Saturday, April 29, 2017

Colorado National Monument - Austere Beauty

Colorado National Monument

Out in western Colorado, the steep, northern wall of the Uncompahgre Plateau falls away into the Grand Valley of the Colorado River. Erosion has shredded this leading edge of orange sandstone, designing a labyrinth of extraordinary canyons.

Wind, water, ice and an infinite amount of time have combined forces to create a natural sculpture garden in the high desert. From the lofty Grand View Overlook, the floor below is decorated with rock chimneys, arches, spires, towers and coke ovens.

Granted special status in 1911, Colorado National Monument preserves a unique piece of the American West and protects a surprising variety of wildlife. Desert bighorns, bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, lizards, rattlesnakes and rock wrens are a few of the species who call this place home.

During an evening hike on the heels of a passing Spring storm, beams of soft light come streaming through the steel-gray clouds. While following a broken trail that skirts the chasm’s rim, Monument Canyon is the main attraction but the distant Book Cliffs and Grand Mesa are impressive as well.

Ute Canyon is a secluded tributary that offers plenty of peace and quiet. At this section of the park, the deep gorge narrows and sheer cliffs rise from a rugged thoroughfare of scrub greenery such as cacti, yucca, pinyon pine, Utah juniper and sagebrush.

The exquisite scenery found out here near Grand Junction is the perfect prelude to the surreal landscape that sits across the border in eastern Utah. Some may think this region is a desolate hell-on-earth but it has an austere beauty that can only be found in such a stark wilderness.

The plateau falls away

Erosion has shredded the plateau's edge

A labyrinth of canyons

A natural sculpture garden

Chimneys, towers and spires

A unique piece of the West

A passing storm

Soft light streaming through gray clouds

Broken trail on the chasm's rim

Impressive views

Secluded Ute Canyon

A thoroughfare of scrub greenery

Exquisite scenery

Austere beauty

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.