Crystal Creek Mill

(This is the second story out of series of stories about photographing iconic places. This is the scary one which I appropriately post on Halloween.)

After Maroon Bells my next stop was Crystal Creek Mill. There are a lot of photos of this place on the internet. It is very picturesque and I wanted to see and photograph it for myself. The place is kind of remote. The road to it goes thru a small town Marble. As you get closer to the town the road becomes narrower and forces slower driving. The pavement completely ends after Marble. There are still 4-5 miles to the ghost town Crystal where the mill is located. Once the pavement ends road becomes rough. 4×4 with high clearance is recommended. I still managed to get thru the first mile on compact SUV. The road was bad but it was manageable with careful driving. Eventually I had to abandon the car and walk the rest of the distance on foot. The ditches were getting too deep and the rocks were sticking out too high.

It was a sunny day – mildly warm or mildly cool whichever way you want to look at it – the perfect day for hiking. Not too hot that I’d be sweating and not too cold that I’d need to wear something more than T-shirt. I took on a brisk pace ready to meet the place I’ve dreamed of. On the way there I met a couple from France. Their English was not fluent but we still talked a little bit. They were traveling around American southwest. Before the trip they discovered this place on the internet and wanted to visit and photograph it too.

After about a mile I saw that my decision to abandon the car was the right one. There was a rock slide and the cars would literally need to ride over it. There was no room to turn around. I saw some scraping on the rocks – even high clearance vehicle were catching on them. From time to time I stopped and photographed on the way to the mill. Getting closer to Crystal Creek Mill the road was gaining elevation and dusting of snow started showing up on the sides of the road from the previous night’s snow storm.

Finally, after couple hours of hiking I got to the mill. I was so happy! There were about 10 more photographers already there and maybe as many tourists. Many got there on high clearance vehicles or ATVs that can be rented in Marble. I was a bit a bit disappointed at how many people were there and that I needed to wait to get to a spot from which I can photograph the mill. Yet it was just a minor nuance. I was too high on positive emotions from hiking and getting to this place.

The enjoyment lasted for about 5 minutes. Here is an image I got in those 5 minutes:

Apparently the mill as well as the land around it (as well as all the buildings in ghost town Crystal and all the land along the road to the town for that matter) is private property and owner(s) did not want to have anyone there anymore. There were several men of different age (looked like a family) building a fence around. The oldest one was very agitated. He started screaming to people to get back to the road which was the only public land. The funny part was when he screamed “Don’t you understand English!” the couple from France truthfully said that they don’t understand.

I noticed that he also carried a handgun on his belt and his hand was going to the gun and back as he was working over the moral block not to shoot at people. I did not want to wait until he gets “trigger happy” and moved back to the road. Others were ignoring him. Those by the river may not have even heard him over the noise from a waterfall by the mill.

As I reached the road (took me about 10 steps to give you the sense of the size of the place) with my back to the guy I heard shooting. I turned around and to some relief saw that he was shooting into water and not targeting people (hopefully). He emptied the clip and inserted a new one. Those by the river reluctantly started working back up to the road. Strangely enough I was not scared. The best way to describe my mental state would probably be incomprehension. I had never been in a situation where a gun would be fired outside a shooting range and with intent to scare people off.

This incident was followed by arguments and blaming between some visitors and the man with the gun. I did not want to stay any longer there. I was not in the mood to photograph anymore…