Changes in altitude

Looking out the window at snow covered mountain peaks at an altitude of 9,800 feet is a big change from living at sea level. You may think I am looking out the window of an airplane, but I’m not. I’m in a cabin just outside of Telluride, Colo., and October is a great time to visit our family living here. While I am not a cold weather person, it’s a pleasant change to get away from the heat and humidity of Florida.

Nancy and I are at the kitchen table sipping steaming hot cups of coffee. With the inside temperature at only 50 degrees, at least they look steamy hot. The fire has just been started in the huge rock-lined fireplace and the radiant heat and dancing shadows make it feel warm already. Tall aspen trees are still mostly covered with fall foliage. Golden and bright yellow, red and orange leaves flutter to the ground. You know winter is on the way.

The pine trees, like the blue spruce, all look as though they should be decorated with Christmas ornaments. Several deer are grazing on the ground vegetation up on the ridge a hundred feet away, occasionally looking around for predators such as bears or mountain lions. At present, there is no wind and looking up through the colorful leaves accentuates the clear, deep blue sky.

The town of Telluride, Colo., has a lot of history. Early miners sought gold, silver and copper and set up shanties in a valley surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks. Narrow gauge railroads were used to transport people, supplies and workers in and out of the valley, which is still at 8,700 feet in altitude. Small offshoots of the railway were also used to transport raw materials from the mines, and trails and railway beds were carved in the face of the mountains. Those trails are still used today by hikers and mountain bikers, and traversed by four-wheel drive vehicles as shortcuts to get neighboring towns when snow isn’t a factor. These rough-cut roadways and trails are not for the light hearted: One side is sheer cliff rising at an 80-degree angle up thousands of feet to the peak. The other side seems to drop straight down to the pile of rocks a thousand feet below. Remnants of old vehicles and equipment can be seen at the bottom. Clearly, this is not a place to take your focus off the trail.

We are surrounded by the Uncompahgre National Forest in the San Juan Mountain Range, with peaks as high as 14,000 feet. Crystal clear mountain streams are abundant in this area, and many small lakes and ponds are full of colorful golden trout, which average about a foot in length. Several species of rainbow trout are also plentiful here, and fly-fishing for these feisty cold water trout is a very enjoyable pastime. (So is eating them.)

Using a light four-weight fly rod, you can expect some great action from these fish. One of my all time favorite meals comes from memories of spending time with my dad. We would set up camp early in the day and get a fire set up. Then we would take our fishing gear and return to camp within the hour with several trout. We’d line a heavy cast iron skillet with several strips of Dak brand canned bacon, and wait for the butterflied filets to turn a flaky white. The smell of this fresh-caught trout cooking has been embedded in my brain forever. We all have memories triggered from our past. The smell and taste of freshly caught trout, enjoyed in the open air surroundings of sweet forest aromas and sounds tops my list.

Nancy and I are preparing for a hike today: not a strenuous one, but one that leads us through winding forest trails to Bridal Veil Falls. Being from sea level areas, this 9,000 foot altitude and thin air makes breathing more difficult, so we have to pace ourselves.

Telluride is just one of many beautiful areas in this world. Some are more rugged than this location, but all are beautiful. But no matter where you are, seek out local nature and activities and enjoy the great outdoors.

Fair winds calm seas. ¦

— Capt. Dennis Kirk’s life adventures are written from various chapters in his three decades of experience in Florida. He is part owner of the Nav- A- Gator, a riverfront restaurant and marina in Lake Suzy.

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