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From Breckenridge to Rock Springs

Spent a weekend in Breckenridge with my friend Betsy Bracken, a fine jewelry maker who was there for a big arts festival. I helped her set up and then was free to check out the town, whereas she was confined to her booth. It was cold and rainy, down to 32 one night, but in the mountains (9000 feet here) the weather changes every five minutes. Layers are requisite. The play of light and the changing color on the higher eleveations around Breck, including Quandry Peak at 14,265, were breathtaking. This is the land of the 14er’s. Hard to photograph because the light changes from minute to minute.

This lasted about 30 seconds at 6am

This lasted about 30 seconds at 6am

Betsy had a successful show in spite of the rain and it was fun to wander the town which is very cute with expensive shops and high priced real estate as it’s a world class ski destination and only an hour or so from Denver.

I decided to leave the cold and rain and head north on Sunday, avoiding Labor Day traffic. First stop only fifteen minutes away, the little town of Frisco offers everything Breck does but with a significant medical community, small town feel, super nice locals and they tell me, no waiting during ski season! Spent a very long time in a coffee shop there abusing their wifi and planning my next stop. I decided to visit Rock Springs, WY and the Wild Horse Management Area at Pilot Butte where it’s said one can see wild horses and the camping is free. Sounds good to me.
So down I go to I 70 and Silverthorne, a large suburban, big box community close to Frisco, making that an even more desirable mountain town, since it’s tucked behind enough land that one can’t hear I 70, but close to every emenity, including Denver, a major air hub. Pretty cool. North of Silverthorne the land opens up. Still major mountains in the 12,000 foot range, but big open meadows and ranches that run along the Blue River for miles. Again, the early evening thunderstorms create a stupendous light show on the peaks.

From there all the way through to Steamboat Springs on 40 along the Yampa River was some of the most incredible mountain country I’ve ever seen. Steamboat was meh for me. Very beautiful, but somehow very white bread. Layers of cookie cutter ski condos. I continued on toward Craig and overnighted at a nice little rest stop on the ??? that I found in an eBook I purchased last year and has been a big help. Just as I was ready to leave, Iggy ran down into the drainage ditch along side the meadow and found something dead to roll in, came back and jumped straight in the van. Ew. I scrubbed his stinky little face and neck with Simple Green and then hosed him with a pressurized hand sprayer that has come in very, very handy, and towelled him off. Cold? Too bad. Stink dog.

As I continued north the land turns into more open range. A historical marker kiosk tells how from the mid 1800’s to the 1930’s the grassland here (and throughout the west) was destroyed in less than a century through overgrazing and greed driven range wars. In 1934 Teddy Roosevelt began to appoint range managers who had the power of law to limit grazing and attempt to restore the grassland. Sadly the same ignorant methodology that caused the Dust Bowl had already begun the desertification of America’s grasslands that continues today.

Continuing on 40 into arid country and Dinosaur National Monument I learned a new word, “hogback” which refers to an area where layers of hard rock and soft sandstone are pushed up and which to some people look like a hog’s back. To me they looked like giant sleeping dinosaurs.



Now I was in dry country, the Great Basin.

On into Vernal, UT and wanted to look at some highly recommended petroglyphs but I mistook the directions and didn’t realize it until I was well north on 191 toward Flaming Gorge. Neither did I anticipate the strain on the van pulling the trailer up those switchbacks. After getting through Wolf Creek Pass at nearly 11,000 feet on the way to Breckenridge I’d been nervous about the van and this was to be another test. I put on the emergency flashers, geared down to second and chugged up for a half hour at twenty five mph. Fortunately since it was Labor Day all the traffic, giant pick ups with huge trailers and toy haulers, was going the other way, back toward civilization. Flaming Gorge has to be seen. If you want to experience some of the most stunning natural beauty on earth, make it there. Sedimentary rock carved by the Green River over millennia, Flaming Gorge was named by John Wesley Powell in 1869. The folds of red rock, sandstone and green sage canyons top out in the most beautiful aspen forest I’VE ever been in. There was a pull out with a nature walk, and I was grateful to give the van a rest and loose my grip on the wheel. I found myself in a thick grove of aspen and low juniper mixed meadow and forest that was filled with bird song. There were tons of robins there of both sexes and I was glad to see lots of juveniles. I saw many shafted flickers, which are a very atractive bird with barred wings and yellow throats and lots of unidentifiable (by me) little grey birds. This was a joyous place. Next time I’ll leave the dogs in the car.

Flaming Gorge descends as long, winding and steep as it ascends through the Uinta Mountains to the dam that creates Flaming Gorge Reservoir and National Recreation Area. Again, words fail me to describe how spectacular it is. However I can’t help but wonder how beautiful it was once, before the dam building frenzy of the mid twentieth century flooded the gorge and the homes and towns there, damning the magnificent, free flowing Green River which drains five mountain ranges in Wyoming and is the major feed of the Colorado.

I continued my descent on 191 into the town of Rock Springs, WY and then over to Green River, my destination for wild horses. I managed to find the dirt road that leads up to White Mountain, which is actually a high plateau that ranges from 6,300 to 7,900 feet. It was late afternoon by now and the light was getting good. The road is a bit washboard-y which the Casita HATES. I went slowly and topped at a pull out with an expansive view of the oasis town of Green River, it’s railroad line and the bad land buttes to the south and east. To the southwest are the Uintas and Flaming Gorge, far in the distance to the north I can just see the Tetons and to the north/northeast, across the continental divide and Great Divide Basin the Wind River Mountains which include the Prior Mountains, home of the Prior Horses, stars of Ginger Kathrine’s two PBS Nature Documentaries, Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies.

Since the light is simply fabulous, I drop the trailer and only have to drive a quarter of a mile before I find two wild horses. Beginner’s luck! I was surprised to find they are not that “wild.” These two are very accustomed to people and let me get quite close to photograph them. The sorrel is less shy than the nearly black, both bachelor stallions. In the next week I will see them often. They are buddies, always together and for whatever reason not seeking to join the main herd. Since all the “wild” horses are really feral horses descended from domestic stock, they are not nearly as wild as other prey ungulates. These guys look like they could even be someone’s saddle horses that were let go, which is how these horses got here in the first place. By WWII mechanized vehicles and aircraft displaced the horse, military cavalry was disbanded and the horses were released into “the wild.” The horses here are most closely related to the North American gated breeds prized by the cavalry for their smooth ride. Genetic testing relates them to the Rocky Mountain Horse, American Saddlebred, Standardbred and Morgan.

The-2BBoysI shoot until they are done with me and down the road a bit I find another sorrel stallion who requires a larger comfort zone. He is however magnificent and fits every romantic icon of a wild horse. The light fades and I return to settling in. The light takes forever to fade. There is no obstruction. This plateau is the definition of “space.” I feel golden.

Stay tuned for some action photos when I find the herd… Love to hear your comments, suggestions, etc. Subscribe to be notified when there’s a new entry…



  1. Cindra Lee Henry
    September 10, 2014

    Your writing is wonderful and I deeply appreciate your including us all in your journey, both the outward journey and the inward journey. Your bravery and commitment are inspiring!

  2. jill Stanley
    September 12, 2014

    I loved the ‘Cloud’ story on PBS cant believe you are camping there. beautiful.I love your horse photos.I want to see a pic of the rig & your companions-when u get a spare minute…..


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