May 2010 - Colorado's Hidden Gems

May 24, 2010

There are gems, there are hidden gems and there are hidden, hidden gems.

Dillon Pinnacles 2010

Dillon Pinnacles,West Elks, CO. (c) Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight 2010.

We in the Rocky Mountain West are surrounded by the gems of our landscapes, the majesty of our western heritage. Hidden Gems is a campaign currently underway to protect some of these gems on the western slope of Colorado, by putting them into an inventory of wilderness lands.

It includes areas adjacent to existing wilderness which arefor the most part at lower elevations, which of course creates a debate as more stakeholders utilize these lands and havestrong views on Wilderness in "their" areas.

On a recent late winter/very early spring day we flew to some of the lesser known proposed wilderness areas in the Gunnison County part of the proposal.

Off we flew, climbing up and through the 11,800 foot East Maroon Pass between Aspen and Crested Butte. The early morning dawned clear and cold and it was like a magic carpet ride climbing at over 1,500ft per minute between towering 14,000 ft peaks in some of the most awe inspiring mountains of the world.

We flew over Carbon Peak and Mt. Axtell in the Whetstone region, an area identified by the US Forest Service in 2007 as recommended wilderness. Then over the proposed Treasure Mountain Addition to the Raggeds Wilderness Area, a massive feature where steep cirques and bowls plunge from the crest of Treasure Mountain to the Crystal River.
The fluting Dillon Pinnacles above Blue Mesa Reservoir were astounding as they led into the existing wilderness of the West Elks, an area that is as remote as any in our wondrous state.

The areas we visited were impressive for their remoteness and wilderness qualities. Equally impressive were the field representatives of the Wilderness Workshop who were pointing out these special places to the press as they evaluated areas that are under contentious debate - looking to see where they can compromise and find common ground.

The talk and debate in the aircraft was interesting and I shared my own personal experiences in helping to create wilderness areas for over 25 years. Since the 80's, I have seen large tracts of land eligible for wilderness in Montana and Idaho get carved up by industrial development. My message is that while everyone waits to get the perfect bill and protect their own special place for their own activities, the land may no longer have the same wilderness qualities when they re-visit this issue years later. The relentless push of extractive industries will see to that.

It is one of the reasons I personally support this bill. I see people really trying to work together and mitigate their differences and adjust the boundaries included in this proposal that will perpetually preserve these very hidden Hidden Gems.