USA


Mount Falcon, Colorado

Mount Falcon, Colorado


Posted on Sep 6, 2014 in Colorado, USA

One of the things about going to Denver that I was looking forward to the most, were the day trips my friends and I were planning on taking. Colorado makes me think of larger-than-life scenery, wide open skies over pristine mountains and rolling hills. Sure, I knew that somewhere along the way I’d developed an overly-romantic vision of what it would be like, but man was I ever happy to see that I wasn’t too far off!

Facing the foothills of the Colorado Rockies

Facing the foothills of the Colorado Rockies

After a late start on Sunday my friends took me on a trip into the hills on the outskirts of Denver, The Front Ranges. Mount Falcon is about a 40 minute drive west of town, a route that becomes very scenic once you’ve reached the hills. The road gets super windy, and is gorgeous as it cuts through the rocks as you ascend to the park near the top of the hill.

One of the paths that you can follow, The Walker’s Dream trail, leads you to the burnt out husk of a former mansion. Also called the castle and tower ruins, the home was  built by John Brisben Walker in the early 20th century, tragically burning to the ground in 1919. Walker owned a substantial chunk of the land in the Denver area, including the newly restored Union Station neighbourhood and what would eventually become Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

All in all, our wandering around the park took 2-3 hours. We took our time, mostly to account for my slow pace (I kept stopping to take photos,  but also because of the altitude which while not as severe as in Peru, is definitely noticeable and it takes more energy to do simple things like go for a walk than I was accustomed). As with all outings in Colorado, bringing a litre (or more!) of water with you is a must to help combat the altitude and the dry air. Even though it’s at the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, Denver is really more of a prairie city . When you add in the higher altitude, which means you have 25% less protection from the sun (so bring your sunscreen!), you can get dehydrated super fast.

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Breathtaking!

Breathtaking!

You wind among rocks of every conceivable and inconceivable shape and size… all bright red, all motionless and silent, with a strange look of having been just stopped and held back in the very climax of some supernatural catastrophe. – Helen Hunt Jackson

My first full day in Colorado, we packed ourselves into the car and headed south on the I-25 from Denver to Colorado Springs. Our destination: The Garden of the Gods. I’d seen red rock formations peppered around Denver in the few hours I’d been in town, and was anxious to get up close and see them in person so was thrilled to discover that where we were headed was a US Natural National Landmark precisely because of these rocks.

You should go to there.

You should go to there.

The park is absolutely free and open to hikers, technical rock climbers, horseback riding, mountain biking — you name it, and it seems to be done here. We saw young kids clamouring over specially designated rocks, climbing fearlessly feet above the ground without a harness (I was convinced one little girl was part mountain goat, and would have kept climbing had her dad not called her back to the ground), families with dogs of all shapes and sizes (including a lovely Corgi named Tank!), women in flip-flops and maxi-dresses out for a stroll, two guys climbing one of the higher peaks then sitting at the summit watching us all go by like ants, and park rangers who were there to answer any question you had about the rocks and their history. It’s an amazing public space, and fantastic to photograph!

I could have sat and looked at these rocks all day

I could have sat and looked at these rocks all day

The one thing that is forbidden, and you would think this to be a no-brainer, is to NOT carve on the soft sandstone rocks. There are signs everywhere, yet we hadn’t even been in the park five minutes when we came across a woman leaning over a wooden fence to carve a her initials onto a boulder formation. “Are you sure you’re supposed to be doing that?” I asked, ever the polite Canadian. “There are signs everywhere telling you not to do this!”, my friend snapped at her; we were all appalled and pretty pissed off. As for the woman, she seemed stunned that anyone would have spoken to her, preventing her from doing whatever she wanted. As my other friend said, what a great lesson she was teaching her children. While I would have liked to have hoped that other folks would have said something to her had we not come along, there were other adults milling around her to wait their turn to deface a rock that had been there for millions of years, or passing her by without saying a word.

Despite the gorgeous day, the park was surprisingly uncrowded

Despite the gorgeous day, the park was surprisingly uncrowded

I’m not certain if we lucked out, or if this was the norm, but we were able to enjoy the park without feeling as though we were being suffocated by thousands of people. The park receives over 2 million visitors annually, but it sure didn’t seem to be busy when we were there. Sure, there were small pockets of people around the more accessible formations such as the one we climbed a top of and sat until the altitude started to make me dizzy (or my altitude-paranoia did anyway; after Peru I’ve been understandably twitchy about going anywhere higher than sea-level!), or near cluster points at corners or near the washrooms. Other than that though, I feel blessed to have been able to take so many fantastic photographs of the landscape.

Doesn't this make you want to go down that path?

Doesn’t this make you want to go down that path?

Notes on shooting with my Fuji X-E2

This day trip was my first bonafide travel photography session with my new Fuji X-E2. I’m glad I’d taken the time while at home in Toronto to get accustomed to using the wee beastie, because while in Colorado I was able to set things up without a lot of trial and error and simply enjoy being out in the gorgeous scenery. After all of the years travelling with my Canon DSLR, this was the first time I’d not felt bogged down by my camera gear (which makes sense, as the X-E2 is a fraction of the size and heft of my old XTi). For the most part, I simply tossed the camera in my daypack or my purse and off we went!

My gorgeous new 18mm lens, lens cap, and hood cap

My gorgeous new 18mm lens, lens cap, and hood cap

While I had brought both the 18mm prime lens and the 18-55mm kit lens with me to Denver, I shot exclusively with the 18mm over the course of the trip. I love that lens so much, it hasn’t been off the camera since the day it arrived! I still enjoy the zoom that the 18-55 gives me, but I feel that I’d rather have a longer lens to complement the 18mm and to leave the 18-55 at home. I’ve my eye on either the 50-230mm or the 55-200 OIS lens next, but need to do a bit of research to see if it’s worth spending the few extra hundred dollars that OIS lens calls for.

Any Fujinistas out there? Which lens would you recommend I get next, and why?

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Gorgeously restored

Gorgeously restored

I’ve been back from my whirlwhind trip to Denver for a few days now, and I’m finally beginning to go through the hundreds of photos that I took with my X-E2. Denver’s recently invested quite heavily in restoring its Union Station (and environs), and it shows. The building is gobsmackingly gorgeous! I can only hope that when Toronto’s Union Station restoration is complete in the next year or so that it looks even half as swank as Denver’s.

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Travel PSA of the Day:

Travel PSA of the Day:


Posted on Aug 8, 2014 in Travel, USA

Don’t use Canadian Visa debit cards while in the USA, it leaves you open to merchants doing post-purchase shenanigans that your bank can’t do anything about. Of the five places I used my bank card in Denver, two did hinky post-purchase adjustments that ended up costing me roughly $20 (thankfully I didn’t use it more!).

Mystery debits and credits

Mystery debits and credits

I spent an hour with my bank manager, and he said that this was not something he had ever seen before and that it was not related to foreign transaction fees. It was the merchant (or their banks) refunding my original purchase and then ringing it in at a higher rate for some reason. My bank felt bad that they couldn’t do anything about the mystery charges, and weren’t aware that this was even a potential issue with the Visa Debit cards, so instead refunded my $14 bank fee from this month for the hassle (thanks TD!)

Also, because the US machines read the Visa debits as flat-out Visa cards you aren’t asked for a PIN or signature if the amount is less than $50US, which means anyone can use your card should you lose it.

TL;DR — Use cash or credit only in the US, don’t use your debit card *especially* if it’s the Visa Debit that some banks now use as their bank cards.

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