Let’s get you caught up. I went to Colorado to see some fall colors but to have another crack at finding the curved aspens, for which I had searched for three years.
Man, I sounded kind of demanding in that last sentence, my bad, I didn’t mean it. Anyway, the fall colors portion was out of the way. I was reasonably certain I knew where the trees were, I had rented an SUV with enough ground clearance to get there (based on my research), now I just had to find the dang things.
First, my foolhardy attempt to find the curved aspens for the very first time AT NIGHT
I checked into a quaint, if not overpriced, hotel somewhere in southwestern Colorado as night fell. I was chit-chatting with the lady and asked about a certain road I’d need to drive upon to make it to where I was reasonably certain the curved aspens were (I didn’t mention that’s what I was looking for). She said I should be fine on the road since I had a Jeep (although I left out that it was a 2WD Jeep…eek).
Here’s the thing about these trees: the location of them is relatively well-guarded, but plenty of people have found them. I’ve seen probably 100 pictures of them. But I had never seen any of them at night. I always try to find new ways of documenting pictures that Everyone Has Taken Already, so I decided to go for it. I found the road I needed to travel as the cellphone signal faded away. The road wasn’t that bad at first, but then I encountered a stretch that, well, was pretty bad. For some reason it didn’t occur to me to be particularly worried about what would happen if something went wrong, so I pressed forward. Some highlights from my Instagramming…
To the right, you’ll notice there’s a steep cliff with absolutely no guard rail. And yes, I was going downhill at a pretty steep rate. I had time to take this picture because I was kinda stuck between a rock and
a hard place another rock. As I sat there, all of the common sense I had ignored suddenly struck me right in the logic and I realized this probably wasn’t the best idea, even if I knew exactly where the trees were. I have a fair amount of offroading experience, enough to realize I had crossed a Rubicon of sorts and couldn’t go back the way I came at this point, I had to keep going. I freed the Jeep from it’s stuckedness and cautiously continued. When in doubt, heavy metal relaxes me, so I cranked some DragonForce and went about my merry way, trying to focus on the road instead of kicking myself for making such an oddly dumb decision. All while trying to document my adventures for the Instagram if my cellphone ever found a signal again.
Mercifully the path leveled out shortly after that video was taken and I focused on the mission at hand: finding the trees. I was driving along and found what looked like a small parking lot and thought to myself “that must be where they are!” I excitedly pulled into the barren lot and got my camera backpack ready. I turned on my trusty headlamp from my last trip to Colorado when I climbed a mountain and walked into the thick woods.
In the complete darkness of night.
Looking for trees.
All while not being exactly sure where they were.
Not my best idea.
I had backtracked a few times, making sure I didn’t lose the trail back to my vehicle, when all of a sudden the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and it hit me. I was in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night in a part of Colorado which has some very large animals which hunt at night and are quite good at it. I didn’t have a gun, nor bear spray. I didn’t know exactly where the trees were or if I was even in the right place. WHAT THE HECK WAS I THINKING?!
I took my phone out and turned some music up really loud on the speaker, hoping that by creating noise I at least wouldn’t accidentally sneak up on any animals. I urgently hurried back to the Jeep, tossed my camera bag inside, and just sat there for a good while wondering why the heck I had put myself in such a dangerous situation with so little safety equipment or even a means to contact someone in case I had an emergency. Then I had the issue of how to get back to the hotel. By my estimates I couldn’t make it up the steep rocky hill you saw above, so I didn’t have a choice: I had to keep going on the road I was on and take the long way around back to the hotel. My plan fortunately worked but unfortunately the detour cost me three additional hours. I got back to the hotel around 1:30am, my ego still smarting from how dumb I was but at the same time was grateful I made it back safely.
The next day. The day I found the aspens.
I awoke early the next morning, groggy and still a bit emotionally charged up from my adventures the previous night. Today, I told myself, was the day I finally found the trees. But first, breakfast. I went down to the hotel front desk and asked my typical question in a small town, “Is there a breakfast spot where the waitresses call you ‘hun’ or ‘sweety’?” (For those not familiar with the southern USA, those are terms of endearment) I was pointed in the right direction and started a short walk. And then I stopped. The views around this little town were amazing. Had to pull out my camera and take a picture.
Having pulled in at night the evening before I had no idea what the surroundings looked like, so it was a very pleasant surprise. I had some breakfast, some hot tea, and then went back to the hotel to pack up my things for my second attempt at finding the dang trees.
Part of me was excited about seeing what I had missed in the darkness the night before, the other part realized it was probably better that I couldn’t see it!
I approached the turn-off for the road and made one last post to Instagram before I lost signal. I made sure it sounded really optimistic so people would know my spirits were high.
Ok the road wasn’t that bad during the day, in fact the trees around the road had begun to change into their fall colors and the entire scene was just gorgeous.
The rocky steep hill bit was as exposed and unprotected as it seemed the night before but, having already conquered it at night and not being particularly bothered by heights, it was a piece of cake.
I made it back to where I was the night before and set off on a walk to find the trees, culminating three years of research and an entire trip to Colorado to try and find them previously.
There was only one problem…they weren’t where I thought they would be.
I left the Jeep where it was and kept searching on foot. There were a few clues I had thought out logically based on human nature (in terms of how close they probably were to the road and if they were part of a solid group of trees or were on the border of an area of trees).
I began to see small curves in some of the aspen trees and really felt like I was close. I walked down what I thought was a trail and eventually hit a dirt track. That didn’t seem right to me but it was absolutely beautiful so I took a picture anyway.
I made my way back to the road and kept searching. I just knew I was close. I just didn’t know where the trees were.
I searched for three hours.
At one point I checked my Health app on my iPhone. It said I had walked 14000 steps up and down a half-mile stretch of road looking for these trees.
Gradually, I lost hope. I couldn’t believe that I was SO CLOSE and would be throwing in the towel, but I was out of ideas. I had searched every area that looked promising and just couldn’t find them. Eventually I accepted that, for whatever reason, I wasn’t supposed to see the trees on that trip. I regretfully stored away my camera backpack, hopped in the Jeep, and slowly started my way down the path when, for some reason, a certain part of the road caught my eye and I recalled something a friend had said when he visited the trees (he didn’t tell me where they were, just some stuff he encountered while looking for them). As I thought to myself “wait, if that could’ve happened here…” as my eyes looked across the road…
AND THEN I SAW THE CURVED ASPENS.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this: I cried (yes the tears were muscular and manly, obvi). I parked almost right in the middle of the road (sorry everybody else), grabbed my gear, and ran to the trees. Now, you may think the first thing I did was take my tripod and the rest of my camera gear out, but I didn’t. I stood there next to the trees, tears streaming down my eyes, and just took in the entirety of the moment. Yes, I know they were just trees, but this was the culmination of three years of work and I had given up! I was immensely grateful, said a prayer of thanks, and eventually took out my camera and got to work.
I loved experimenting with different camera and lens combinations to see how they would affect the composition, as there were so many incredible angles of these trees.
I was ecstatic. I had the trees to myself for an hour. Eventually another car pulled up and a guy yelled from the window “we’ve been looking for hours up and down this [bad word]ing road, please tell me you found them!” I smiled, gave a quick nod, and the two lads in the car excitedly grabbed their gear and we all high-fived (and then hand sanitized because covid). They had been searching for nearly as long as I had!
What caused the trees to curve like that?
There’s a phenomenon in geology called soil creep, where downward pressure from things like avalanches or just gravity itself can move things at a precipitously fast rate. Many people believe that, early in the life of this small patch of trees, soil creep or an avalanche happened, causing them to grow in a curve to find the sunlight they needed to grow.
Eventually I looked down at my phone and realized I needed to get on the road. I was staying with a good friend in Denver that night before flying out the next morning and Denver was an astonishing amount of hours away. I bade farewell to my new Curved Tree Friends, to the trees themselves, said one more prayer of thanks, edited one of the pictures real quickly on my laptop in the Jeep, then started the journey back to Denver, and eventually home.
I don’t think I stopped smiling for the rest of the trip.
A quick note on why I’m not putting the location of the trees in this post
I tried as hard as I could to describe the emotions I felt when I found the trees in this post but I know I didn’t do them justice. Finding the trees meant so much more because I had to really work for it. The few people I know who had visited the trees all said the same thing “there are enough hints online to get you close, it’ll mean more if you find it on your own” and there were 100% correct. Knowing where they are now, and knowing how I searched for information about them, there are a few hints in this post that will probably get you in the right area, but that’s as much as I’ll reveal. It’ll mean more if you find them on your own, trust me 😉