Autumn in the Rockies

Aspens on the road between Divide and Cripple Creek, Colorado. September 2014

The cold snap a week ago has thrust Colorado into an early fall, just in time for the first official day of autumn. While select trees in the city have just begun to shed their chlorophyll, the aspens in the nearby mountains have erupted and are in the height of their most vivid, stunning autumn golds. On a recent drive to Cripple Creek, I discovered mountainsides filled with aspens glowing in colors more beautiful than I have seen in years. If you are in Colorado, get thee to the mountains right now and see them for yourself (well, wait until daylight). If you are not nearby, hopefully these pictures will suffice and bring a little joy to your heart and a feeling of awe about nature’s beauty.

Aspens on the road between Divide and Cripple Creek, Colorado. September 2014

Aspens on the road between Divide and Cripple Creek, Colorado. September 2014

Aspens right outside of Cripple Creek, Colorado. September 2014

View of aspens outside of the Cripple Creek cemetery. September 2014

View of aspens outside of the Cripple Creek cemetery. September 2014



Up the Pikes Peak Highway

055 (6)As a rule, people who live in Colorado Springs don’t go to the top of Pikes Peak, unless they are entertaining guests from out of town. Until last week, I had not been to the top of America’s Mountain since I was in high school and we had a foreign exchange student from France spending the summer with us. While I enjoyed the breathtaking views that day, the thought of returning to the top of Pikes Peak never occurred to me. For our third wedding anniversary, my husband suggested that we drove up the Peak. And even though the idea of dealing with tourists and the fact that I have a wee fear of heights didn’t appeal to me, I jumped at the idea because it would be something different that we could do together. That morning found the city socked in with low clouds and we figured we would have to call our plans off for the day. But by noon, the clouds melted away and only a tiny one lingered right over the top of Pikes Peak, so we set out. The drive up was beautiful and peaceful, despite the long line of cars waiting at the gate to drive up. After ascending above timberline, I felt like I was on another planet with the green tundra, the rock formations rising from the mountain, and the dramatic clouds playing peek a boo above 12,000 feet or so. At the very top of Pikes Peak, it was completely white to the east, but the trip itself was the best part, not the destination. These pictures better tell the story of our trip up the Pikes Peak Highway.

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The Great Sand Dunes National Park

Little vegetation grows in the Sand Dunes.

Little vegetation grows in the Sand Dunes.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado is one of my favorite places to visit in the world. I recently returned from my fifth visit to the Sand Dunes and came away with a great amount of respect for it. Whenever I visit the Sand Dunes, I think that I will be spending hours hiking there, but nature has always conquered. I also find that I am always ill-prepared to to endure the elements – be they cold, heat, intense winds, or most often, a combination of the above. I have also found that walking in the sand is much more difficult than I ever anticipate and envision myself as a pilgrim, painstakingly trudging through the sand, one foot in front of the other, towards my goal of the highest dune’s peak – where I imagine I am sure to find an enlightenment. As a pilgrim, I have continually failed and end up turning around again. This time, we made it about halfway up until the wind’s severity blowing the razor blade granules of sand against my legs became too much. But I have not given up and will continue to visit the Sand Dunes. Someday the weather will become my friend or I will have grown strong enough to persevere. Until then, my photos will continue to keep me humble.

Looking up to the tallest dune - so far left to go.

Looking up to the tallest dune – so far left to go.

One of the Sand Dunes' many moods.
One of the Sand Dunes’ many moods.

Halfway up - looking down at how far we came.

Halfway up – looking down at how far we came.


Two Sisters

Dusk at Garden of the Gods.

At the western edge of Colorado Springs rest two majestic sister parks. These two parks are renowned for their unique beauty, and each have attributes so astounding that they draw in tourists from all over the world. The natural formations in both Garden of the Gods and Red Rock Canyon sit a mere mile apart and were created 300 million years ago from the erosion of the same uplifted rock strata. Aside from their physical proximity, their close relation is apparent both in geologic and biologic terms. However, because of the human race’s adherence to the ideals of manifest destiny, one of these sisters has now been irreversibly altered. While Garden of the Gods remains mostly unfettered and undamaged from its original, natural design, Red Rock Canyon’s changes have been so extensive that the area will undeniably never be the same. Despite their differences, the two parks are vital characters in Colorado Springs’ unique story and in the collective unconscious of the city and its inhabitants.

I virtually grew up in the Garden of the Gods. Some of my earliest memories involve playing at the bottom of rocks with kids, dogs, and an adult in charge of watching the pack while the other adults scaled the red sandstone formations high above. Grounded below, I chased chipmunks and scrub jays, rested in the shade of Ponderosa Pines, and picked the fuzzy spiraling seeds from the Mountain Mahogany – blowing them from my hands as they ascended into the wind only to funnel downwards to the ground. I watched the droves of cars weave their way through the towering rocks above towards the Hidden Inn. All my memories of the park are coated with a rust-colored grime from the rocks and dirt that, upon leaving the park, always stuck to my shoes, clothes, skin, and hair.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs - 2006

Sunrise on Gateway Rock, Garden of the Gods.

Later in high school, I spent my summers volunteering at the park visitor’s center to earn credit for National Honor Society. I welcomed tourists and giggled in disgust upon reading comment cards that the area should be turned into an amusement park, using the rocks as foundation for the roller coasters. Leading visitors on nature walks, I recounted the facts regarding the area’s unique position at the corners of three ecosystems. I explained it like the folding of hands, each finger overlapping represented how the different ecosystems came together: the Yucca and Prickly Pears from the southwest, the prairie grasses and shrubs from the eastern plains, and the mountainous Ponderosa Pine from the west. I differentiated between Gambel Oak, Mountain Mahogany, and Skunkbush. Memorizing the film strip that I played several times a day, I never forgot that Charles E. Perkins purchased the land and then donated it to the city of Colorado Springs in 1909, stipulating that it would always remain a public park, free for the people. Since that time, it has been one of the city’s most well-known and popular tourist attractions.

The unusual red rock formations at Garden of the Gods.

Luckily for the park and the city, major changes to the land have remained minimal and easily restored. In the 1990s, a controversy aroused over a plan approved by the city council to remove many of the park’s historic buildings and roads in order to help preserve the unique flora and prevent erosion of the rocks. One of the most controversial aspects of the plan was to raze the Hidden Inn, a historic adobe style gift shop built in 1915 at the bottom of North Gateway, the rock that includes the famous Kissing Camels formation. This area and the road leading through the center of the park would be returned to its natural state through a vegetation reclamation process. Many claimed the building should be placed on the National Historic Registry to protect its demolition; however, the plans continued and the Inn and road were demolished. Another contentious step in the plan was to tear down the current visitor’s center, located on a steep hill inside a former private home within the park, and relocate it to the east end near Gateway Road on land that was considered sacred ceremonial land to the Utes. Many years have passed since this major renovation of Garden of the Gods, and now it is nearly impossible to tell that these buildings and roads ever existed. Garden of the Gods retains its original spiritual impact that, in 1859, caused a Colorado City surveyor to exclaim: “. . . this is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it Garden of the Gods.”

Since my earliest memories of the Garden, I return there on quiet winter days when the parking lots are emptier than the filled-to-capacity limits of the summer months. The park always feels more ethereal to me without hoards of tourists. The sandstone rocks are free to whisper their wisdom, the sounds of the wind blowing and the call of the crows and blue jays become my soundtrack; there is nowhere in the world as magnificent as Garden of the Gods. Walking the contemplative paths in attempts to quiet the voices inside and touch into the spirituality of the area the Utes once considered holy, I return to fill a fundamental need to cover my shoes in red dust.

Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Colorado Springs - 2008

The famous scars at Red Rock Canyon Open Space.

Red Rock Canyon, a newly acquired part of the Colorado Springs Trails and Open Spaces system, is the geological continuation of Garden of the Gods. In recent years, Red Rock Canyon has been my hiking area of choice. Consisting of nearly 1,500 acres, this open space is funky and unusual, offering varied ecosystems and hiking and mountain bike trails in many levels of difficulty. On some days, it is possible to walk in areas of Red Rock Canyon without seeing another person, but just like its older sister, Red Rock Canyon now draws locals and tourists alike to enjoy its diverse recreational opportunities.

Red Rock Canyon’s history can easily be described as horrifying and never dull. Whereas the early explorers of Garden of the Gods saw splendor worthy to be enjoyed by all, explorers to Red Rock Canyon saw in it a business opportunity. In 1859 at the time of Colorado City’s founding, the first of many entrepreneurs viewed the red sandstone as an excellent building material. Over the next fifty years, several companies quarried the red sandstone, which was cut and used to make the foundations and facades of many of Colorado Springs’ and Denver’s most historic buildings. While walking through the area, the large segments of rock removed are visible from all around. Visitors to the area can climb the carved out stairs and explore the areas of the cut away rock. Standing in the location where rock had existed for millions of years before mercilessly being cut and blasted away is both humbling and appalling and makes one seriously consider the implications and ethics of the Industrial Revolution’s impact on the natural world.

Stairs carved into the rocks at Red Rock Canyon.

During 1886, Red Rock Canyon served as the site of the Colorado-Philadelphia Company Mill that refined the ore shipped from Cripple Creek by means of chlorination. The mill only lasted for ten years until Golden Cycle Mill, which modernized the industry through the use of cyanide, forced the mill at Red Rock Canyon to be shut down.

In the 1930s, John G. Bock purchased the area that we now call Red Rock Canyon. He left the land to his two sons, and the eldest lived there until his death in 2002 when the city purchased it to be used as open space. The Bocks made many modifications to the land, digging ponds, ditches, roads, opening a trailer park, and building their own house. A landfill which operated at the eastern edge of the park during the seventies and eighties was only the beginning of what the Bocks did to modify the land, and the tip of the iceberg of the possibilities they envisioned. In 1975, a book mapped out the Bocks’ lofty plans to fill the canyon with luxury high rises, hotels, a shopping center, sports arena, museum, a golf course, parking facility, and much more. However, because of the proximity of the landfill, these plans would never come to fruition. Because Colorado Springs voters approved a one-tenth of a percent sales tax increase in 1997 to be used for trails, open spaces and parks, the city had the available funding to purchase the land when it became available.

As a child, I remember visiting the landfill in the eastern section that has since been reclaimed. Acres of prime location snuggled against a breathtaking Rocky Mountain backdrop contained old couches, plastic bags of refuse, and chemicals that filled in a canyon and poisoned the land and water. Now, my dogs and I enjoy walking through the former landfill so much that I consider it one of my favorite parts of Red Rock Canyon. Blanketed with wildflowers in the late summer and offering gorgeous views of the mountains, the canyon below, and the city in the distance, the trails along this section are often empty except for the occasional coyote or deer.

Can you believe this used to be a dump?

Until my first visit in late 2004, the area that now holds Red Rock Canyon was the mysterious blip of private land on the map that I longed to explore. From my mother’s house, I could see long canyons of Colorado’s famous red sandstone and shook my head in disappointment that one person could own and control land that should be open to everyone. When I first walked through Red Rock Canyon, I felt like I had discovered a lost family member. The area, so fascinating and beautiful, with its cool canyons, home to Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pines, and sunny, dry slopes with Piňon Pines and Junipers, is a photographer’s and nature lover’s paradise.

Although it does not have the same unfettered, pristine quality of Garden of the Gods, visiting Red Rock Canyon is akin to seeing the site of a historic tragedy like Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site. We can enjoy the surrounding natural beauty all the while learning from the mistakes of the past to ensure that nothing like this happens again. I sometimes stop to think what might have happened if history had been different and the plans to develop in Red Rock Canyon had become a reality. Red Rock Canyon has certainly suffered irrevocable destruction, but the current situation holds a much happier fate for the land. The consciousness of the public is slowly shifting as we learn the necessity of protecting our natural treasures. I can only hope that this trend continues so that conservation can be the legacy of this generation and generations to come.

Alligators, UFOs, and Cranes – Oh My! Fun in the San Luis Valley

In honor of the Sandhill Crane Festival, which will take place this weekend in Monte Vista, CO, I am copying down an essay that I wrote last year after my dad and I visited the festival and so much more in the San Luis Valley.

I like to call this picture “Forbidden Love”.

We set out on a Saturday morning in early March for our Colorado weekend adventure. The trip, a 488 mile loop of Colorado highways, will bring us to the heart and soul of the San Luis Valley – the natural, the unnatural, and the downright bizarre. My dad deems himself the pilot of our journey, taking advantage of our unspoken rule to listen to the driver’s iPod. Our vessel – his Acura sporting a WWJBD? (What Would Jimmy Buffet Do?) bumper sticker and a “Work sucks, I’d rather be mountain biking” license plate cover.

Heading out of Colorado Springs on Highway 115, it’s a perfect day for driving with sunny, clear skies overhead. Marches in Colorado can be tricky, from unseasonably warm to cold and snowy. In fact, March is traditionally the snowiest month in Colorado. With this fact far from my mind, the sun thaws away my winter doldrums as I sit in the passenger seat, eager to get out of town and let a little spring fever into my heart.

Dad and I travel well together and have taken many road trips, especially over the past few years. Whenever I want to take a picture, Dad will always pull the car over at the nearest opportunity and we’ll both hop out on the side of the road with cameras in hand. When I am driving, I always oblige as well. This can sometimes serve as a time detriment, since driving can take much longer with so many photo stops. We also do just the right amount of conversing – talking when it gets too quiet and remaining comfortably silent when it’s time to reflect. We even like or can at least tolerate most of each others music.

Turning west on Highway 50, we enter Canon City, a place that I have driven through many times and to which I have never given much thought. Lately, I have wanted to explore Canon City, to visit the prison museum and the Holy Cross Abbey – a historic monastery turned vineyard. I have wanted to drive up Skyline Drive – a scary mountain road with hair-pin curves where my grandfather used to take visiting flatland relatives in order to give them a good Colorado scare. My mom, who lives in nearby Penrose, told me recently about some of Canon City’s history. In the early days of film, Canon City served as the location of more than 40 Tom Mix westerns. Funny how a small town so easily overlooked can have such a vital and fascinating history. My Canon City exploration would not happen on this day – we have other adventures awaiting us further down the road.

Highway 50 west of Canon City curves dramatically alongside the Arkansas River and the tall, rocky cliffs overlooking the highway. Though relatively flat, this is not a road to take lightly. One turn too narrow or wide will find the car in the river, against the rock, or in oncoming traffic that often has little visibility around the corner. Although I know next to nothing about geology, I find the rock formations through here captivating. They constantly change around each corner, and their grand, imposing faces always make me think about my relative youth in comparison to their prehistory.

As we pass Salida, the little guy in Dad’s iPod (what we call shuffle) decides to play Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. We ride along in silence listening to this intense psychedelic rock anthem for the next twenty minutes as we ascend and descend Poncha Pass, stopping to take several pictures along the way. “You know what this means?” Dad asks. “We’re going to have to listen to this song every time we go over Poncha Pass.” I laugh because it seems like the perfect ridiculous tradition, but I agree that I will probably never be able to drive over the pass without thinking of the continuous droning riffs and exhaustive organ solo.

View of the Sangre de Cristo mountains from Highway 17 - 2010

The majestic Sangre de Cristo mountains.

The white peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains on our left indicate that we have arrived in the San Luis Valley, which is really a high elevation desert. Nestled between the Sangre de Cristos to the east and the San Juans to the west, San Luis Valley reaches 74 miles wide and 122 miles long, extending into New Mexico. This area of land was first settled by the Spanish and remains traditionally Hispanic with families having lived here for many generations. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and his brother Representative John Salazar are two influential people to emerge from the San Luis Valley. Today, the San Luis Valley is a hodge-podge of the old and a new coming together to form an area unparalleled in the state and perhaps the world.

As we drive along the Gun Barrel (as in, “this road is as straight as a. . . “), I notice something fascinating about the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The surrounding valley for miles is flat, and then the land gradually merges upwards until it melts into these imposing, rocky crags. This phenomenon is unique in Colorado. In Colorado Springs, the terrain of the foothills leading to the mountains is uneven and hilly. It is possible to stand in spots in Colorado Springs where hills, cliffs, and canyons completely block the view of the mountains. In the San Luis Valley, the view of the mountains is the same from all angles, which gives a true perspective of the mountains and valley alike. Since there are few trees here aside from those on the mountains, not even these can block or disorient the view.

There is something soothing about this mountain view. For my day gig, I am an elementary school art teacher. Recently, I led my 2nd grade students in an assignment meant to relay a preliminary understanding of one-point perspective. We drew pictures with a triangular-shaped road that disappears at the horizon line and a chain of mountains beyond. Adding a few scant trees that become smaller as they get closer to the horizon was meant to further show space. As I watch the passing scenery of the San Luis Valley, I realize that I had unwittingly guided the students to draw this very scene in front of me, a scene that they all seemed to understand and were able to draw as well. I wonder if perhaps the scenery of the San Luis Valley with the Sangre de Cristos beyond relates to our own collective unconscious understanding of the mountains. Deep thinking for a relaxing weekend trip, but then again, the San Luis Valley is full of surprises.

The UFO Watchtower outside of Hooper.

Our first official stop is the UFO Watchtower outside of Hooper. The Watchtower is a circular gift shop with a metal catwalk above that visitors can climb in order to scan the vast skies overhead. Outside of the Watchtower, we see a garden of what seems to be junk that we learn is actually an energy vortex. Visitors are encouraged to leave personal items in the vortex garden. My dad and I visited this spot five years earlier, when owner Judy Messoline told us all about how the San Luis Valley is a hot spot for paranormal activity. She claimed that there were many hypothesized reasons for the aliens’ interest in the valley, one reason being the abundant hot springs.

I had hoped to officially interview Judy Messoline, but when we come to the Watchtower we find out she’s working at her other job. Instead, we speak to to her partner, Stan Becker. Together they opened the UFO Watchtower in 2000, and since then they have personally spotted 25 unidentified flying objects in the sky from their watchtower. Stan claims that people from all over the world, as far as Russia, have stopped by the Watchtower to tell their own stories. Stan takes us inside the shop and shows us the notebook of photographs and stories to which visitors have contributed evidence of UFO and other paranormal sightings. A visitor could easily spend hours looking at the photos, reading the stories, and perusing the newspaper articles hanging on the walls.

One photo that strikes my attention shows a cattle mutilation that Stan and Judy investigated a few years back. Stan claims that 15,000 reported cow mutilations have occurred around the world. Southern Colorado and northern New Mexico have seen the majority of these mutilations. The photo shows a cow with the side of his face and tongue removed with surgical precision leaving black, singed edges. A greenish, black ooze surrounds the face of the cow. “No animal (predator) could do that,” Stan says. He claims that there were no footprints around the animal and no blood marks anywhere. Though mutilations vary from case to case, the characteristics I witness in the photo are typical of cattle mutilations.

I remember reading about Snippy (Lady) the Horse from a ranch near Alamosa, who gained worldwide attention in 1967 as the first recorded livestock mutilation. Since then, cattle mutilations have caused much controversy and even launched a federal investigation in the 1970s. A recent spree of mutilations in the San Luis Valley has made headlines. With no marks or footprints of human or animal predators, the mystery is just as baffling now as it was in 1967.

Whatever mysterious occurrences happen in the San Luis Valley and beyond, the folks at the UFO Watchtower will be on top of it. “I believe the government knows a lot more than its telling,” Stan says. I leave fascinated by our visit to the UFO Watchtower – looking at the photos, leaving a pen in the vortex garden, and gazing eastward to the snow capped Sangre de Cristos.

Dad and I in the Vortex Garden.

A couple of miles down Highway 17, we come to our next destination, Colorado Gators. This alligator farm and reptile park is home to over 400 alligators and countless other animals, such as rattlesnakes, Nile Crocodiles, emus, ostriches, pythons, tortoises, the rare albino alligator, and many more. This attraction began in 1977 as a tilapia fish farm. The alligators were brought in to dispose of the dead fish and are able to survive in the cold Colorado climate because of the geothermal water pools. Colorado Gators is also famous for offering gator wrangling classes, but since we are visiting in March it’s too early in the year to watch or take part in that one-of-a-kind experience.

An alligator sunning himself at Colorado Gators.

As we enter the premises, a man hands a baby alligator to my dad, and we pose for a photograph. The man tells us that 95% of the animals in their possession had once been pets that could no longer be cared for. After that, we are able to wander around on our own, discovering surprises around every corner, and taking pictures of it all. The animals seem well-cared for and content, but the impact of seeing large reptiles sunning themselves in the cold March sun against the tall mountains in the background makes me do the occasional double-take.

Towards the end of our tour, we come to an area advertising Morris, Colorado Gators’ oldest and most famous alligator. Morris has been featured in many Hollywood productions, such as Happy Gilmore, Dr. Doolittle 2, Alligator 1 & 2, and Interview with the Vampire. We are slightly disappointed not to see Morris but move on. Soon afterwards, an employee greets us and asks if we have seen everything. Dad asks the man about Morris, and he replies that Morris is probably hiding in his greenhouse and that he’ll try to get him to come out. The man leaps over the fence, and with a big stick, starts poking at an area of water covered with a plastic tarp and old tires. He has obviously found Morris, because from underneath the plastic tarp a mighty roar arises. This roar is so frightening that it sounds more like a mother bear protecting her cubs. I have seen many alligators in their natural habitat of Florida, but I have never heard one make such a sound. I tell the man not to worry about getting Morris to come out, but he ignores me and continues poking and coaxing Morris out of his greenhouse. The man, seeming to enjoy himself, wears an impish grin on his face the whole time.

Finally, Morris emerges from his hiding place, hissing and propelling himself towards the man, who keeps Morris back with his stick. When my dad mentions that he didn’t have much room behind him to escape, the man replies, “Naw, Morris is slow.” Though now in his 50s and retired from show business, Morris doesn’t seem very slow to me. After lunging at the man a few more times, Morris commences swimming around his pond. We thank the man and then remark to each other how much he seems to really enjoy his job. Figuring that we could not beat that show, we leave Colorado Gators.

The famous Morris!

Next, we drive to the town of Monte Vista for the Monte Vista Sandhill Crane Festival. We don’t know what to expect other than seeing some of the more than 25,000 expected sandhill cranes. As they have done for thousands of years, the birds stop at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge during their migration from the southwest and Mexico to the north in Canada and Alaska. Arriving in the late afternoon at the wildlife refuge, we park along the swampy section and wait for sunset when, as the park ranger indicated, the cranes would fly from the western edge of the wildlife refuge to the swampy area to eat.

Sandhill Cranes flying at Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge.

As the skies begin to darken, the cranes start flying overhead and landing at the farthest visible point from the road. Not that I blame them. With dozens of paparazzi below eager to snap their pictures, I would probably chose to land far from the road as well. We see thousands of birds flying overhead but never get the stunning photographs that I had anticipated. I realize then why I’m not a wildlife photographer. Even with a nice telephoto lens, getting a good shot is mostly a matter of luck and patience.

We grow bored and cold from sitting outside for such a long time, so we leave the wildlife refuge for our hotel in Alamosa. I consider rising at dawn and going back in the morning to try and score a better picture, but I’ve never been much of an early riser. The experience had been worthwhile though; listening to the cry of the cranes, seeing the setting sun light up the Sangre de Cristos in the background, knowing the cranes have been flying this same route for so long and will continue to do so for years to come. Maybe I’ll get my amazing crane photograph some day.

Twin Cranes.

The next morning calls for snow with clouds hovering over the mountains to the east, so we decide not to linger in Alamosa. We still have one more stop on our way back home that no trip to the San Luis Valley would be complete without seeing. Dad has never even seen the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. I have yet to come to the tallest dunes in North America without feeling inspired. The dunes were formed when the sand and sediments from the bottom of an ancient lake were blown against the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Opposing winds formed the dunes, the highest of which reaches 750 feet.

My goal for years has been to climb to the top of the tallest dune. The first time I came to the dunes in July 2002, it was too hot to go farther without more provisions. The second time I came in January 2004, it was much too cold to make it. The third time in June 2008, the wind blew so hard that the sand felt like razor blades against my skin. I hope for a mild March day on my fourth visit but have no such luck. The cold of my second visit combined with the wind of my third visit make the conditions for walking out to the dunes tricky and uncomfortable at best, and I don’t want to risk it with the cold that I’m fighting. We shoot pictures at the base of the dunes and continue on our way. I feel a respect for the weather on this day, not only for creating the dunes but for continuing to control them. I feel insignificant and wonder if I will ever be able to persevere the extreme weather and make it to the top dune.

The Sand Dunes – doesn’t it look cold?

Heading east on Highway 160 towards the edge of La Veta Pass, we encounter thick fog. Keeping an eye on the cars coming from the other direction for signs of snow, we continue our trip up the pass as the fog becomes thicker and thicker. Suddenly, we are in the midst of a cloud bank, and our formerly joyful trip turns serious and stressful. Throughout most of the trip over the pass, all we can see is the yellow line in the middle of the road. I sit in the passenger seat, tearing my hair out in fear that I will not survive to see the other side of the pass. Although I can see nothing but white, I know of the huge drop offs on the right side of the road and try instead to focus on taking deep breaths so I don’t hyperventilate. The little guy in Dad’s iPod decides to play Tom Rush’s “Making the Best of a Bad Situation”, and even in my anxiety I have to smile at the irony. Neither of us have seen fog this thick before, but we’re grateful that the roads are clear or it would have been completely impassable.

As we reach the bottom of the pass, the fog lets up a little. We can now see a few car lengths ahead, but the fog remains with us until we reach the edge of Pueblo. I feel extremely grateful that we successfully made it over the pass and promptly declare Dad my hero. Safely at home the next day, I hear that two people were killed on La Veta Pass while trying to pass another car on icy roads. My heart breaks for those people, and I feel lucky that we escaped from the pass unscathed.

Although we enjoyed the sights and sounds of the San Luis Valley, I learned to deeply respect the mountains, as a fun filled trip could have easily turned disastrous. I think back to the pioneers and the Utes before them who first explored the San Luis Valley. They knew to respect the power of the weather and the mountains. In today’s world, it is sometimes easy to forget about this and think that technology can always pull us through.

I can see why the San Luis Valley is such a sight for sore eyes – not only for people, but for birds, animals, and perhaps aliens as well. Living in the shadow of the mountains seems to make everyone want to live life their own way, to follow the beat of their own drums, because life is short and unpredictable. I learned this lesson from the nature and people of San Luis Valley and will try to carry it in my heart.

It’s Carnivale Time Again!


Every year I look forward to attending the Manitou Springs Carnivale Parade. Unlike the stuffier St. Patrick’s Parade that will take place the following week in downtown Colorado Springs, this parade lives up to my parade ideals – impetuous, laid back, and something that anyone can join. This year will be the fourth year in a row that I will attend the Carnivale parade. There’s something magical about standing on the curb along Manitou Avenue, watching people and snapping pictures, and then from a distance, the beat of the drum announces the start of the parade. As the drums move closer, I start to feel like a child again, excited on Christmas Eve. I can hardly wait for the parade to begin. Around the corner come the parade participants carrying a great arch of balloons and the letters that spell out c-a-r-n-i-v-a-l-e. And then the parade passes by in a blur of bright colors and fun loving eccentricity.

The parade will commence this year on Saturday, March 5th at 1:00. There is a Gumbo Cook-Off beforehand, but I’ve never attended that. I hope some of you attend, but not everyone. One of my favorite things about this parade is that it isn’t too crowded, unlike Manitou’s Emma Crawford Coffin Races in October. As a lighter blog this week, I have posted some of my favorite photos from the Carnivale Parade over the last three years. Enjoy!







Interesting Places to Visit in Southeastern Colorado, Pt. 3


In a quiet area between Lamar and Holly – nearly to the Kansas border, another stain on the bitter pages of U.S. history stands. Granada War Relocation Center, or Camp Amache, was one of ten Japanese-American internment camps active during World War II. Covering one square mile and active between August 1942 and October 1945, Camp Amache at one point held 7,500 evacuees. Most of the detainees came from the west coast where they were often forced to sell their properties and businesses for less than market price and could bring with them only one bag of their belongings.

On the long train ride from the west coast, many evacuees were told to keep their windows closed for their own safety since many of the towns they passed held people with strong anti-Japanese hatred. Settlers of the area near the internment camp complained loudly about the internment camp taking up the best farming land in the area. With such animosity towards them, many of the Japanese-Americans felt the relocation center to be the best and safest place for them. While most governors in states with internment camps resented their presence, Colorado governor Ralph L. Carr welcomed all the evacuees, stating: “This is a difficult time for all Japanese-speaking people. We must work together for the preservation of our American system and the continuation of our theory of universal brotherhood . . . If we do not extend humanity’s kindness and understanding to [the Japanese-Americans], if we deny them the protection of the Bill of Rights, if we say that they must be denied the privilege of living in any of the 48 states without hearing or charge of misconduct, then we are tearing down the whole American system.”

Forced to live in army-style barracks without insulation, usually in only one room per family, and only cots as furniture, families scraped to keep the remnants of their lives intact and morales high. Despite being surrounded by barbed wire and eight gun towers, the evacuees made the most of their situation. A police department run by the Japanese kept order. A hospital, post office, schools, stores, and even a boy scout troop flourished in Camp Amache. In fact, the high school football team lost only one game in three years.

Today one building remains in Camp Amache, the rest having been sold at auctions many years ago. Only the cement foundations and a cemetery remain today in between overgrown trees, cactuses, and the occasional cow patty from nearby ranches. A map at the entrance shows the location of many of the buildings, and visitors are welcome to drive or walk around the area at their own leisure. When I visited, I did not see another person, and I wondered how many Coloradans know the story of Camp Amache. Even though I knew about Japanese internment camps, until recently I did not know that one existed in Colorado. I later discovered that Camp Amache once held one of my favorite photographers, Yasuhiro Ishimoto. Similar to Sand Creek, the emotional impact of visiting Camp Amache can be heart-wrenching, especially realizing that two-thirds of those forced to settle in Camp Amache were American citizens.


For more information about Granada War Relocation Center, visit these websites: