It was nearly dusk when we arrived. There were a few other ambitious sightseers that had also made it to this remote mountain outpost but they were either packing up or well on their way back to civilization- you know, where roads weren’t trying to kill you and food and water were readily available- that kind of thing. We had a choice: do what we traveled all day to do (take photos of the Mill) or drive the epic off-road back before it was dark. Pick one.
I lived in Colorado for almost 6 years with much of that time spent in the mountains and still had never heard of Crystal Mill. It’s located about as middle-of-nowhere as you can get in the state and quite possibly the most remote place there that you can go with a car. This might have been why I was wary when he brought it up as a must-see destination. Or it could have been that I had wanted to be the knowledgable local, impressing him with my knowledge of all the cool sights around the state. But let’s go with the former.
The road, in case I haven’t gotten this point across yet, is EPIC. It’s the kind of road that’s not marked at all and is well beyond any kind of reception so you have to rely on luck or what you remember of what the guy at the gas station told you. It’s the kind of road that you think I’m not afraid of heights until you look over the side and realize it’s a cliff and that maybe you are a little afraid of heights. It’s the kind of road that if you happen upon another car going the other way, you might as well dig out some snacks and get comfy because backing up is almost as inconceivable as fitting two cars side by side.
David is a really great driver and I don’t consider myself squeamish but at some point I decided my blood pressure and our relationship was better off if I just walked.
Eventually we did arrive and, in case you hadn’t guessed, we decided to stay for photos. The clincher was that a few hundred yards up from the Mill is an abandoned settlers town. Well, town is too generous a word: it is a handful of rickety huts built around the 1900’s. A seventy year old caretaker lives in one all summer and two or three others are rented out as glorified camping spots. They have no running water, no electricity, and no sheets; just a bed, a stove, and a roof. But they also comes with some pretty stellar views and some of the brightest stars I have seen.
As night fell one of our few “neighbors”, a 42 year old retired stock broker camping in his truck, joined us around the fire. We ate our spare cliff bars and box of rice pilaf from the caretaker for dinner and Aiden who was still nursing was blissfully unaware of anything out of the ordinary. David tried to take a long-exposure shot of the night sky but was too afraid of bears to stay outside.
And as he set his alarm for pre-sunrise photos and we snuggled into our sleeping bags on the worst mattress ever, we thought to ourselves: now this is adventure.
David doesn’t love this shot of the Mill. I used to think he was being impossibly particular (After all we went through to get it?! Don’t be difficult!) but now, a few years later, I see it; the lack of light on the Mill, the dull sky, that it’s not perfectly sharp. For his caliber, it is not a phenomenal shot.
But what it represents- the massive journey to get to the deserted ghost town, high in the Colorado mountains; the behind the scenes, if you will- that is phenomenal.