In 2019 the mountains and western states saw record amounts of snow, where cabins in Tahoe were buried to the chimney and locals in Leadville were shoveling 4 feet of snow off of their roofs. Watching the snowfall from afar at my home in Maryland, it seemed like everyone in Leadville was shoveling their roof for about 6 weeks.
And the snow just kept coming. An avalanche near Copper Mountain slid down a mountainside and 100 year-old trees sank into the flow like capsizing ships. The avalanche was so powerful that it went down the mountain, into a valley, across a river, and up the side of the other mountain on the other side of the valley. Trying to escape this avalanche must have felt like being chased by a bear and climbing a tree, only to find that the bear is a much better tree-climber than you.
The roof of the bowling alley in Leadville collapsed - not the only roof-collapse in recent years in Leadville, but a pretty major one, where the alley probably won’t be repaired and will likely be taken piece-by-piece to the landfill.
Despite growing up in Leadville, winter is not my happiest time, especially not now that I live in Maryland near Washington DC. Winter isn’t full of fun fluffy snow here - basically it snows, and then it rains on top of the snow. But at least I wasn’t having to create a pulley system to get a snowblower onto my roof - I’d start to feel sorry for myself while standing on an uncovered DC Metro platform in heels in February’s nastiest sleet, and then I’d open Instagram and scroll past a photo of someone’s truck in Leadville, irretrievably immersed in four feet of snow.
If it had been my truck, I wouldn’t have known where to begin. Pray that I’d brought the snow blower into the house, so that I could start right out the door? Would the doors even open?
With all of this record-breaking, tree-slaying, roof-caving snow, stunning flowers emerged in the high mountains this summer at around 12,000 feet. Instead of hiking for miles and looking for the right creek to possibly glimpse an occasional columbine group, columbine bouquets were everywhere. Everywhere.
Each photo in this blog was taken on a Google Pixel 2 camera, a machine which seems to be able to see far better than I, with each dewy filament of this thistle standing out as clearly as in life.
Outfitted with the Google Pixel 2 camera, for the first time I feel like I am doing some justice to the beauty of the high mountains in photo form.
Since Leadville has become a more well-known place over the years thanks to the amplification of the Leadville Race Series, I’ve done what I would call a C-minus job of explaining how beautiful Leadville is to my friends in Texas and Washington D.C.
You can talk and write about mountain life all day, but ultimately nothing I say ever feels on point about Leadville - nothing really sums it up. At a certain point, words just don’t work. Only the best writers among us ever come close.
Maybe photos come close, maybe paintings do.
The flower peak is usually around July, this year it stretched into August. With temperatures dropping in September, these flowers won’t last too long, but who knows - the fall should at least bring gorgeous colors and possibly some snow, too.
Leadville was a Superfund site for a while in the 90s, and the remnants of mining and exploitation of the land can still be seen everywhere. You can also see why people kept digging - look in any of the mining tailings piles and the diversity of rock that is there is unlike any I’ve ever seen.
Some of the wrecked mines of Leadville are still explainable, where remarkable success happened and wealth boomed out of the earth. Still others are like ghosts, where there is no explanatory plaque, no historical marker, no mention of anything in books. What were people doing here? What was all this? Considering that the above would be buried in wintertime under 12 feet of snow, the desperation and hunger of it all just oozes out of these structures.
Someone was here and they wanted something, badly.
But even before major cleanup of the mines, life was finding a way - like these flowers and many more.