High Country Summer Stuff


I grew up in Colorado’s high alpine in the resortiest of resort towns, where winter passed in a haze of powder days and other winter clichés, like building snow men and sledding and snow-shoeing and ice skating while drinking hot cocoa. I’m serious. And while no one is trying to disparage any of that stuff (because how could you?!), I went home for a visit last week and was hit in the face with how awesome the mountains are WITHOUT snow on the ground.

Family trip to the Maroon Bells!

The stars in the sky. The lights from the city and the humidity of the Northwest keep me from seeing, like, half the stars that I can glimpse back home in Colorado. But high atop Independence Pass near Aspen, I stood for at least an hour gaping into the blackest of black skies with such a crazy mess of stars that my little head almost exploded.

Wildflowers. There are a whole lot of things that CAN’T grow at high altitudes. The air is thin and the climate pretty inhospitable. Because of this, alpine wildflowers are so delicate and extraordinary, and when scattered across a meadow beneath a craggy, snow-patched peak are, well, life affirming.

Rivers and hot springs. Not like the lazy, meandering rivers of Oregon, high-country creeks require you to seek out hidden pools between large chunks of granite or discover through word of mouth where the natural hot springs are. Sure, it takes a little work—but the payoff is a setting both miraculous and crowd-free.

Trails. These things go everywhere in the high alpine, and whether by foot/horse/bike, you can follow them from town to town (Aspen to Crested Butte, for instance), or just up to a lonely glacial lake sitting like an aquamarine jewel in the crown of peaks.

Pine trees. The way they smell in the afternoon sun, the soft lining they leave on the forest floor, the shade and quiet they provide—all of it.

Afternoon thunderstorms. I miss those cataclysmic storms we had every afternoon in August when I was a kid—huge purple clouds would move in around 3 and you’d run for cover as thunder boomed back and forth off the peaks like a bowling ball.

My nephew the beastmaster.