Nature at its Best

Magic Moments

Over the course of a year, nature produces many masterpieces. Some last for days; others are gone almost as quickly as they arrive.

Edited by Catherine Lutz Photography by Daniel Bayer July 1, 2015 Published in the Midsummer/Fall 2015 issue of Aspen Sojourner


On his first and only visit in 1949, philosopher Albert Schweitzer commented that Aspen “is built a little too close to heaven.” At no other moment does that sentiment ring truer than on a clear night, when the explosion of stars can resemble a fireworks display playing out just above the outline of the surrounding mountains. Seek out an open space outside of town, add the refreshing briskness of summer night air and the warmth of another person, and you’ll feel the mystery of the universe.

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Image: Daniel Bayer


It takes only three letters to capture the feeling of stumbling onto a field of wildflowers in July or August: J-O-Y. Ever watch a dog running through a blooming expanse of purple, yellow, and red in the high country? She can feel it, too, that uplifting vibe that comes from frolicking in nature’s creativity. Perhaps wildflowers bring such giddiness because they are so ephemeral. Round a bend on the trail during their two- or three-week peak, and you’ve found not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the exuberant, fleeting rainbow itself.

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Image: Daniel Bayer


It always sneaks up, the first snow of the season, sometimes falling as early as Labor Day. Waking up to sprinklings of pixie dust on the peaks elicits a confusion of feelings: dismay at the impeding end of summer, excitement for the coming ski season. But first, the seasons must blend, and therein lies the enchantment of the first snow. The cold, white hand of winter resting on the brilliant gold and warm brown shoulder of fall—who will prevail by afternoon?

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Image: Daniel Bayer


During peak runoff—when snowmelt swells local streams into icy-cold forces of nature—you can sometimes hear the boulders tumbling under the power of the water. Get near these rushing amorphous channels, and you feel it, too: temperatures are a few degrees cooler, and the air is damp with the upthrust mist.

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Image: Daniel Bayer


Wake early, and you’ll be rewarded. Here, sunrises unfold like a dramatic, wordless theater piece: the excited chatter of birds breaks the dead, cold silence, followed by the gray curtain of dawn lifting to reveal an intense rose glow on just the highest peaks. Fleeting as a kiss, those soulful spotlights soon give way to a deep gold and, finally, to the warming pale yellow of sunlight washing over everything like a sustained chorus of quiet applause. 

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Image: Daniel Bayer


Sunset is not simply the inverse of sunrise in Aspen/Snowmass—it’s much more drawn-out. As the hues of the mountain foliage intensify, pay attention to the clouds. Those angry gray shapes framed by intense white sunlight will soften, taking on a hint of dusty violet when the sun first sinks behind the high horizon. Then comes a procession of color nobody ever tires of, from fiery orange to shiny gold to bubble-gum pink to soothing lavender, leaving onlookers aglow for having seen the whole amazing show. 

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Image: Daniel Bayer


When all the ingredients come together—lots of spring moisture, plenty of hours of daylight, and strong doses of sunshine—the Roaring Fork Valley in early summer can look as green as Ireland, perhaps even more so when framed against a brilliant blue alpine sky. Aspen trees and cottonwoods exude a Technicolor glow, contrasting with the deep, dark, sober hue of the evergreens. It’s the local landscape most fully alive, bursting with the reminder that the cycle of life is always renewed.  

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