Monday, August 5, 2013

Aftermath of a Wildfire

In late June and early July of 2013, a number of fires raged in drought-stricken SW Colorado. Three fires came to be know as the West Fork Fire Complex, which covered 110,000 acres by the time it was contained. The town of South Fork was threatened by the fire, but very few structures were lost. The San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests suffered the worst of the destruction.

Since the fire, monsoon rains came to the tinder-dry forests. I visited the scene of the Papoose Fire less than a month after the inferno raged.

Upon entering the charred woodland, a strong smell of smoke lingered in the damp air. The blackened landscape seemed quite foreign. Pine needles and ash mixed to form a soft carpet on what was once the forest floor. Rain and harsh sunlight now penetrated what was once the tree canopy with ease. Trees were now little more than dark trunks. However, there were signs of life in the midst of devastation.

Small plants and even young aspens penetrated the layer of ash as green dots in the monochrome landscape. Fire is a part of a natural process of renewal, and the environment will quickly become more recognizable.
While some scenes give cause for optimism, others still show the horrors of wildfire. Looking skyward, I was reminded of the barren terrain of Ypres and other apocalyptic battlefields.

The fire's perimeter was readily apparent, even from a distance. Green, lush vegetation abruptly turned to black, dead stumps. Fuels, wind and humidity determined which areas would burn and which would be spared.

After closer inspection, the locations of spot fires could be determined. Small 'advance' fires were all-too-easily sparked by flying embers. Now they are strange patches of darkness in an otherwise colorful wilderness.

Rivers, too, bear the marks of wildfire. From a distance, they seemed to run black with the ash that settled on them or has been washed from bare slopes. Now they are swollen with summer rains that have brought peace to the forests once more.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

From The High Country - An Introduction

Many new people have discovered From The High Country this year, and so I thought I'd try to gather some interesting information together in one place.

From The High Country is the result of one man's love for both photography and the wilderness. It came to be when I made the decision to leave a career in the city to live a more simple life in the mountains (take a look at my early blog posts to read about this in more detail). I now spend as much time as possible exploring the wilderness of Colorado, and sharing the best scenery through my photography.

If 2012 was about establishing From The High Country, 2013 is about consolidation and development. I created and self-published my first book, San Juan Inspirations, and currently have a selection of my work on display in a prestigious art gallery.

Almost every image you'll see (whether it's on my website, Facebook or elsewhere), is available as a high quality print that can be ordered directly from my website. Just click on an image to get started. Selected images are available on products that are available from me, such as my annual calendar.

You can follow my work by viewing my seasonal galleries from time to time, following me on Facebook, or by checking on some of my other outlets.

From The High Country is not a tourism page, nor is it the work of a large corporation. Everything you see under the FTHC brand is the work of the same person, with the intention of sharing unique perspectives of mountains, streams, forests, and the flora and fauna within. From time to time, you'll see information on new products that feature my favorite pieces (even simple-living photographers have to make a living!).

In order to continue to develop From The High Country, I have created a very brief survey, so please consider spending a couple of minutes here.

As always, if you have any comments or questions, feel free to contact me.

An Afternoon With Ursus Americanus

It began as a typical summer afternoon. The planned hike was quite short compared to my usual adventures, but the harsh sunlight made me relish the protection of intermittent tree canopies. My destination was a waterfall, but the highlights were to be found off-trail.

The trail followed a creek upstream through a winding valley. Below the trail on the south-facing slope, vegetation was dense and berry-bearing bushes were plentiful. This is excellent bear habitat, but it is easy to become complacent after many hikes without bear sightings. The only signs of wildlife, other than insects, were various tracks across the damp sections of trail.

Little more than 15 minutes from my destination, I looked across the valley as I rounded a corner and noticed an unusual object around 500 ft away. At that distance, it was difficult to identify the golden object under intense sunlight. Suddenly, the round object moved! A blond black bear ambled through steep ground and shrubs, seemingly unaware of my presence.

Immediately, I raised my camera and started to shoot, using the medium telephoto lens to get a better view of the magnificent creature. Within around 20 seconds, the bear had disappeared into dense foliage.

After reaching my destination and relaxing by a high country waterfall, I made my way back down the trail. My thoughts were of the bear, and I wondered if I would catch another glimpse (perhaps a little closer). I looked intently at the opposite side of the valley as I passed the location of the sighting, but the bear was either still hidden or had moved to a new spot in the time that I had been away.

I made my way along the undulating trail, checking my surroundings for movement from time to time. Occasionally, the ripe northern gooseberries were too tempting to resist, and they made a sweet distraction from the still-intense sunlight.

Around an hour passed until I saw a large, dark object to my left. Much close than last time, a different black bear was foraging. Darker than the last one, but seemingly unaware of my presence again, the bear wandered through grass and shrubs in the lush vegetation near the stream. Perhaps 100 ft uphill, a nearby mule deer seemed to sense the bear's presence and changed direction. The bear moved quite slowly, and so I had the chance to observe from a safe distance.

The noise of the stream helped to hide any sounds that I made, so I could experience this rare treat without interruption. Despite his or her size and bulky shape, the bear moved with ease though rough terrain and vegetation, using a very sensitive nose and dextrous paws to search for food.
As I prepared to leave, I exchanged glances with a Native American symbol of strength and courage. After just a few seconds, the bear returned to foraging, and I continued along the trail.

Black bears are facing ever-increasing human encroachment on their habitats. These great animals are worthy of our respect. They are not the killers shown in movies, but they are wild animals that play an important part in the ecosystems of the North American wilderness.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Longest Day

June and early July are my favorite times to explore the largest mountains that the Southern Rocky Mountains have to offer. While snow can still be found in the high country, trails are passable without winter gear, and the mid-summer afternoon storm season has not yet arrived. The day of the summer solstice, with around 14 hours of daylight, is the perfect time to take a long mountain hike.

The early morning sunlight penetrated the aspens, bathing the trail in a green glow. As the forest canopy thickened, it provided shelter from the heat of the sun.

As the elevation increased, the trees became more widely spaced. The transition into a different life zone was quite readily apparent as the trees were replaced by hardy wildflowers and exposed rocky slopes.

At this time of year, mountain streams swell with runoff from the high peaks. Wildflowers often line the banks of the streams in stable areas. Rushing water and pika or marmot calls are usually the only sounds in these isolated areas.

The first glimpse of the summit ahead and the surrounding peaks is an unexpected pleasure after a long trek to this point. The faint, rocky path ahead beckons.

While the journey and the experiences are really the purpose of a hike like this, reaching the summit is an exhilarating moment - even on familiar peaks. Being able to see for many miles in mountainous country is a rare treat.

Of course, the journey is only half over at this point, and the wilderness has many more experiences in store....


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Into The Wild

During a harsh Rocky Mountain winter, a patrolling Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer spotted a young, starving black bear. Weighing only 25 lbs, the bear was taken to a CPW rehabilitation facility. Not only did she survive the winter, but she gained over 100 lbs over the next few months, thanks to the dedication of the staff.

On a warm May afternoon, several CPW officers and volunteers met at the Gunnison field office. Minutes later, a small convoy of vehicles headed north to an undisclosed location. At the edge of a forest, far from the nearest town, the vehicles were parked in a small clearing. The group focused on the polished metal container in the back of one of the CPW trucks.

After being moved from the truck bed to a patch of flat ground, the small crowd closed in. A sliding metal panel was removed, and a healthy black bear poked her head out of the box that had been her home for the last few hours.

With a brief word of encouragement, the bear bolted for the tree line, stopping only to negotiate a deep snow bank separating her from the safety of the woodland.

Within seconds, only a furry outline could be seen through the trees, and the bear had a new home and a second chance at life in the mountains.

Months of hard work by a dedicated team of CPW staff resulted in a few seconds of action as the well fed bear sprinted for the freedom of the forest. Not every wildlife encounter ends this way, so with this in mind it is perhaps even more meaningful to watch successes such as this one.

Lake City Friends of the Bears would like to thank the team at Colorado Parks and Wildlife for allowing us to be a part of the release, and for the work they to do protect Colorado's wildlife.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

New for 2013

2013 has already been a busy year for me. I have many exciting things to share with you!

First of all, let me show you some new From The High Country products.

San Juan Inspirations

For the first time ever, I'm able to offer a photography book. I've done everything except print them myself! I painstakingly selected some of my favorite images, including some never seen before, to give an inspiring portrait of the San Juan Mountains (part of the Colorado Rockies). Read more about the book (and how to get a copy) here.

Scenes From The San Juans 2014

My second From The High Country calendar follows the same high standards of design as my new book. As a result it is even better that the highly successful 2013 edition! Read more about the calendar here.

Limited Edition Poster

Due to the popularity of one of my winter images, I have decided to print a small number of posters. Limited to 25 copies, they're sure to sell out soon, so don't hesitate! Read more about the poster here.

Don't forget that every From The High Country image is available as a print (from an 8x10 to 24x36) or on metal, glass or canvas. Just select your favorite images and make your choices. Get a $5 discount on a purchase of $30 or more when you use this coupon code: 5OFF30

Now, I'd like to let you know about some 2013 events and places where you can find me and my work.

Book Signing - Saturday, June 8th (to be confirmed).

To celebrate the launch of San Juan Inspirations, I'll be available to sign copies of the book at the Silver Lynx gift gallery in Lake City during the afternoon.

Anthony Gallery Exhibition - July 8th to 29th.

I'm proud to have been invited to display a selection of my work at Lake City's Moseley Arts Center during the month of July. The exhibit begins with a reception at 5pm on July 8th.

If you find yourself in Lake City this year, you can always find a selection of From The High Country products at the Silver Lynx gift gallery. A small selection of canvas wraps can be found at the new High Country Market store.

Need a Lake City map? Download one here!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Rocky Mountain High

Today marks the 44th Earth Day. It's a time to think about our connection with the planet. I feel fortunate to be able to constantly follow the changing seasons in the Rocky Mountains, although the average backyard is full of wondrous sights for those who look closely. Close to home, wildflower seeds are beginning to sprout. Meanwhile on the distant slopes, the snow is receding and shrubs are becoming green again. The aspens are budding, and soon the leaves will be quaking in the wind.

Spring in the Rockies requires flexibility and patience. After an unusually mild winter, over twelve inches of snow fell in one early April day.

Some days are reminders of the amazing high country summers, while others are marked by morning snowfall that melts and evaporates by late afternoon. The prehistoric rock of the highest peaks is very slowly being uncovered.

I chose Rocky Mountain High as the title of this post because it seemed highly appropriate. As both the second state song of Colorado and the most famous song by John Denver (who was extremely passionate about the Rocky Mountains), it's a good choice for Earth Day. The second line, "...coming home to a place he'd never been before", resonates with me. I'll always remember how it felt to arrive in Colorado.