The Rocky Mountains

Backpacking in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Colorado


Camping in the Rockies, CO


Kroenke Lake, CO

Cottonwood Pass, CO

On our annual trips to Colorado my husband, traveling friends and I usually give ourselves one day to acclimate to the altitude before the exertion of hiking and backpacking begins. We have found great merit in this as I myself have suffered from altitude sickness only once in my life and decided that it was one time too many. It can be difficult to forfeit that first day and we have found horse back riding and white water rafting to be low key ways of adjusting to the altitude.

On our first day out a few years ago, the rest of the group went white water rafting and I decided to set out and explore the mountains on my own, breaking the rule we set for ourselves about acclimation. Leaving the motel without a plan, I found myself driving up Cottonwood Pass. Before I knew it I had hiked to the summit of an unnamed mountain and was alone in the heavens, almost. The only other sign of warm blooded life was a chipmunk, whose curiosity temporarily outweighed his caution. Our encounter was brief, but touching and memorable.

The final straight up assent to the summit at Cottonwood Pass, CO.


Alone in the Heavens

There is something about mountains that make a person feel insignificant and humble. There is something about mountains that can also make a person feel strong, connected and invincible. This contradiction for me is part of their lure. From a vantage point like this one a person can contemplate the dilemmas of the world, and seemingly solve them.

A Gray Day With Gray Jays

Cleared for landing

On the back side of Cottonwood pass where the mountains finally give up their altitude and sink into a large narrow valley there are a myriad of hiking trails one can explore. We chose one in a more remote area, thinking that we were less likely to run into other hikers there. The minute we got out of the car to gather our gear, we were introduced to the idea that this was indeed a popular hiking location. A family of three Gray Jays immediately greeted us with more than a warm welcome. These brave little birds nearly accosted us as we got out of the car. Clearly hikers in the past had taught them that people meant FOOD. They swooped down on us stealing parts of our lunches and finally got so brazen as to sit on our heads, hands and anything else that would accommodate them. We so enjoyed their company but it was a pretty clear illustration of how tame and bold wild animals can become when fed by hikers.

"Where did he go?"

As we hiked along on this trail the family of three Jays followed us along. They were like little pets that couldn't get enough of us. But at a certain point on the trail the little family had come to the end of their territory and stopped following us. We saw other Gray Jays in this new area and they were not tame at all. After many hours on the trail and now heading back to the trail head, the friendly little Gray Jays met us where they had left us, and escorted our group back to the trail’s beginning where we had met. What a funny, gregarious family they were.

Alan Godsy holding a Conference


Good friend "Murph" wearing a fancy hat adornment

Mt Evans

Mt. Evans Summit

The highest road trip one can take in the continental United States is to the top of magnificent Mt. Evans, in Colorado. This is not a trip for the faint hearted. The narrow little road ambles aimlessly upward snuggly hugging the mountainside the whole way, with sheer drop offs on one side or another that could make an experienced mountaineer uneasy. A driver depends on his nerves going up and his breaks coming down.

The wildlife on Mt. Evans makes easy work of this rugged terrain. It amazes me that any creature can adapt to such severe weather conditions, steep unstable terrain and thin air. It humbles me to think of how they do this.

Hoary Marmot

Because this area is protected the animals who call this rugged land home are fairly tame and accepting of human presence. They are approachable, within the limits they set for themselves. It is a wonderful place to watch, study and sketch mountain goats and big horn sheep.

Big Horn Ram

Big Horn Ewe

In appearance, mountain goats seem unlikely creatures to find in such harsh terrain as this. Even in the process of molting the last of last year’s winter coats, they appear sweet, cuddly and almost clumsy. Looks can be deceiving however, as there are not many animals that can out maneuver one of these on a craggy mountain cliff side. The new downy coat underneath the old is readying them for winter which at this altitude and at the end of August is not very far in the future.

Mountain goats on Mt. Evans

The Maroon Bells

It was important for me to include the Maroon Bells in this section of my sketchbook for two reasons. The most important one is that my husband and I were married there on the most beautiful September morning in my memory. I cannot imagine a more glorious chapel to be married in anywhere else in the world. These mountains will always hold a sacred place in my heart.

The other thing worth noting about the “Bells” is their unique shape and color after which they are named. They are recognizable from any angle in any photograph or painting. Their signature look makes them one of the most photographed mountain ranges in the United States.


Copyright © 2015 Joni Johnson-Godsy, All Rights Reserved.