Mountain Cabin Memories (Dillon, Colorado)

July 6, 2017

The Beemer cools off after a 1000-mile ride to my favorite mountain cabin.

I love to visit Alan and Carol Bell at their mountain cabin in Dillon. Each day, Alan takes me on long hikes in the mountains, sometimes above the tree line where I can photograph the likes of pikas and mountain bluebirds, if I’m ready when the opportunity arises. I always huff and puff in the thin air as Alan, who has 15 years on me, doesn’t skip a beat. Later, we have one of his tasty feasts of scrambled eggs, onions, peppers, and whatever other vegetables can be found in the fridge, along with fresh fruit and coffee. Afternoons are filled with reminiscences about the morning hike and plans for the evening hike.

Carol takes over at dinner with savory meals such as meatloaf with all the fixings and more fresh fruit. Ice cream usually makes an appearance at some point during the evening as we all sit next to the brook trout stream out the back door talking about our favorite recent books. Nighttime brings open windows and cool, mountain air as I lie in bed, listening to the Blue River cascading by my window.

The first thing I did when I made it to the cabin was cool off in the brook right outside the door.

Because I was on my motorbike this trip, my longest lens was only a 300 mm f/4. I suppose that was just a challenge to Alan, who managed to put me close enough to a variety of wildlife that I didn’t even miss my big 500.

A young magpie calls for a snack from its mother.

Sometimes we don’t even have to go hiking in the adjacent mountains to find great shots. A few years ago, I captured some beautiful red fox images right next to the cabin, and there are always magpies, deer and other critters nearby. Alan has seen black bear many times but I haven’t been so lucky, as yet. This year, I walked out the door one evening before dinner and saw a pair of whitetail bucks staring at me from a grove of aspens about 30 feet away. You never know what you might see at the cabin.

A trio of cedar waxwings rest in a tree overlooking the cabin.

During my visit this year, my hike with Alan began before daylight, as always, so we would have good shooting light when we arrived at the trailhead. We didn’t have to drive far to the area Alan had chosen in the White River National Forest only a few miles away. We could even see the cabin in the distance when we reached the highest point of our hike.

My friend, mentor, artist, and naturalist, Alan Bell hiking among the aspens in the White River National Forest.

“What do you think we’ll see,” I asked Alan, as we began our hike. “Well, maybe we’ll see a black bear, a fox, or even a moose, but I think we are most likely to see some grouse.” I had never photographed a grouse so I was on board with Alan’s plan. It wasn’t long before we jumped our first grouse as we worked our way up the trail.

A dusky grouse (formerly blue grouse) in a poor attempt at blending in with its environment after we flushed it.

Throughout the hike, we jumped several grouse and one landed on a tree limb overhead and sat motionlessly as we approached.

Close-up detail of a dusky grouse.

Black bear sign was everywhere and Alan showed me some Aspen trees, or “Bear Trees” with claw marks on them. A few of the trees had smaller paw prints where cubs had climbed. I was just sure we would see a bear during the hike. Maybe next time.

Aspen tree with claw marks from a black bear.

By mid-morning, we were getting hungry and decided to head back to the cabin. On the way down the hill, I slipped and fell on my butt right on a barrel cactus! I spent the rest of the hike pulling thorns out of my pants, butt and lower back. But you know what? It didn’t even bother me because I was so happy to be on the mountain. Okay, it bothered me a little.

During mid-afternoon, Alan, Carol and I drove to the Colorado River, not far away, for a shoreline lunch of deli meat, chips, pickles, and soft drinks. It sounds like a pedestrian meal on paper, but you should have tasted it from the bank of the Colorado River. On the way back, it became cloudy so I had an opportunity to photograph some more wildlife along the way.

A young bighorn ram blends with the scruffy mountain vegetation.

We saw bighorn sheep, mule deer, and a variety of other birds and small critters on our way back to the cabin. Colorado is a wildlife photographer’s dream.

A sweet little muley looks back at us from a mountain meadow.

Back at the cabin, after cleaning up for dinner and rehashing our day, I walked outside the door to get something from my Beemer and a pair of whitetail bucks stood in a grove of aspens staring at me. I backed up slowly into the cabin and grabbed my camera. When I returned, I was surprised to see them still standing in the aspens, watching me with suspicion.

A pair of whitetail bucks in velvet watch me from a grove of aspens next to the cabin.

Although I had an incredible trip ahead of me on the Beemer, including the magnificent ride from Ouray to Durango, I was still a little sad to leave my friends at their cabin retreat. I was up early the next morning, along with Alan and Carol, to load my bike for the next leg of my trip. I had already loaded all my camera equipment when Alan came outside and whispered that a moose was standing outside the back door! I grabbed my gear and we snuck through the house but it was too late as the moose was walking away from us into the willows by the Blue River. Well… can’t win them all!

The temperature was in the 30’s so I donned a down-filled vest over my mesh riding jacket. The chilly ride south to Mesa Verde was amazing but a little taxing at 455 miles, mostly through mountain passes. Later, at Mesa Verde, I received an email from Alan with a drawing he had done of me and my Beemer. He must have snuck a picture of the bike when I wasn’t looking because he had all the details down. Or maybe it was just the memory of a great artist. His depiction of me, on the other hand, took my status as a motorbike adventurer to a new level! You never know where the intoxication of clean, mountain air might lead you.

Alan’s take on me and the Beemer.

Although I visited some of the grandest places on Earth during this trip, my favorite part of the adventure was the day and a half at my favorite mountain cabin with Alan and Carol. Oh, and yes, with the help of Joyce, I’m still pulling cactus thorns out of my ass a week and a half later!

Thanks for looking,


Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery of Images and Print Information (Ask about a metal print):









6 comments on “Mountain Cabin Memories (Dillon, Colorado)”

  1. Enjoyed every word, every image!

  2. Thanks for sharing!!

    Sandi Hillermann McDonald

    The Garden Center entrance at Hillermann Nursery and Florist in Washington, Missouri

    Hillermann Nursery and Florist logo

    2601 E. 5th St. | Washington, MO. 63090

    636-239-6729 | 636-239-0103 |

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  3. How great to see a good photo of a grouse! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly tripped over them and watched them disappear without getting a really good look.

    Michelle Scherer
    Visitor Services * Administrative Assistant * Shaw Nature Reserve (636) 451-3512 x 6075

    “To inspire responsible stewardship of our environment through education, restoration and protection of our natural habitats and through public enjoyment of the natural world.”

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