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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Mountain Trek

Take a road trip through the Rockies and the Smokies with two pros who map the most dramatic spots in these American icons

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mountain trek
The Rocky Mountains and the Smoky Mountains are two of the most dramatic ranges in North America, where one can capture a fusion of geologic and scenic images. The Rockies run for 3,000 miles from British Columbia, Canada, to the lower portion of New Mexico. Straddling Tennessee and North Carolina, the Smokies are a smaller chain of mountains named for the haze that engulfs them most of the year.

Just getting there is half the fun. The Rockies and the Smokies are both accessible by vehicle—the San Juan Skyway in southwestern Colorado links you to the 14,000-foot peaks of the San Juan Mountain range, and the many one-way loop road trails in Tennessee and North Carolina connect you to the rolling peaks and valleys of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Rocky Mountains
James Kay knows all the back roads and trails to reach the most spectacular spots in the Rockies. He particularly loves shooting in the San Juan Mountains, a portion of the Rockies that covers 12,000 square miles with peaks that rise up to 14,000 feet. One of the best ways to capture these snowcapped mountains is to jump on the San Juan Skyway, a 236-mile loop that connects cities like Ouray, Silverton and Telluride via a narrow two-lane highway. The skyway runs through rugged terrain, with windy sections and steep curves that put you right in the thick of the San Juan Mountains.

mountain trek The Golden Horn
1 The Golden Horn
A mountain representative of the Matterhorn peaks of Europe can be found sandwiched in the Weminuche Wilderness: The Golden Horn. It can only be accessed by hiking about three miles in from the Ice Lake Basin trailhead. About a 20-minute drive northwest of the town of Silverton, Ice Lake Basin is filled with 10 photogenic lakes in an upper and lower basin. The upper basin contains the Golden Horn and other 13,000-foot peaks, while the lower basin features lakes, waterfalls and waist-high wildflowers.

The Golden Horn is a glacial cirque, says Kay, which has been scoured on all three sides, making it a pointy pyramid shape. With its many bodies of water and wildflowers like columbines, larkspur, paintbrush and chiming bells, the area’s photographic opportunities are ample if you’re willing to get out and hike to this amazing location.

mountain trek
Last Dollar Road/Mount Wilson Park
2 Last Dollar Road/Mount Wilson Peak
Telluride is known for its skiing these days, but for Kay, it has more dramatic photo ops than any other place in the Rockies. Just west of Telluride, you’ll find Last Dollar Road, a small gravel and dirt road off Highway 62 (the San Juan Skyway) that offers spectacular vantage points as it winds up the mountainside until you reach Wilson Mesa and Mount Wilson, the highest peak in the San Juan Range.

The Wilson Mesa/Mount Wilson area is where the Colorado Plateau runs into these "fourteeners" (14,000-foot peaks). This is another spot that Kay suggests photographing because of its aspen groves, which are densely scattered along the mountains, as well as big ravines and scenic vistas.


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