Saturday, November 24, 2018

Gore Range - The Shining Mountains

Gore Mountain Range

If one studies a map of central Colorado, you’ll discover an assortment of topographic features that share a common nomenclature. The different landmarks are called Gore Wilderness Area, Gore Creek, Gore Canyon, Gore Pass and the spectacular Gore Mountain Range.

I’ve always thought that was a cool title for a chain of craggy peaks because it evokes rugged imagery that makes me think of a shaggy buffalo bull or a pair of rutting elk. Losing yourself in those remote mountains has a therapeutic value that can restore your health but if you learn the true story behind the naming of that range - it will make you sick.

During the first half of the 19th century, the northern plains were an isolated region inhabited by Native Americans but encroached upon by a few white mountain men and fur traders. And then in 1854, in a tragic preview of things to come, a wealthy European began tramping across what is now Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas, wreaking absolute havoc on the fragile environment.

Sir St. George Gore was an Irish nobleman who sailed across the pond and barged into America for a three year hunting expedition. He traveled west with a special passport from the superintendent of Indian Affairs granting him permission, as a foreign dignitary, to visit Indian Country unimpeded.

With Jim Bridger hired as chief guide, Gore began his destructive odyssey into the wild followed by an entourage of 40 men, 32 greyhounds and 18 foxhounds. Riding roughshod over the unspoiled grassland, the outrageous caravan consisted of 27 wagons, 100 horses, 20 oxen and three milk cows.

St. George camped in a spacious green and white linen tent accessorized with an ornamental brass bed, a steel bathtub bearing the Gore coat-of-arms, a portable iron table and wash stand, a complete set of pewterware, a few stoves, a campaign chest and trunks filled with appropriate seasonal wardrobes and of course a fur-lined commode with removable chamber pot. This guy’s personal arsenal included 75 rifles, 12 shotguns, several revolver pistols and two wagon loads of fishing equipment.

On a typical day, Gore slept in until 11 in the morning then took a bath, ate breakfast and set out for the day’s hunt, returning after dark. He usually brought seven companions on his daily hunting foray but George was the only shooter. He never loaded his own gun because after firing he passed it on to an attendant who gave him another already loaded.

Gore shot at anything and everything that moved but not very well so because of his poor marksmanship, he wounded more animals than he actually killed. He often bragged about killing 2,000 buffalo, 1,600 antelope, deer and elk and 105 bears while leaving the carcasses to rot, infuriating the Indians who resented the senseless slaughter of animals on their land.

The plains tribes complained bitterly to the government about the white stranger who killed buffalo for sheer pleasure. When Gore’s wrath dipped into northern Colorado, the Yampas pleaded with him not to invade farther into their territory because of the toll his weapons had taken. St. George stubbornly ignored all complaints.

After three years of obliterating the local animal population, Gore decide to return home so he offered all of his expedition equipment for sale at a reasonable price. When a scrupulous trader tried to take advantage of his situation, Gore became upset and spitefully burned everything in a giant bonfire, keeping only a few wagon loads of buffalo robes, hides, pelts, antlers and trophy heads.

After Sir St. George departed, the natural landmarks at places he visited and some he never came near were for some bizarre reason named after him. Nobody seems to know for sure who, how or why these decisions were made but unfortunately, the names have permanently stuck.

In recent years as people have become more aware of Gore’s disgusting rampage, they believe anything that bears his name should be changed to something more appropriate. Understandably, a radical proposal such as that would require cutting through endless layers of red tape.

When the Ute Indians crossed over the Continental Divide and first laid eyes on the snowy peaks rising from the far side of the Blue River Valley, they called them the shining mountains. That certainly has a nice ring to it. Just imagine how great it would be if those places were renamed Shining Pass, Shining Canyon, Shining Lake, Shining Creek and the Shining Mountains.

Cool, craggy peaks

Rugged imagery

Lose yourself in remote mountains

This was an isolated region

A tragic preview

Sir St. George wreaked absolute havoc

A fragile environment

Gore hunted for three years on the northern plains

Some believe the name should be changed

Snowy peaks

The Shining Mountains

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Courthouse and Jail Rocks - Watercolor

Courthouse and Jail Rocks - Watercolor

It's a breezy, spring day in Western Nebraska. Courthouse and Jail Rocks tower above the open prairie. A row of stately cottonwoods traces the winding course of Pumpkin Creek while a field of fresh hay slices through rugged pastureland. The fiery foreground is accented by glittering, silver sagebrush.

The cloudless sky is a deep blue as the unusual formation appears golden in the evening light and dark shadows define the bold geography. The steep south face is terraced like a Sumerian ziggurat and descends into a labyrinth of mysterious corridors, caves, tunnels and rattlesnake pits.

Composed of Brule clay, Gering sandstone and ash, the rocks are erosional remnants of an ancient plateau formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago. Later, they became an unforgettable natural landmark that guided emigrants during the 19th century's Westward Expansion.

Back then, just passing near the monument offered hope to weary pioneers struggling to find a better life in this strange, new land. Even today, the mere sight of the eternal peaks provides inspiration to those determined to overcome life's ever-changing obstacles.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Elk Ridge Twilight - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Elk Ridge Twilight" Colored Pencil

It’s early summer in Evergreen and a collection of evening clouds drifts quietly over a broad ridge. The steep-sloping meadow, renowned for its high concentration of Rocky Mountain elk, is a haven for all wildlife.

The field of lush grasses undulates towards a forest silhouette and the blue mountains beyond. The shadowy hillside is splintered with streaks of pure color that flood the foreground and fleck highlights onto the dark brush.

This drawing is mostly about the setting sun’s fading light as it explodes through a temporary breach in the cloud-covered sky. The rays spread across the landscape resulting in an arresting impression that seems surreal.

Described by fleeting effects, the tranquil setting instills the admirer with awe. It’s an artist’s statement exclaiming there’s nothing more spectacular in the state of Colorado than twilight on Elk Ridge.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Mount Vernon Towne - Gateway to the Rockies

Mount Vernon townsite

Just south of where Interstate 70 curves west and begins its climb up into the Rockies, Matthews/Winters Park preserves a splendid plateau and a fascinating past. It’s a unique location because it’s the exact point where the high plains meets the mountains.

The place was first settled in 1859 by an entrepreneurial clergyman named Joseph Casto who hoped to make a profit from the burgeoning gold rush. Second to arrive was a lawyer from Nebraska named Robert Williamson Steele who called the area Mount Vernon after George Washington’s estate in Virginia.

Casto platted the hillside and encouraged development of the small village that became known as Mount Vernon Towne. Casto also started the Denver, Auraria, and Colorado Wagon Road Company, which built a toll road from Denver through Mount Vernon and up the canyon to the gold fields at what is now Central City and Blackhawk.

Almost overnight Mount Vernon was transformed into a thriving transportation hub as the fledgling community swelled to over 200 souls. In 1859 the region was considered Kansas’ western frontier where there was a lack of government and lawlessness reigned.

Frustrated citizens decided to take matters into their own hands and voted Robert W. Steele as governor of a new district named Jefferson Territory after our third president, Thomas Jefferson. As the territorial capital with an endless stream of wagons passing through on their way to the mining camps, Mount Vernon enjoyed immense prosperity.

Unfortunately, the town’s string of good luck only lasted for about two years and after that it suffered from a gradual decline. In 1861, Steele was forced to give up his post because Congress created Colorado Territory and Abraham Lincoln installed William Gilpin as its first governor.

After Steele’s house burned down, he moved a few miles north to Apex and invested in another toll road that ascended Apex Gulch. Travelers also discovered a couple of gentler, alternate routes through the foothills via Platte Canyon or Clear Creek Canyon so in 1864, Casto bolted before things bottomed out.

Once the stage traffic ceased, Mount Vernon’s status as a political and transportation center was dissolved. While Mount Vernon experienced hardship, nearby cities like Golden and Denver rose to prominence, turning the lovely hamlet into a virtual ghost town.

Interestingly, in the twentieth century Mount Vernon Canyon re-emerged as an important traffic artery. In 1937, U.S. Highway 40 was routed along the north side of the gorge and during the 1960s, I-70 was built right over the top of the old toll road.

Because of the extinct township’s historical significance, it was saved from the destruction of modern development. Thanks to the Matthews family, Winters family and Jeffco Open Space, the area has been preserved and has become a paradise for hiking, running and mountain biking.

If you visit the site today the only thing left standing is a few grave markers set in one of Colorado’s oldest cemeteries. When you’re there it feels like a fitting tribute to the tiny boomtown that once billed itself as “The Gateway to the Rockies”.

A splendid plateau

A unique location

The territorial capital

Mount Vernon enjoyed immense prosperity

Historical significance

A paradise for hikers

One of the oldest cemeteries in Colorado