximize reflections:

Polarized water

Hard to believe it's exactly the same scene! If I were trying to photograph fish, I'd want to eliminate reflections—as in the lefthand shot, where you can see into the water. But for a scenic shot, the righthand version showing the reflected sky is more attractive. It all depends on a twist of the polarizer, so experiment and see what looks best.

Polarizer banding

You have to be careful, though, when using a polarizer for wideangle scenes, because it doesn't darken the whole sky—it only darkens a band of sky at right angles to the direction of the sun. If your angle of view is too wide, the band can become embarrassingly obvious, as in this snapshot.


Here's an easy rule of thumb (literally) for predicting the effect: point your index finger at the sun and stick out your thumb at right angles to your finger. (Sign language users: make an "L" hand.) Then while still pointing, rotate your hand around the wrist. The arc described by your thumb will point to the band of sky that's darkened by a polarizer.

Fall is on the way

At Lake City, we're only at about 8,600 feet, but our day trips in Jan's Jeep regularly take us up to 10,000 feet or higher. At these high altitudes fall begins earlier, and the signs are already evident: aspens are starting to turn gold and (in a few cases) reddish-orange. I'm planning to stay in Colorado at least till the end of the month, as Jan and I track the coming of fall color. Already I can see that it's going to be spectacular.

Jeep, aspens and cliff
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