As you're heading to Leadville, Colorado from Interstate 70 you will see a small parking lot about 6.5 miles from I-70. From the small parking lot you can hike the 1.5 miles up to the small mining town of Boston. Boston Mine was one of many that popped up in the late 19th century. Setting up their mining town at roughly 12k feet, surrounded by tall peaks on 3 sides the prospect of gold was in their veins so they may not have been thinking very clearly in their decision on where to base their town. After the town was built and flourished with activity, it was soon found that the ore lacked purity and was soon left abandoned and the log cabins where the miners lived were soon empty.
Rumors have it that there is an estimated 15-50 million worth of gold buried deep under the ground. In 2009 Summit County Open Space and Trails Dept. paid $900,000 to buy the mining claims where most of the gold is supposed to be buried. This was done to ensure that the beauty of the area will be protected from any further digging or mining. Now, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the short gradual hike from the parking lot up to the old cabins. Once past the old cabins, the area opens up into a meadow where wildflowers fill the view as the tall crags and Fletcher Mountain (13,995ft ) tower over the scenery below. At the base of the mountain you can find an old tram building that was still standing in 2014.
After I moved to Colorado in 2013 I was invited on a snowshoe hike with Mike Berenson to Mayflower Gulch in 2014. Not only was I not properly adjusted to the altitude and cold, I also didn't realize the difference in temps between Denver and the mountains... Something I learned very quickly. Because we snowshoed up to the mine I had a good amount of body heat under my clothes to keep me warm for most of the night. I don't remember how long we stayed up there (several hours probably) but I do know that by the time we ended shooting I was getting a bit cold and was thankful for the hike back down to keep me warm. What I remember the most from that evening was how beautiful it was up there. Even in the snow, the stars were bright and everything seemed very quiet and relaxing. I don't remember why we didn't shoot the old cabins that night. We ended up walking all the way to the tram station and shooting it...
While I was standing in the open snow field looking back and photographing Copper Mountain with the stars, Mike Berenson was shooting a picture of me shooting a picture. He took his unique and creative approach and gave the stars some vortex twists to better enhance the visual experience. It was later that year we teamed up and started Night Photography Workshop.
I've been back to Mayflower Gulch 2 times since then. I feel my photography has gotten better and the gear I am shooting with doesn't have as many limitations as the first time I was here. I like returning to places not only to try and better the images but also to see how weather and time can change a place. The above image shows the grand scale of Fletcher Mountain over the old cabins in the meadow. Seeing the area in the summer without the snow gives allows you to see the hardships the miners faced. I can only imagine the storms they had to endure while they were there.
The following images were from a recent hike up to the mine at night with some very clear skies. Because this is a photography blog, I'd like to tell how I got the images and hopefully will help anyone out there who wants to better their night photography. Hiking up with a friend is always recommended. On this particular night I hiked with Bob Coorsen. Bring warm clothes even in the summer when it's 80-90 degrees in Denver. Planning is key and you want to make sure the night sky (milky way) will be in the right position when you get there. I use PhotoPills to plan out almost all of my night shoots. I make sure I have the right gear with me. I now have 2 cameras with various lenses and I always make sure I am thinking about the shoots, how I want to shoot and what gear I really need. I don't want to bring extra gear when I am hiking. On this particular night we had a 50% setting moon which was nice because we had moonlight for part of the night and darker skies for the last part of the night.
As soon as we arrived in the basin, right after sunset, I was able to take advantage of the beautiful soft light with no harsh shadows. I knew this was a good comp because of where the Milky Way would be later in the night. I used my Sony A7r4 paired with my favorite wide angle lens, Sigma 14-24mm 2.8 ART, to shoot several images to focus stack for maximum sharpness front to back. This lens is smaller and lighter than it's Nikon F mount counterpart. I have this same lens for my Nikon D850 as well. The sky was shot with my Nikon D850 because it's astro modified to bring out the nebula colors a little bit more. You can see the pinkish color of the Lagoon Nebula. The sky was a 3 shot stacked pano for a total of 45 images. 15 images in each of the 3 camera positions. This is a more advanced technique but very simple to do and process for better image quality. Once I had the foreground focus stacked I then just masked out the sky and blended the good night sky in the image. Blending is not just cutting and pasting. There is a little bit more to it to make sure the foreground and sky work well together and the color tones match. This is a real scene that could have been shot with one image. The problems that would present would be lack of sharpness due to shallow depth of field at night. Less color. Anytime you shoot at high ISO for foregrounds at night you lose a lot of color... You can do this test... Go out on a dark night and shoot at 8000 ISO and then shoot a long exposure at 100 ISO with the same exposure value and see how much better the color is with the 100 ISO image. This works well if you're not dealing with a great depth of field... If you need extra depth of field it's always best to shoot your foregrounds just before sunrise or just after sunset at low ISOs when there is enough light to pinpoint your focus points.
In deciding where to go on this night, Bob and I both expressed interest in doing star trails. We thought about shooting over a lake and then realized that any wind would ruin the reflections of the star trails. We decided on Mayflower Gulch for a number of reasons. Good foreground subjects, clear skies, not much light pollution and nothing that the wind would move while we were shooting. This is a single 1 hour long exposure that was shot just as the moon was going down. I started this exposure when I knew the moon would set in about 20-25 min after. So, for the first 25 min the moon was still lighting up the cabin before setting. The last 35 minutes were after the moon had went down behind the hill and while that did not make the scene go dark right away it did take the direct light off the cabin to better balance the exposure. With single long exposures at lower ISOs you get better image quality, image color and printability. Generally I do star trails with several short images for the sky to stack into a long exposure foreground just so I have more options to what I can do with say, 120 single images compared to 1 single long exposure image. This image was shot with my Sony A7r4 and Sigma 14-24mm at 14mm, ISO 64, F/5 for 1 hour. I loved the detail that was brought out in the wood of the cabin by the side moonlight during the exposure.
I won't lie, I kind of like the fact that the roof has fallen and is not blocking part of the sky. If the roof was still there the Big Dipper may have been partially blocked. This is a pretty creative image that I had in my mind when we arrived. I shot the foreground about 20 min after the sun went down behind the hill at ISO 400, F/9 for 30 seconds with my Sigma 14-24 2.8 Art at 14mm. Later that night I shot the Big Dipper when it was in the correct position with a Tiffen Double Fog Filter that softens the sky and brings out the Big Dipper. This filter also works well on landscapes and other objects in the night sky, Orion is a great one! After the images were shot it was easy to blend them for a very natural looking image, almost exactly as I saw it while I was standing there.
Cygnus and Denab over the old cabin while the moon was still up. Shot on Sony A7r4 and Sigma 14-24mm 2.8 Art for the cabin in the moonlight. 16 min exposure, ISO 100, F/5.6 at 14mm. The sky was shot with my astro modified Nikon D850 and Sigma 28mm 1.4 Art lens. Exif for the sky is 8000 ISO, F/2.2, 10 seconds x 55 images stacked for noise reduction. I did use a single tea light in the cabin to give it a little warmth.
Last but not least, this is one of the most common shot scenes from those who visit the area. The view of the mountains and cabin through the window of the cabin without the roof. I knew I wanted to create a night scene that was very realistic. Shooting this at night would be nearly impossible. To create this image I shot the window frame, cabin and mountain just after sunset (several images shot for focus stacking) After I processed the focus stack I then masked out the sky and blended in a Milky Way sky in the same position it was later that night. After talking with a friend about this image, we have plans to go back and re-shoot it for a slightly different (better) variation of this scene. We only have a month left to do this or the Milky Way core will not be visible after September.
Now that I have been to the area several time under various conditions it's been fun to look back and appreciate each of the trips I've made. Mayflower Gulch is a great day trip from Denver with lots of photographic possibilities... Because the cabins are in close proximity to each other it makes it easy to get a lot of images to work with in a short period of time. It's still hard for me to believe that people used to live up here but I am thankful they made an effort of it. I am also thankful for Summit County in their preservation of the area for others to enjoy for years to come. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below!
I'd like to thank the following companies for their continued support of my work -
Sigma Lenses - I use Sigma lenses for 99% of my work
Moab Paper - Juniper Baryta Rag is my favorite paper to print on.
Robus - My tripod of choice. Amazing quality at an amazing value
You can find Darren's work around the web in these locations. I'm always happy to connect with like minded people.
Darren's Website - Discount code CPJASS at checkout for up to $50 off your purchase of any image.
You can contact me directly here - email@example.com