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July-August 2012

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Colorado's San Juan Mountains — Isolated Bounty

High, rugged, and remote, the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado rank among the most unforgiving, yet beautiful, in the contiguous United States. The geology that created the foundation for the spectacular visages of individual peaks also made the area not quite impenetrable, but extremely hard to traverse, particularly for the early settlers in the region, who came in search of wealth found within the mountains themselves: gold, silver, and other rare metals.

The San Juans are an isolated world of alpine microcosms, bounded by ridges. Many people, especially mountain sports enthusiasts, associate the high peaks of the San Juans most intimately with the “dry” powdery snow of winter and early spring. Snowfall here doesn't just provide endless permutations of descent (as well as deadly avalanches), it accentuates the texture of the highest reaches of the area's sheer peaks. Such “fluffy” snow only accumulates on ledges and in natural corners and rock seams, visually transforming a stark rock face into a vertical landscape of chaotic fractals, providing a glimpse into the tortured geology that spawned the peaks we see today.

ED DARACK is an independent writer and photographer. Visit his Web site at www.darack.com.

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