Celebrating Bells and wilderness | AspenTimes.com

Celebrating Bells and wilderness

The opening at Metaphor Gallery at Aspen Highlands Friday night – “Images of Wilderness” – celebrated a matched pair of mountains: the Maroon Bells.

Widely known as some of the most photographed mountains in the world, the Bells are being honored with yet more outstanding exposures.

Unlike most gallery openings, it was the subject, not the artists, that took center stage. Clearly, this show, which runs for three weeks, is focused on the mountain icons that identify Aspen. But there’s more to this picture.

The Maroon Bells are encompassed by a vast wilderness area – the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. This priceless wilderness might not be there in its pristine, natural splendor, and protected by an act of Congress, had it not been for the Aspen Wilderness Workshop.

Here lies another distinction for this opening. The dozen or more artists who contributed some 50 stunning photographs of the Maroon Bells are not making any money on sales. All the art is donated.

Metaphor Gallery is splitting 50/50 with the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, which needs the funds to continue its work of protecting and preserving wild lands in and around Aspen.

In 1967, the Aspen Wilderness Workshop was created to defend wilderness values threatened by logging, mining and tourism. Co-founders Dottie Fox, Joy Caudill and Connie Harvey determined that preserving the wild lands surrounding Aspen was vitally important to the community.

As a result of AWW’s action, which garnered critical regional and national support, the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness Area today covers 180,000 acres and includes six of Colorado’s 54 “fourteeners.”

“In order to preserve the land in its natural state it is absolutely necessary to have the kind of protection afforded by official wilderness areas,” explained Harvey. “It is wonderful to feel that it is safe, that this is one battle we won’t have to go on fighting.”

Wilderness guarantees protection, but it also draws visitors who seek the solace and serenity of the vanishing wilds. In the 1970s, as the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness became increasingly popular, the impacts of visitation intensified. The Bells were literally being loved to death.

Automobile exhaust was killing vegetation and fouling the air. It was akin to human breath tainting the cave paintings of Lascaux or fading Michaelangelo’s mural on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The impacts were so daunting that the U.S. Forest Service actively discouraged the publishing of photographs of these dramatic mountains. Finally, on July 23, 1977, automobiles were banned from the Maroon Creek Valley. Anyone wishing to visit Maroon Lake during summer was required to ride a bus.

Ever since 1874, when the Maroon Bells were named by government surveyor Ferdinand Hayden, these peaks have been magnets whose beauty and grandeur excites an awesome respect for the forces of nature.

Pushed up from great subterranean forces tens of millions of years ago, carved by glaciers, and colored by the rusting of the iron-rich mineral, hematite, North (14,014 feet) and South (14,156 feet) Maroon Peaks remain icons of wilderness.

“It was time for us to give something back to the Wilderness Workshop,” said photographer Burnham Arndt, who helped organize the show. “They worked hard to save something of extreme beauty, and we have contributed our passion to the cause.”

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