S: The Best of HighCountryAerie.net
1: The Best of HighCountryAerie.net Photos by Paul and Cora Winters Dedicated to Mom, Dad and Aunt Mille Cover photo, "Soliloquy Skiing", by Cora. taken on the Soliloquy trail at Copper Mountain, Colorado February 2010
2: Late in my thirty-year teaching career in Ohio, I found myself in the position of "network administrator", with an Internet-connected computer on my desk. In addition to teaching computer-related classes, fixing hardware that was both faulty and sabotaged, and managing passwords and e-mail accounts, during slow times I wished for Colorado-based websites which pointed the way to my retirement dream: moving to Colorado. For years I had led student groups on summer trips to Rocky Mountain National Park, and was increasingly drawn to the mountain life. I longed for non-existent websites that illustrated what it would be like to live at altitude in the Colorado Rockies. I vowed that I would create such a website should I ever move there. In 1998, my wife and I moved to the Colorado high country, and I wound up creating the website, complete with pictures, which are highlighted herein.
3: In Colorado, altitude is king... I knew this all along. Twenty years of vacations in Colorado couldn't help but reinforce the fact that the higher you go, the colder it gets, and the more difficult it is for "lowlanders" like me to breathe. I took about three months to really get used to the altitude. A brief week-long trip back to Ohio resulted in our losing a bit of acclimatization, but it was regained within a week. Staying down low for too long would undoubtedly require another lengthy acclimatization. A good excuse for not staying too long down in the lowlands!
5: When we lived in Ohio and vacationed in Colorado, it was always a thrill to leave Denver Stapleton Airport and enjoy the scenery as we approached the mountains. Left: approaching the mountains on Interstate 70, in early December. Above: Looking east on Interstate 70 towards the Eisenhower Tunnel. Since moving here, we have always enjoyed the Friday night parade of headlights as Front Range skiers come to the county for a weekend of fun in the sun and snow.
7: I don't think I actually realized, upon moving 1200 miles west from Ohio, that we were leaving all of our friends permanently, behind and beginning a whole new life! | But making new friends wasn't too much of a problem, and I would be remiss if I didn't picture a few of them here!
8: Colorado still has a lot of wild country, and one of our joys has been photographing the wildlife as opportunity permits. The osprey, above, was one such opportunity. There are a lot of birds here, but not so many of the really colorful ones that we had back in Ohio. We have some that we knew from back east, and some that were new. Right: osprey, adding on to an already huge nest. Pigmy nuthatch, pine grossbeak and gray jay, a.k.a. whiskey jack, a.k.a. camp robber.
10: Summer is by far the best reason to live in the mountains. Wildflowers are everywhere, just waiting for the camera, and at 9000 feet above sea level, the weather is spectacular. Above, Cora is surrounded by lupine and mules' ears. Right: mules' ears near Crested Butte, in July.
12: Rocky Mountain National Park is a National Park for a reason. It is still more-or-less pristine because there were no valuable minerals found therein. Above and right: Hallett Peak. I first visited RMNP with my parents, when I was eleven years old. That was the beginning of my falling in love with the Rockies. Back in the 70's I took several groups of students to the park in multi-day camping field experiences. After deciding to move here, Cora and I visited Summit County and learned to ski. We figured we'd need something to do during the wonderful white Colorado winters. We've never regretted it.
14: There are lots of activities in the county during the summers. Upper left: free weekly concerts at the Dillon Amphitheater. The event is called, appropriately enough, "Sunset at the Summit". | Center: neighbors Carole and Kelly on the summit of Buffalo Mountain. Photo by Dan Peters. Right: BBQ contest in Frisco.
16: Many visitors to Colorado don't have the stamina to hike to the top of a "fourteener", a mountain whose summit rises more than fourteen thousand feet above sea level. Not to worry. There are a couple fourteeners where you can actually drive to the summit--Pike's Peak and Mt. Evans. Such a trip is always worthwhile in good weather, and always frigid in bad weather. Snow can happen in any month of the year. If you're lucky, a drive to the Mt. Evans summit can yield some wonderful photos of mountain goats (and sometimes bighorn), which are accustomed to the summer influx of tourists and are happy to pose.
17: One spring day, good friend Ken Deshaies called me to give me the location of a fox den. We loaded up the cameras and headed out. The results, shot from the car window, are here. What marvelous creatures!
18: Several years before moving to Colorado we wondered whether buying a small condo here and putting it into a rental program would pay the way. We contacted a couple of local Realtors, Ken and Mary Deshaies, to inquire. Turns out, it wouldn't pay. A couple years later we wound up using them as our Colorado Realtors in purchasing our home. As time went on, we became friends. You have to understand that I am not a game player. No board games, no card games. Mary, however, IS. So for years now it has been a comical bone of contention...every time we meet for dinner, Mary brings her cards. And if one refuses to play...well...the picture at right explains it all. Above: Ken and Mary at a summer concert at the Dillon Amphitheater.
21: The nearby town of Frisco has a WalMart. The unique thing about this store is the incredible view as you come out the door into the parking lot. You look past the parking lot right out to two of the highest peaks around--Torrey's and Gray's Peaks, 'way out there across Lake Dillon. Very nice view. One February evening when my wife and I were at WalMart, I noticed that the cloud cover had broken and the sunset's colors were being reflected by the snow on the two big peaks. I went outside and just watched as the peaks turned first a brilliant pink, then slowly changed to orange and then to purple-blue as the sun went down. I was amazed by the show of color. I was even more astounded at the number of people leaving the store who seemed completely oblivious to the spectacle right before their eyes. The whole thing lasted maybe fifteen minutes, but only three or four of the hundreds of people leaving the store even stopped to watch or remark on the show. These people were both tourists (it was Presidents' Day Weekend) and locals. If tourists, I'm astonished that they can come to one of the prettiest places in the country and not notice the light show. If locals, I think they should be ashamed of themselves for taking such chromotechnics for granted. I hope I never get to that point!
22: Taken during the drought of 2001 - 2002, on the day before Thanksgiving. For that late in the year, there isn't much snow on Buffalo Mountain. A number of non-profit entities have used this picture in their publications.
23: Looking uphill from high on our road. Not a bad view, is it?
24: Summer! There is a saying among locals in Summit County: "we came for the winter skiing, but we stayed for the summers." Temperatures rarely top 80 degrees, and humidities are low. Mid and late summer afternoon thundershowers are the norm. Summer is also the time for wildflowers. From the quarter-sized relative of the sunflower found on tundra (the largest flower on the tundra, above), to ubiquitous fireweed, Indian paintbrush and columbine, the forest floors put on a season-long show. Crested Butte even has a wildflower festival in July.
28: While many people in the country associate "Columbine" with the tragedy at Columbine High School, most Coloradans also know it as the State flower. It is considered VERY bad form to pick these or any wildflowers. It's also illegal. But despite that we still see tourists carrying bouquets of flowers down from a hike. As the well-known bumper sticker says, "If it's tourist season, why can't we shoot them?" Grrrrrrrr. Cora took this picture in the forest behind our condo complex.
29: Prior to moving to Summit County we had visited Rocky Mountain National Park for years, even bringing students on a few summer trips. This photo is of the east face of Long's Peak, in RMNP. We had students hike up to "Jim's Grove", a campground half-way to the summit, with metal backpack frames in a thunderstorm, for an overnight stay. We all remember that! Fortunately, given the lightning, it wasn't electrifying! Do you see the "beaver" on the mountain's profile, his nose sticking up in the air? James Michener wrote about that in "Centennial". The east face of the peak is a sheer 2,000 foot drop. Photo by Cora.
30: Miscellaneous wildflowers. The "daiseys", below, are actually false chamomile, considered a noxious weed, virulent and imported from elsewhere. The thistle, below right, was about three feet tall. It reminded me of a thorny-headed alien.
31: Another very common mountain wildflower is the lupine (pronounced locally as "loo-pin"). The lupine above was growing on the shoulder of Gothic Mountain, near Crested Butte. Lupine are commonly blue, sometimes white and rarely pink.
32: Indian paintbrush, Mayflower Gulch | Some of the flowers above timberline are very tiny, and grow close to the ground to avoid the persistent cold wind. | Phlox, another small flower of the tundra, the "land above the trees". | Fireweed. One of the first to colonize a burned-over area. They say that when the blooms reach the top, summer is over.
33: Flowers aren't confined to wild areas. They're everywhere in mountain towns. This photo was taken in Crested Butte, which is lined with gorgeous barrels and hanging baskets all along the main drag. I suspect that the guy asleep on the bench is waiting for his wife who is "shopping". I'm sure all guys can relate.
34: Autumn! Sometime in late August, autumn begins to encroach. Some of the very first signs are aspen leaves like those pictured here. Aspen groves seem to have their own personality. Some are early changers, dropping their leaves early in the season. Others change much later. A rare few change to orange instead of yellow. And all of this is somehow tied to how much moisture fell during the summer, and how quickly the nights become cold. In our area, the only widespread deciduous trees are aspen and willow. There are no oaks, maple, hickory or other hardwoods which are so prevalent in the east. This means that the autumn colors here are primarily yellows and golds, with just a bit of orange.
35: Just beyond the turn off for Marble is the road up to McClure Pass, here shown in early autumn color. | Taken along the road to Marble. The trees have begun to change, but there's still some green in the leaves. The white on the mountain in the background is not snow, but an outcrop of the white marble for which Marble, Colorado is named. It is close to, but not actually IN the quarry where they found the brilliant white marble that makes the Lincoln Memorial and other buildings in Washington D.C.
36: When it comes to weather, a thousand feet of altitude make a big difference, especially in the fall. I expected that I'd be able to watch the progression of fall aspen color move down the mountains from the 12,000 foot peaks across the valley down into the valley floor, just below 9,000 feet. I was wrong. I would have needed much more than three thousand feet to really see the progression, but it is there nevertheless. While it may look like early winter up here, pictures on television of Denver show the leaf color is at its peak. Once the snow starts flying the influence of altitude is very obvious to me just by looking out the window. "Down here" at 9100 feet, the first snow was gone within a couple of days. But it remained up top for several weeks. The peaks directly facing the sun lost their coat first, and it gradually melted in the shadows as well. Undaunted, Mother Nature keeps trying, and eventually succeeds in coating the tundra with the white coat that will last into next June. Meanwhile in October, unwilling to wait for the really big storms that come later on, man begins to cover selected ski trails with his own snow. Again, it's the highest resorts with the temperature advantage. Loveland Basin, straddling the Continental Divide at over 12,000 feet, sometimes opens first. Keystone and A-Basin offer serious competition for first opener. Breckenridge, Copper and Vail usually open in mid-November.
37: It would be hard to choose between autumn and winter for a season when the view out our home office window would be better. The autumn at left was one of the most colorful in memory. Trees which usually go yellow and gold showed a lot of oranges that year. The pine trees in the distance have gone brown due to a serious infestation of the mountain pine beetle, which is threatening many forests in the west. | I call this picture "Mountain Homestead". I believe it is typical of many homes in the Colorado backcountry.
38: Along Boreas Pass Road... At our altitude autumn begins in earnest in mid-September, and, if we're lucky, might last into the first week of October. Boreas Pass Road is an old railroad grade. A narrow gauge railroad once served Breckenridge, bringing in the necessities of life, and hauling out the gold, silver, copper and lead ore for refining elsewhere. This road closes in November and re-opens when it's clear of snow. Right: Cora and I at the Crystal Mill, near Marble. Photo by Ken Deshaies
40: With the Gore Range as a backdrop, and the sun at just the right angle (shining THROUGH the leaves), a trip along some of our backcountry roads is always worthwhile. Beetle-killed pine trees add contrast to this picture. At right is the SGR cabin, nestled in a huge grove of large aspen trees. The cabin is owned by some folks who have done a Colorado website for at least as long as I have. We have mutually linked our sites for years. Recently we had the opportunity to meet them, only to find out that we are, indeed, kindred spirits. What a beautiful area!
43: Autumn is the time to put on the polarized sunglasses (polarized lenses intensify colors for anything at right angles to the sun), sit outside and enjoy how nice the summer was, and contemplate NOT sitting out there in the winter! All these photos were taken with a polarizing filter.
44: While spring, summer and autumn bring great weather, they also bring "fire season". Forest fires are a huge hazard here, especially following the pine beetle epidemic, which left much of the forest dead and ripe for a big fire. We've seen a few small fires in our area since moving here, but nothing serious. Yet.
45: It is not at all unusual for the first snow storm of the encroaching winter to move in before the aspen leaves have completely fallen. Warm, autumn days are interrupted by a day or two of cold, snowy weather. Yes, it does mostly bring an end to "fire season", but weather-wise, it's nothing compared to what is to come!
46: Late September...a harbinger of things to come.
47: In November, Lake Dillon still hasn't frozen over. On cold mornings, it "steams", and the low-hanging fog moves down-valley. Once the lake freezes over in December, one would have to wait a year for a similar situation.
48: Things really quiet down in the county twice a year. Once for "mud season", a.k.a. spring, when all the snow is melting. The other time is after the leaves fall, and we're waiting for snow and another ski season. | Pictured above, the Dillon Amphitheater, where all those fun summer concerts were held, Main St. in the town of Frisco, and a snow shower...all the leaves are gone..... Lower right: hoarfrost in late November...twenty below zero!
50: I took the picture at left in the depths of the very snowy winter of 2008. I thought the sign was appropriate, sitting there in three feet of snow. | Perhaps it's because of scenes like this that the phrase "a blanket of snow" was coined. The "blanket" is apparently caused by wind and the interlocking of tiny snow crystals. The structure is called a "cornice". Cornices on high mountain peaks sometimes break off and cause avalanches.
51: Top: near downtown Breckenridge in spring. Left: an enormous avalanche scar in the Gore Range, near Ute Pass.
52: Even if you, like me, are not particularly inclined to haul a bunch of photo equipment into the backcountry in deep snow (yikes!), nice pictures are still available from roads. This one of the north side of Buffalo Mountain was taken from the "Hamilton Creek" subdivision (can you imagine having a view like this from your living room??). You can see the lateral moraines left by the glacier that once filled the valley. Years ago, when engineers were contemplating the route of the future Interstate 70 through Summit County, the route through the valley between Buffalo and Red Mountain (right) was considered. Today, this is National Wilderness, and trails lead up the valley to Eckles Pass, and Vail on the other side.
53: Sometimes a view just presents itself. We were on the way to Breckenridge along Swan Mountain Road to do a photo shoot of the town. I saw this scene and we pulled over to wade into the snow for a photo. Eventually I used this picture in family Christmas cards.
54: Friendship and social activities don't end when winter sets in. Folks in this county are indeed a very social group. Maybe it's one way to combat "cabin fever". We have more guests in winter than any other season, and we have activities here that aren't done in many other places in the country.
55: Parties don't always have to happen outside in winter, either! Our townhome complex has an annual progressive meal. | Great food and good friends always make a good combination!
57: Opposite, left: some of the ski slopes at Arapahoe Basin. Opposite, right: along Pebble Creek Road Opposite, bottom: "snowed in" Above: Red Peak at sunset
58: Skiing and snowboarding at Copper Mountain, after a two-day snowstorm. Photo by Cora.
59: Lincoln Peak, just south of Hoosier Pass, which is south of Breckenridge. Taken on Easter Sunday, 2005, on a very windy day aloft--look at that snow blowing off the peak!
60: Spring! Ullr, the Norse god of snow, is reluctant to give up his months-long domination, so spring comes either all-at-once (rare) or so gradually that it's difficult to notice. Here in the high country, spring is also known as "mud season", a time when the snow is melting, the trails are a morass of mud, and it's time for locals, burnt out from tourist season, to head west to Moab for some much deserved rest and relaxation.
61: The poor aspens...just when they thought it was safe to leaf out, winter makes a last attempt!
62: It's now late May, the ice is finally off the lake, and what's left of the winter's snow is losing its battle with the sun on the shores of Lake Dillon.
63: Top: for the past ten years the pine bark beetle has been trying (and mostly succeeding) to destroy the single-species lodgepole pine forests in the area. Many trees are dying and being cut down. If you're in the area and you see logs being transported by trucks, look at them and see if they have the gray-blue ring around the cuts. The ring is caused by a fungus carried by the beetles: the logs are "beetle kill". Left: Aspens are leafing out....can summer be far away??
64: The arrival of spring means the deep snows in the mountains begin to melt and start their journey toward the sea. West of the Continental Divide (Summit County and points west), the water winds up in the Pacific. East of the Divide, it goes to the Atlantic. The snowmelt also means it's "whitewater season", and, especially along the Arkansas River kayakers and rafters are in seventh heaven.
65: Aspen trees, like all trees, flower. The flowers are not showy, and can be messy. But when the sunlight flows past the branches, they light up.
66: An aspen tree in "full bloom". Not showy, but it sure is good to see this!
67: As spring comes to an end, it's once again shirt sleeve weather, and time to be outside as much as possible. Welcome back, summer!
68: Ben Prepelka I thought I'd reserve a few pages for photos taken by friends of HighCountryAerie.net. Living in or visiting the mountains is always a great opportunity to get some great photos. Pictured above is Mesa Arch, in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. The area is only a five hour drive from Summit County, but it's like a different planet. This photo was sent to me by Ben Prepelka, webmaster of ScenicUSA.net. I've never personally met Ben, but we've corresponded quite a bit, and he has used some of my pictures on his site. Much of the Summit County population spends part of spring near Moab where temperatures are pleasant in April and May.
69: Dan Sexton I met Dan Sexton of St. Louis, Missouri, via my website, which he first found via Weather Underground (wunderground.com). He first visited us on his way through Colorado one summer. He recently decided to learn to ski, and has come to Colorado every winter since. When he skis he takes his camera with him, and leaves a bunch of photos with me for my site. Magnificent! Dan's site is at "TopAce.net:8080"
70: Ken Deshaies Ken's job as a Realtor and owner of SnowHome Properties (snowhome.com) really makes him get around the county. Here, a tongue-in-cheek photo of him, Cora and me at the old cabin in Mayflower Gulch, taken by Mary Deshaies. At right, the town of Frisco, taken from the summit of Mt. Royal. (I swear, from town that mountain doesn't look that high!). At bottom, a fox, which showed a disturbing interest in Ken and Mary's dog Chelsea.
71: Ed Baker Ed and Anita Baker live in Rome, Georgia. Evidently Ed was inspired by High Country Aerie to do a similar site showcasing his own experiences. We met the Bakers last summer, and together drove down to the Salida area in an attempt to photograph the rafts and kayaks on the Arkansas River during a time of peak snowmelt runoff. It was evident from the outset that we were kindred spirits. Ed's site can be found at TerraGeezersRamblins.com
72: Favorite Photo My favorite picture, out of all the thousands I've taken to date, has to be this one. It was taken on a backcountry tour above the Crystal Mill, near Marble, on the way into Lead King Basin. It's a very rough road--my back still recalls the pain. I asked the driver to stop, stood up and snapped this one. I have had this one enlarged to 24 x 36 inches, and it hangs at the foot of the stairs in our home. I have always loved pictures with roads that beg the question "where does THIS one go?". To answer that question, you'll have to do the trip for yourself!
73: Final Thoughts... Doing this book has been fun. The Internet certainly makes self-publishing easy, and the interface at MixBook.com gives decent editorial control--something that is lacking in some other sites. Unfortunately, it is expensive to publish a large-format book in very small quantities, and I really expect to sell very few of these books. Another downside is that I don't get a cent from the publishing cost. Nevertheless, this book is more a labor of love than an effort at personal gain. A big advantage is that I can make the book available online through my website at no cost to anyone. You can see it at http://highcountryaerie.net/book My site gets between 100 and 160 visits per day and aside from posting an occasional photo on wunderground.com, I have made little effort to publicize it. I have actually met very few of the folks face-to-face who are hitting the site, but have realized that there are other people out there who are like I was when I was teaching in Ohio and longing for retirement in Colorado. I was in love with the Rockies, and wanted more images and thoughts from people who lived there. Back in the late 90's, there wasn't a lot available, but there WAS a very nice webcam pointed at Aspen Mountain, where I could watch the shadows of sunrise every day. I was hooked. So here it is. God willing, maybe I'll do another after ten more years. Paul Winters Silverthorne, Colorado February, 2009 Left: daughter Jennie, hubby and friends, January '09