THE FRONT RANGE AND THE ROCKIES – DENVER TO FAIRPLAY, CO
7/12/12 – Calling the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains the Front Range has always been surprising to me. Coming from California I would have called it the Back Range. The name reflects the Eastern orientation of the first American settlers in the area. Kiowa, CO was located in the prairie of eastern Colorado. Ellen felt that this was where the mid-West ends and the West begins. The library was housed in a beautiful former church. The crosses were still on the steeple and the stonework was magnificent. Walker discovered that the owner of a local store was from Iran but now mostly lived in San Jose, CA. This was surprising in this region of a mostly white state. Colorado Springs, CO is a hotbed for Christian conservatism. Years ago the town leaders wanted to diversify the economy from its dependence on the military. They invited in a conservative Christian mega-church that wound up being a magnet for like-minded people. We met our friends from Minneapolis, JoAnn Verberg and Jim Moore, in a great little café in Colorado Springs. JoAnn was one of the three principle members of the Rephotographic Survey Project along with Ellen and Mark Klett. We went to one of their rephotographic sites in the beautiful Garden of the Gods State Park. This area had incredible uplifted sandstone rock formations that contrasted nicely with the nearby Rockies. JoAnn set up her 5X7 camera by the side of the trail and did a diptych portrait of our family with the red cliffs as a background. As she was setting up the camera and posing us 192 cross country runners from all over the country came by in their multi-colored running gear. As they posed for their portrait we posed for ours. After we left JoAnn and Jim we drove west into the Rockies under a darkening sky. By the time we got to Hartsel, CO it was just about to rain. The old looking library was beautiful in the gray light with the red clouds glowing off in the distance. I made the last shot just as the rain began to fall. Fairplay, CO was located high in the mountains almost at 10,000 feet. I was stunned at the beauty of its tall, old library. I scrambled to set up the 4X5 in the last light of dusk. The automatic lights went on in the closed library as I made my last shot. We drove on in the dark and landed in the mountain town of Buena Vista, CO.
CENTRAL COLORADO ROCKIES – WATCHING IT CHANGE
7/13/12 – Ellen lived in Colorado during the 1970s. Since that time many of the quaint, funky mining towns of the area had changed, sometimes drastically. Crested Butte was a case in point. It was almost abandoned in the 70s with dirt streets and tumble down stores. Because of that it possessed a great deal of charm and character. Ellen almost cried when she saw it again today. It really had become a theme park of an old mining town. It was jammed with tourists who were mostly middle and upper middle class and all white. What had once been interesting was now replaced by made-safe-for-the-tourists blandness. The library was one of the few buildings in town that retained its original character. It seemed real as opposed to the fantasy of the rest of the town. I set up my 4X5 outside. Just as I clicked the shutter a homeless guy wandered into the frame, two young women continued what seemed like an endless conversation and a guy on a mountain bike zoomed by. It may make for an interesting photograph. Crested Butte was out of our way so we had to quickly move on to our next stop. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison was an outstanding natural landmark in an area full of them. We peered down 2,000 feet to the canyon floor with the fast-flowing Gunnison River looking like a silver sliver. Geologist Wallace Hansen wrote “Some are longer, some are deeper, some are narrower, and a few have walls as steep. But no other canyon in North America combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness and somber countenance of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.” We were overwhelmed by the beauty of the place and spent far more time here than we had planned. After a long drive we arrived in the old mining town of Ouray, CO. Like Crested Butte it had become a tourist town. But as Walker explained it didn’t matter because the setting was so spectacular. On top of that the library with its beautiful steeple was one of the best of the trip. I had a hard time doing it justice with my 4X5 camera. The light was flat, it was starting to rain and we were in a hurry. Hopefully, I got something good. Shooting film means that you never know what you captured until the end of the trip. Then it is like opening presents at Christmas. After Ouray we immediately started up the “million dollar highway” to the 11,000 foot Red Mountain Pass. Sheer drops, granite walls, fading light and a rainstorm greeted us as we climbed up this incredible road. The drive was both terrifying and thrilling producing feelings of vertigo along the way. We eventually made it to the very cool mining town of Silverton. In the last light with long exposures I tried to capture the town’s red brick library. I tried to place it in the spectacular setting but the most interesting photo may have been the Hispanic kids playing on the play structure in front of the library. The fast moving children and my one-second exposures may be interesting. Leaving Silverton we crossed over two more 10,000 foot passes in a light rain. We arrived in Durango, CO late, tired and happy after such a rich day of travel. While eating green chili enchiladas and blue corn tortillas in Durango we felt like we had left the Rocky Mountains and entered the Southwest.
RICO TO MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, CO
7/14/12 – Last night in Durango we felt like we had arrived in the Southwest. Today we went back to the high Rocky Mountains to visit the little mining-town of Rico, CO. Its Library/City Hall was again one of the best of the trip. Dramatic mountains rose high above us on all sides. The sky was getting darker as I set up my camera. After I took one photo the rain starting pouring down. I scrambled to toss all of my equipment back in the car before it got soaked. Two more times I got out to photograph and two more times the sky dumped. Eventually, I finished with the beautiful exterior and then went inside to photograph the interesting, small, dark library. As I did, I looked outside and noticed the rain coming down again in earnest. The library was built when Rico was a very rich boomtown. After the collapse of the mining industry here it fell on hard times. But it seemed to be struggling back while still retaining its unique character. We drove out of the mountains and back to the southwest. We spent the afternoon in Mesa Verde National Park. This area is home to the famous ancient cliff dwellings. Not much is known about them but the structures they left behind speak with a certain eloquence. They tell of a people adept at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillful at making a living from a difficult land. No one knows why they abandoned the area in the late 1200s. Perhaps, like Cahokia in Illinois these Ancient Puebloans overused their natural resources or left because of extended drought. We did a self guided tour of the Spruce Tree House, the best preserved of the ancient structures. Later, we thoroughly enjoyed the hour long, ranger led tour of the Cliff Palace, the largest of the cliff dwellings. We ran out the clock on the daylight, dashing from site to site until dark.