La Vida Alta

By Eilene Lyon

Just over 35 years ago I made the decision to settle in southwest Colorado in the foothills of the spectacular San Juan Mountains. I hope I never have to leave this beautiful place. I’d like to share some of my favorite high-country photos and touch on a few aspects of life up high.

I’ve never been a “peak bagger” and this one the only one I’ve climbed – twice. Engineer Mountain is the feature image above and this photo is me and my first dog, Hades, after summitting in the late 1980s.

Besides hiking and mountain climbing, there are many activities going on in the high country. We’ve gone backcountry skiing a couple times, though usually we stick to lift-accessed terrain.

Taking a breather after skinning up Minnehaha with alpine trekking gear (too heavy).
Purgatory Ski Resort and another view of Engineer Mountain on the left.

Ice climbing is popular in Ouray, but that is something you won’t find me doing! Though a large swath of the San Juans is protected as the Weminuche Wilderness, there are many roads in the National Forest and on BLM lands, so 4-wheeling is a major outdoor activity.

UTV rentals can be found in Silverton and Ouray.
Known as Velocity Basin, the slopes in this box canyon have seen record speed-skiing runs. The Olympic snowboarder Shawn White built a private half-pipe for training here one winter.
A less common activity is hot-air ballooning. I took this photo of the Animas Valley on my very first balloon ride during the Snowdown Balloon Rally.

Things aren’t always happy in the highlands. There are many risks as well. A couple of local men perished recently in an avalanche. The roads can be as treacherous as the backcountry.

Red Mountain Pass between Silverton and Ouray is occasionally the scene of a car plummeting into a canyon. Not a pretty sight
And we’ve suffered some devastating wildfires. We were returning home from a camping trip when we spotted the early stages of what became the enormous Missionary Ridge Fire in 2002. We had another large burn in 2018.
This grave near Creede is a memorial to the children who perished on the trail to Oregon and California. It’s a reminder of the difficulties of crossing the Rockies in the 19th century.
I think this must be one of the scarier airports in the world. Telluride Mountain Village in the foreground.

The high peaks of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado are important as a primary source of fresh water in the west. The continental divide splits the state down the middle and serves as headwaters for the Colorado River flowing southwest, and the Rio Grande flowing southeast.

Headwaters of the Rio Grande near Creede.

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The San Juan Mountains, like much of Colorado, has a history of mining. There are ghost towns and the remains of old buildings created to serve the mining industry.

Why did they build these boarding houses in such precarious places? That’s where the mines were. Rocky, treeless slopes provide easier access to mineral wealth, despite the steep terrain.

I could share many stories, but I’ll just leave you with a couple more slideshows to showcase the beauty of the land I call home.

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44 thoughts on “La Vida Alta

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  1. Astonishingly beautiful! Thanks for that, Eilene. Fantastic!
    (By the way – are those aquilegia flowers? We have hundreds in our garden (yard) each year and they do look very much like them.)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. They’re beautiful flowers, they always cheer me up. (And where we used to live, they wouldn’t grow at all. Here they self-seed in explosions of colour.)

        Amongst others, I also love some of your water photos.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Val. I also enjoy them when they bloom in profusion. They do re-seed all over the place and I let them go, mostly. The yellow ones get a bit aggressive and I have to pull some.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I grew up in Chicago suburbs, trading them for Indianapolis. So we’re talking a lifetime of cornfields . . . I almost ended up starting high school in Rye, but a land sale dragged through court for 5+ years, changing history forever. Our stop at Purgatory would have been in the early 70s–a lifetime ago! Beautiful photos, sparking memories . . .

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice to come across your blog and these stunning vistas. I particularly like the yellow trees. Are they birch trees? I heard the name Minnehaha from TV but didn’t know what it referred to. Now I do.
    I can understand what makes you say you don’t want to leave this area.

    Liked by 1 person

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