Text and photos by Jack Olson (Reprinted by permission of the author from the Sep-Oct 2012 newsletter.)
Looming about fifty miles west of Denver, Mount Evans is one of the most spectacular and diverse natural locations anywhere in the West and so close to a major metropolitan area. There is an unmatched combination of wildlife, highest altitude trees, wildflowers galore, endless tundra, a frigid lake, jagged rock formations and cliffs, and a view to take your breath away. Literally.
[Ed. Note: This article was first printed in the April-May 1996 issue of Rocky Mountain Outdoors.]
I recently had a magazine assignment which I thought might be of interest to members who are aspiring photographers. It seems pretty funny now that some time has passed but it didn’t tickle me too much at the time. Experienced photographers in RMOWP will probably recall similar stories of their own.
It’s time for a bit of nostalgia. Do you remember the hula hoop? I was traveling in Europe when I saw my first hula hoop. Some boys were playing along the Appian Way south of Rome. I believe there is WWII damage in the background of the photo. It was January, 1959.
Colorado has the highest average elevation of any state in the country, even including Alaska. Colorado is all mountains. Right? Wrong! About a third of the state is prairie; some regions are near 3,000 feet elevation.
One of the most surprising and unique areas of Colorado is Paint Mines Interpretive Park, named for the colorful bands of clay that were used by early American Indians to make paint. Fifty-five million years ago this area was a region of tropical forests. Now, animals including coyotes, hawks, rabbits, and falcons call it home.
Your wildflower of the day is the endangered wood lily, also known as a Rocky Mountain lily and a red lily. This flower is very, very rare. I’ve been in Colorado over 50 years and have only seen it blooming in the wild twice. The first time was in the late ’60s or early ’70s. There was a known patch by a popular trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. I saw them there once, but they were not seen again and I’m afraid someone picked them or dug them up.
November 9, 2019, marked the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. I was in East Berlin in 1959. It was two years before the infamous wall was built and during a time when the Iron Curtain had imprisoned most people in Communist nations. At the time, I was a foreign exchange student with the Dutch Foreign Trade School. It was during my junior year at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.
I first climbed 10,000-foot Kenosha Pass in the late ’60s, where I met a party from the Colorado Mountain Club. I joined the club, made new friends, learned about many wonderful places, and became a hike leader with the group. Among the things I learned was about nearby 13,829-foot Mt. Silverheels, named for the “Legend of Silverheels.”
In 1977 we began our Nepal trek, and for the first few days we were in the foothills, maybe the 5,000-foot range. Since we were the only trekkers, we created quite a stir. We would almost always camp near a village. Children would come rushing out screaming “Mithai” (candy). That might not be welcome these days, but our trek organizer recommended that we carry some candy. It was hard candy, not Milky Ways.
Before I went to Nepal I’d never bargained for anything in my life. See the price and either pay it or walk away. I mean, easy, isn’t it? Then, Nepal changed everything.
We’d only been out a day or two on our trek, still in the foothills. We made camp and were just sitting around when a boy, maybe eight years old, wandered in and displayed this wooden block with Hindu symbols and said 12 rupee. I didn’t know how to respond but was still thinking dollars. I said 8. He said 11, I said 8. He looked about to cry. One of our party said, “Jack, you’re supposed to go up.” We finally settled on 10. Even then my troubles weren’t over. I pulled out a 10 rupee note and he shook his head. Paper money had recently been introduced and people in the back country didn’t trust it. They wanted coins. Fortunately, I had ten metal rupees.
Around the year 2000 I read a wildflower hiking book for the Colorado mountains. It profiled a feature called Shrine Ridge and, furthermore, bestowed upon it the title of Century Hike. That would be at least a hundred different wildflowers in the course of a season. What the authors had shared would turn out to be life-enriching for me.