Saturday, April 22, 2017

Soldier Summit - A Ghostly Site

Soldier Summit, Utah

Up out of Price, Utah as you head into the high country, there's an expansive meadow that's funneled into a natural passageway through the rugged Wasatch Mountains. Extreme weather shaped this beautiful landscape and provoked its tragic history.

In 1776, an expedition led by two Franciscan Priests stumbled upon this remarkable place and called it Grassy Pass. Fathers Dominguez and Escalante were searching for an overland route from Santa Fe to their Catholic Mission in Monterey, California.

The small party of Spanish explorers got as far as Utah Lake but travel hardships made it impossible to continue so they returned home to New Mexico. The attempt may have failed but their stories, maps and documentation would help guide future travelers as their route became part of the Old Spanish Trail.

In July of 1861 after the Civil War had begun, a group of 40 southern officers and enlisted men stationed at Camp Floyd, Utah were released from duty so they could join up with the Confederate Army in Texas. The soldiers lit out immediately and at the pinnacle of Grassy Pass, they got caught in a terrible Blizzard.

Unprepared to handle a mid-summer snowstorm, the troopers made a desperate camp near the natural, freshwater spring. As night fell, their precarious situation was soon plunged into a maelstrom of heavy snow and freezing temperatures.

By the next morning, exposure to such brutal elements had caused the deaths of eight men and several horses. The weary survivors hastily buried the deceased in shallow graves and promptly marched their way down out of that frozen hell.

Twenty years later when the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad was surveying a route over the pass, they rediscovered the graves and learned about the harrowing story. The Railroad officially named the high point Soldier Summit in honor of those who had perished during the disheartening storm.

Incredibly by the 1920s, a town had sprung up at Soldier Summit and was prospering due to Utah's mineral wealth. At its height, the population may have reached 2500 persons. After the mines played out and the harsh reality of life at 7,700 feet had set in, the community gradually disappeared.

Today, there's an open gas station, a couple of ramshackle cabins and the old, two-room jail. As a testament to how successful the town once was, you can still see the concrete foundations laid out in such an orderly fashion as to suggest the once bustling city blocks.

Last month as the cold wind swept down from white peaks, a locomotive chugged its way up the winding Price River. At the summit, most people drive right by but if you take the time to stop, you'll discover that this ghostly site is still haunted by the souls of eight, unlucky soldiers.

An expansive meadow

Extreme weather has shaped the landscape

A tragic history

First called Grassy Pass

Soldiers perished during a mid-summer storm

Life at 7700 feet

Ramshackle cabins

The old jail

Concrete foundations still exist

The place is still haunted

Saturday, April 15, 2017

O'Kane Park - A Refuge of Greenery

Snowy O'Kane Park

Smack in the middle of the city of Lakewood, O'Kane Park is a wedge of greenery offering refuge from the hectic pace of life. Settled by a family from Ireland in 1895, the open space was first developed as a sprawling dairy farm.

During a recent excursion around the park's perimeter, a Spring snowstorm enriched the already delightful ambiance. The color of the fresh blossoms became even more saturated by the much needed moisture.

Down on the far end of the block, a fountain-filled pond was inhabited by a flock of snow-covered geese. The smooth, dark water was like a mirror brimming with glossy reflections of the blurry landscape.

Before finishing a second lap, the weather had turned into a complete whiteout. I know I was just walking in a metropolitan suburb but on that night, it sure felt like I was trekking across the rural, Irish countryside.

In the middle of the city

Offering refuge

A Spring snowstorm

Fresh blossoms

A fountain-filled pond

Canada Geese

Blurry reflections

A complete whiteout

Trekking through a rural countryside

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Rio de las Animas - River of Lost Souls

The Animas River

Brought forth in a ghost town above tree line, the Animas River comes streaming down through a spirited mountain range called the San Juans. On a recent Sunday during the dead of winter, the river was running shallow and slow while sparkling blue in the morning light.

Flowing solemnly through the vibrant community of Durango, el Rio de las Animas is a River of Lost Souls. The virtuous waterway is an innocent victim scarred by the legacy of Colorado's relentless mining activity.

Almost two years ago the EPA was mitigating pollutants from the closed Gold King Mine near Silverton. The workers accidentally destroyed a retainment plug, unleashing 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into Cement Creek and the Animas River.

The waterway changed color almost instantly as a mustard yellow swell made its way to New Mexico and the San Juan River. The contaminants became more diluted as they moved farther downstream where some of the poison settled in the sludge at the bottom of Lake Powell.

Most of the heavy metals such as iron, arsenic and lead became stuck in the thick sediment of the riverbed. After a couple of weeks, the results from water quality tests indicated that everything seemed to be back to normal.

As for the animals, farm crops and drinking water, it's still uncertain as to exactly what damage was done. The disaster was a frightening wake up call concerning the complicated, environmental cleanup involving hundreds of acid-leaking mines in southwest Colorado.

As I walked along the water's edge during a remarkable evening, the Animas River couldn't have been more beautiful or serene. No one knows for sure what the long-lasting effects of the catastrophe may be so we can only hope that nature will find a way to heal itself from our history of destructive behavior.

Sparkling blue in the morning light

Flowing through Durango

River of Lost Souls

An innocent victim

Heavy metals are stuck in the riverbed

Everything seems back to normal

A remarkable evening

Beautiful and serene

Hopefully nature will find a way

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Dugout Creek - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Dugout Creek" Colored Pencil

Carved deep into a secluded cattle pasture, Dugout Creek rushes down out of the rugged Sandhills. The shallow stream is cold and blue as it meanders through the vast prairie.

A pair of framework trees creates an informal gateway into a golden grassland. Here and there, drifts of deep snow are defined by soft passages of cerulean blue.

A furious wind blows with blatant disregard while the white sky foretells that more winter weather is on the way. With all of the elements arrived in full force, it's just another winter day in western Nebraska.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

San Juan National Forest - A Faraway Land

San Juan National Forest

Sprawling across the southwest corner of Colorado, the San Juan National Forest is a spectacular wilderness. Consumed by severe weather, it's a faraway land featuring towering pine trees and glistening, white peaks.

Buried under a blanket of deep snow, the blue forest is a sleepy dreamland. Still laying low in the cobalt sky, a yellow sun radiates golden rays that warm the frigid landscape.

Bright light comes streaming through the placid interior, creating strange shadows that follow a rugged contour. The wide trail is packed solid, offering evidence that many others have come before me.

This high country embraces the snug comfort of a nice, long winter. Despite the region beginning to wake from hibernation, I find myself mostly alone except for the reassuring company of a pair of fluffed up Stellar's Jays.

A spectacular wilderness

Towering pine trees

Glistening white peaks

Buried under a blanket of snow

A sleepy dreamland

The yellow sun radiates golden rays

A placid interior

Strange shadows

A rugged contour

Others have come before me

High country

Snug comfort of a long winter

Mostly alone

Fluffed Stellar's jays

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sisters Pass - Perfect Solitude

Sisters Trail

West of Evergeen there’s a long ridge of rocky outcrops that divides Dedisse Park from Buffalo Park. The local landmark is known as the Three Sisters because of the prominent spires that rise out of the unique formation.

Scrambling the steep Sisters Trail all the way to the top of the pass is a breathtaking endeavor. During a recent evening-excursion, it was particularly dark and cold as a winter storm was approaching from the west.

Mired in deep snow, the forest was so gloomy that not even the groves of white aspen could brighten the way. Finally above tree line, a panorama of purple mountains and pink skies receded into the distance.

I was expecting to take an ordinary outing so I was surprised to confront such a dramatic twilight. Traipsing around the mountainside after dark is an eerie experience but if you can overcome your apprehension, you’ll discover that a certain solitude found only at night is perfect - just perfect.

Dedisse Park

Scrambling the steep Sisters Trail

A winter storm was approaching

Mired in deep snow

Not even aspen could brighten the way

Purple mountains and a pink sky

An ordinary outing

Dramatic twilight

An eerie experience

Perfect Solitude