Near Marble, CO
The first time a saw a picture of the Crystal Mill, I knew I wanted to visit there. What was this structure, where was it, how hard was it going to be to get there, what time of year was that take. In some ways, this was my first thought of putting together Trail Notes.
The rustic old structure, the perfectly placed river, the jagged rocks, the waterfall, the bend in the river, the aspens and the mountains. The Old Mill is certainly one of the most beautiful, most picturesque spots in Colorado.
The old mill is actually a powerhouse built in 1892 (and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985) and stands along the Crystal River about 5 miles east of the small town of Marble, CO. The location is only accessible with a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle, horseback or on foot. A very, very tough trip to get there, but worth every moment.
Trail Difficulty (5 out of 5)
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 5 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). Although the location of this shot is an easy 50 yd. walk from the parking lot of the Crystal Mill, the road (if you can call it a road) is one of the most difficult you will ever travel. THIS LOCATION IS NOT FOR EVERYONE.
There are several ways to get to the Crystal Mill: 1) walk the 5.6 miles each way, 2) drive your vehicle, 3) rent an ATV/ Polaris or 4) take a Jeep tour. If you are going to drive, be aware – that a serious 4-wheel off road vehicle is a must and I would suggest a spotter to help navigate the several deadly drop-offs, many high points, and large rocks on the severely narrow road.
Unless you have the right vehicle and are an experienced 4-wheel drive enthusiast, I would highly suggest renting an ATV/ Polaris or taking a jeep tour. In the little town of Marble, CO you can either rent an ATV/ Polaris or take a Jeep tour at:
Crystal River Jeep Tours
RPS ATV RENTALS/ RPS Rentals
112 East Main Street, Marble CO
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
8,897 Ft. Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click on image to enlarge
Please note: you will loose your cell service once you leave Carbondale, CO. There are no gas stations in Marble! The closest gas is in either Carbondale or Delta. Make sure you fill up before going to Marble/Crystal Mill.
The following directions are from Carbondale, CO, (which is a midsized town in central/west part of Colorado). The closest larger towns are Glendale, CO (about 15 miles north of Carbondale) or Delta, CO (about 70 miles west of Marble).
From Carbondale, travel south on CO-133 S for 21 miles. Turn east on CO Rd 3 toward (about 6 miles) Marble. Go through Marble on CO Rd 3 toward Beaver Lake. At Beaver Lake the paved road turns to a dirt road and at this point the road gets real serious.
Once you pass Beaver Lake travel on the CO Rd 3 dirt road for 1.2 miles – you will come to a fork in the road: the lost trail road to the left and CO Rd 3 (Crystal) to the right. TAKE THE FORK TO THE RIGHT.
Once you have taken the right fork in the road you should pass a pond on the left about ¼ up the road. If you haven’t seen the pond after ½ mile you most likely have taken the wrong turn.
After the pond, you will travel approx. 3.3 miles on an extremely difficult road with large boulders, steep 200 ft. deadly drops-off and is a very narrow road. In fact, there are several places along the way that are simply impassable for an oncoming vehicle. If you come up on another vehicle, one of you will have to back up until you can find a pull out. The total distance from Marble to the Crystal Mill is approx. 5.6 miles, but the trip will take about 45 minutes each way.
At the end of this “white knuckle” drive, you will be rewarded with unbelievable location known as the Crystal Mill.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
When considering the timing of this shot you need to take into account the 45 minutes it will take to get back to Marble. I would not suggest navigating the road back in the dark!!
For me, the best time to shoot is either on an overcast day or late afternoon on a sunny day, as the sun starts to falls behind the mountains. If you shoot too early in the afternoon on a sunny day, the shadows will be too harsh and it will be almost impossible to get a good shot.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
This is a stunning location and is great during the spring and summer. However, for me, the best time of year is during the fall color season (depending on the year, this ranges between mid September and the first week in October), as the Aspen trees behind the mill add great depth to the screen. The VERY BEST time to capture this spot would be: 1) late afternoon or on an overcast day, 2) during peak fall colors, 3) when the water flow is strong, and 4) after a recent snow.
In my opinion, the colorful Aspen trees and water flow are what makes this shot special, so you may want to call the Marble Chamber of Commerce or the local jeep tour group to check on the conditions.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
There are several places to shoot the mill: either straight on or from the side. If you shoot straight on, you will need an extreme wide angle lens (11-20mm). If you are going to shoot from the side, you can use a 24-50mm lens.
The shot above was shot from the side of the mill with a 35mm lens.
There are no permits needed at the date of this publication.
Direction of the Shot
The shot from directly in front of the mill is south by southeast @ 150°
The shot from the side of the mill is eastward @ 107°
Special Nuances of Shot
I have seen hundreds of images from this location. My favorite is a shot from directly in front of the mill. However, this a dangerous and very difficult shot to pull off for the following reasons: 1) to eliminate the foreground, you have to sit on a small ridge directly above the Crystal river (falling in the river from this spot would be disastrous/deadly), 2) the distance from the small ridge above the river to the mill is very short, which requires an extreme wide angle lens, 3) the mill is higher than the small ridge where you are, and when pointing up to the mill you get a keystone effect, and 4) to get the silky look for the water movement, you need a slower shutter speed (1/2 second or longer), but the Aspen trees behind the mill are usually blowing pretty hard from the rapid water flow.
You may have to take 2 images (the 1st with a slower shutter speed and a 2nd with a faster shutter speed) and blend them together.
Special Equipment Needed
You will need a tripod and a neutral density filter to reduce your shutter speed to ½ second or longer to create the silky water flow. You may also want use a tilt shift lens to compensate for the keystone effect if shooting directly in front of the mill. Finally, you may want to consider doing a panoramic shot from this location, which would require pano equipment.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
This location is one of the most stunning places in Colorado. However, the difficulty of getting here helps to reduce the number of photographers. That being said, I have been to the mill when there were as few as 2 photographers and as many as 50 at one time. With a somewhat small area to shot from, this can cause frustration and rattled nerves. My suggestion is to arrive early and be patient.
I use Verizon and there was NO cell service in Marble on the drive to the Crystal mill.
Marble is a very small town with limited camping and lodging. There is a campsite (Bogan Flats Campground) on the road from Marble back to CO-133.
Nearby camping and lodging
Camping - click on the campground for directions
Bogan Flats Campground just after the turnoff from CO-133 S
Meri Daes RV Park is in Marble.
Lodging - click on the lodging below for a TripAdvisor review
Beaver Lake Lodge & Cabins
201 E Silver St, Marble, CO
There is also 2 hotels in Carbondale, CO, which is approx., 25 north from Marble.
Marble is a very small town and as far as I know the only restaurant in town is the Slow Grooving BBQ at 101 West 1st St. I have eaten there and remember the food to be good, the beer to be cold, and the service to be friendly.
There are also many very good restaurants in Carbondale, CO, which is approx. 25 miles north of Marble.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
Slow Grooving BBQ
101 W 1st St, Marble, CO 81623
As far as I know, there are no laundry services in Marble.
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The 2 closest airports to Marble are Grand Junction (GJT) and Montrose (MTJ), CO. Both are nice regional airports that service American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines.
Area Guides and Workshops
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very valuable tool for landscape photographers to determine the direction of the sunrise/sunset & moonrise/moonset from any place on earth on any day (past and future). Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.