MARBLE - I've always marveled at photos of the Crystal Mill, a prominent wooden structure perched atop an outcropping high above the Crystal River outside Marble.
On Wednesday, at long last, I decided to slip a camera in by backpack and go take a look for myself.
The area was virtually abandoned when I reached sparkling Beaver Lake on the edge of Marble. A shirtless, dour, middle-aged man with a fishing rod turned in his lawn chair and nodded as I slowly passed.
Soon after, I ditched my car and ventured into the unknown.
I was glad I left the Jeep behind. On the road's narrowest stretches, those often situated hundreds of feet above the river, I couldn't shake the images of my sweaty hands on the steering wheel or my transmission being jarred loose on the rugged terrain and careening down the steep hillside.
I still made good time on the roughly five-mile trek, pausing occasionally to soak in the impressive vistas and snap photos of the oddly shaped, moss-covered boulders and the remaining leaves still defiantly clinging to their branches in the brisk air. The scene was invigorating, as were the gusts that whipped through dense forests of aspen and pine.
While clearly not at full strength, the Crystal filled the air with the calming din of cascading water. The sound intensified as I headed upriver.
A few gentle miles later, I spotted the mill peeking through the trees. It soon became clear why this spot is among the most iconic in our state.
Sure, the sky was overcast, and the usually surging waterfall was little more than a trickle. And sure, I missed the peak of the fall colors by a few weeks. I was willing to trade all that, however, for some splendid isolation. (I spotted just two hikers and one car all afternoon.)
Knowing full well that nothing I captured could do this place justice, I took some photos.
Then, I gingerly negotiated the steep embankment, pulled off my pack and my shoes and dipped my toes in the clear, turquoise water.
I gazed up at the well-worn structure, openly wondering how this treasure from a bygone era has endured in the harsh high country since 1892. I wondered why it had taken me so long to get there.
I won't make that mistake again.