In the sky: Wild from on high

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
An aerial perspective

ASPEN – When I got a call last week about taking an aerial tour of lands around Pitkin County that are part of U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s wilderness proposal, my first thought was, “Hmmm, how can I justify this outing to the boss?” My second thought, and my response, was “Heck, yeah!”

I’m always gawking when I fly in and out of Aspen on a commercial flight, straining to find familiar landmarks from the air and figure out how to reach enticing expanses on foot when they’re only apparent to me from the clouds.

An EcoFlight on Tuesday morning was a chance to do more of that on a grand scale. EcoFlight takes to the air to show people what’s valuable on the ground, often providing the perspective to grasp potential environmental threats. As fond as I am of the Aspen backcountry when I’m standing on it, flying over it affords me a whole new level of appreciation.

So does a skilled pilot. Bruce Gordon, president of EcoFlight, capably flew through winds that buffeted the small plane and left me, sitting in the tail seat, turning a pale shade of green, I suspect. I admit that I glanced around for a plastic bag just in case (there was one tucked into the pocket of the seat in front of me), but despite some moments that left me inwardly groaning, I kept breakfast where it belonged.

I didn’t want to blow chow or the chance to see places I’ve been and places I haven’t. I watched Mount Sopris fill up the window to one side of me and then inspected the red-rock fins of the Thompson Creek area with an eagle’s eye. I gazed down at Ruedi Reservoir and looked longingly at Woods Lake in the upper Fryingpan, where one of my favorite memories of early childhood was planted during a stay at a long-gone resort there (it’s now private). We circled over the Hunter Creek Valley, where the meandering of the creek reflected a slate sky, before cruising over the opulent palaces of Starwood and dropping in for a landing.

It was wild – even the parts that aren’t technically wilderness.