Tag Archives: Denver

Palisade, Colorado – Summer Produce

palisade colorado peaches produce farm(Click on images for a larger version)

In late August, my wife Hailey and I took our daughter Varenna on her first week-long vacation: a swing through Southwestern Colorado to see the state’s absolute best scenery (the San Juan Mountains) and discover some of the blank places on our personal maps (Colorado National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park). This was also a test run: taking a vacation with a child is an all-new thing for us, and we wanted to figure it out in the comfort of our home state.

Rule #1 of road tripping with a baby: allow for a lot of car breaks. Understandably, Varenna would get tired after a few hours of facing backwards, usually alone in the backseat (in fact, I think she did pretty well considering). So, we’d frequently pull over and find something to do. Break #3 on Day #1 was Palisade, Colorado: the peach capital of the Rocky Mountain West, and easily one of the state’s great underrated towns.

palisade colorado produce farm fruit grand junction
Palisade sits on the cusp of the Colorado Plateau, a massive desert that spans across four states and includes such American icons as the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park and Lake Powell. As a result, summers in Palisade are hot. Like put-your-face-under-the-broiler hot. But the Colorado River flows right through the valley, providing an easy source for irrigation. Subsequently, Palisade is awesome for orchards and vineyards, and peaches are what they are known for — not just because “Palisade peaches” illiterates, but because they are explosively juicy.

We found our way to Ball Fruit, one of the many family-owned farms in the valley. To get there, we hopped off I-70, crossed the lumbering brown Colorado River, and wound our way through vineyards (the area is also becoming a big wine producing region).

palisade colorado grand junction farm produce corn honey
Without knowing it, we were visiting the same day as the Palisade Peach Festival, so the place was hopping. One of the farm hands, who noted that he was dating the boss’ daughter, gave us a tour of the cooler, the orchard, and the garden patch in the back. As idyllic as orchard life might seem, the heat alone made me wonder how these people do it.

palisade colorado farm produce cantalope fruit
Since we were camping that night, we opted to only buy a bag of peaches and a melon. Had we done this trip in reverse (Denver to Pagosa Springs and then loop back through Palisade) we would have stockpiled on fruit and spent the next few days at home concocting as many sweet offerings as our kitchen would allow. But we had a plan — six days on the road and finish with the hot springs. It just made more sense to unwind at trip’s end…

After splitting an ear of roasted corn and stuffing ice cubes down our shirts and into our pockets (or at least daydreaming about it), we hit the road: onward, to Colorado National Monument for the night.

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I Love Colorado

(Click on images for a larger version).

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting a lot of new imagery of my home state of Colorado. Last Saturday to this past Friday, Hailey, Varenna and I did a swing through Southwest Colorado — our little girl’s first true vacation. We saw some of the few places we have not experienced yet (Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado National Monument) plus some old favorites (Telluride, Ridgway, Ouray, Pagosa Springs).

Southwest Colorado is God’s country. I don’t say that lightly or because its late at night and I am out of words. It is simply a staggering place. The landscape is a beautiful dichotomy: overwhelming and intimate at the same time. When you are not picking your jaw up off the ground because of the vaulted peaks, plummeting waterfalls and sheer canyons, your finding yourself in a cozy valley or by a fresh gurgling river, thinking about retirement because the place is so livable.

Mesa Verde, Square Tower House, cliff dwelling, Colorado, Ancestral Puebloan, Anasazi

On this trip we visited Mesa Verde National Park for the first time since we were kids (Hailey was 7 when she visited with her family, I was 2). Until now, the context of Colorado’s indigenous people was little more than knowledge to me. As an editor and as a writer, I knew quite a bit about their civilization and its rise and subsequent migration away from the mesa. But knowing and understanding are two different things sometimes. You have to go there to truly visualize and appreciate the systems that connected the dwellings and people of the mesa.

Here is a Google Map of the entire trip’s itinerary:

I’ll have more — plenty more — to come in the next few weeks. Lots more Colorado travel coming up (fall color in Steamboat and Snowmass) and then the year’s big trip around Thanksgiving: Kauai.

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The Indian Peaks Served Two Ways

My whole life, the Indian Peaks have been my playground. Some of my earliest memories take place on the mucky shores of Long Lake. Back in the early ’80s, there was a decaying cabin in the shallows there, and a tiny beach about 20 square feet in size lay tucked in the grasses and willows right by it. My brother and I would spend hours drawing in the wet dirt with sticks while my Dad fly fished from a belly boat, the jagged peaks — Pawnee, Shoshoni and Navajo — rising above the valley that stretched to the west.

Years later, when I was in high school, my Mom and I finally ventured beyond Long Lake to Lake Isabelle, and the thundering waterfall that pours out of its eastern outlet. Here, down among the bluebells and shooting stars, I thought how nice it would be to have a child some day, perhaps a daughter, and show her the wonders of nature — like how the wildflowers below Lake Isabelle grow out of rocks, their persistence a testament to a higher power at work.

Maybe I’d name her Isabelle.

Fast-forward to this past year, and Hailey’s pregnancy, and those closest to me (including my Mom and my best friend Matt) were convinced that if we’d have a girl, she’d be named Isabelle.

Of course, it didn’t end up that way. For one, Twilight or some damn thing made it one of the most popular girl names of the moment. For two, Hailey and I went to Lake Como in 2005 and found a little town that meant a lot to both of us, and here we are, with a girl named Varenna.

Nonetheless, the meaning and the feeling of the Indian Peaks and sharing it with my daughter, is something that has been top of my mind this summer. She’s five months old, so that “higher power” is a bit over her head, but she loves the woods and the fresh air. A few weeks ago — on a Friday off that I truly earned — Hailey, my mother, Varenna and I, went for a short hike to Mitchell Lake, one valley over from Long Lake and Lake Isabelle. It was short and sweet, but to walk with the three women of my life through fields of wildflowers for the better part of a day is something I will cherish forever.

Two weeks later, I returned to the Indian Peaks with my best friend, Matt. He probably needs little introduction since he’s been on this blog so many times, but it was another unforgettable hike in the Indian Peaks — because of equal parts terrain and time and stories with a man I’ve known since I was 4 years old.

Matt and I experienced the Indian Peaks in a very different way than I did with my girls. Starting at 9am, we climbed up the valley that stretches from Eldora Ski Area to Arapaho Pass. Dipping into the valley base to cross the North Fork of Middle Boulder Creek at a waterfall, we looped back and up the ridge to Diamond Lake, before continuing through the woods and up through amazing meadows to an unnamed ridge at 11,400 feet that faced south to Mount Evans.

Matt was his usual enthusiastic self, up there. “Awww, man. This is awesome!” Me? I kept making HD videos of the tundra and the clouds, which were moving across the mountaintops at a pace I’ve never seen before. For better or worse (most likely worse) I approach video like a still composition, and have no editing skills. I’d upload them here, but they’re 100MB each and I don’t have the patience.

We reapplied sunscreen and descended the mountain back through hip-deep wildflowers. At Diamond Lake, we scrambled onto some boulders that jutted out from the creek outlet and watched the clouds roll by. Not a bad way to pass a summer Sunday in Colorado…

Speaking of which, Hailey, Varenna and I are about to embark on a 6-day odyssey through Southwestern Colorado: Colorado National Monument, Ridgway, Telluride, Mesa Verde and Pagosa Springs. Should have a ton of updates in the coming weeks.

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Andrew Graduates from Kindergarten

A few weeks ago on a Thursday night, Hailey, Varenna and I joined my Mom (known as Oma by the grandkids) and we drove down to Colorado Springs for my nephew’s graduation from kindergarten. Doesn’t get much cuter/prouder than this.

Andrew was graduating from Giving Tree Montessori School. Next year, its off to first grade.Knowing how sharp and clever Andrew is, he’ll do great in the new big school.

So here’s a collection of some shots from the night, shot with a Canon 5D MK II and a 50mm f1.8 and a 200mm f2. Love both lenses, especially for occasions such as this one.

Andrew was clearly bored during the commencement speaker’s address — I think it was Joe Biden or something.

A very adult pose, surveying the diploma.

A very almost-7-year-old pose, with the diploma.

Waving to a friend as he goes to get his diploma.

And posing for pictures with his proud dad and mom, my brother Ben, and his lovely wife Amy.

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The Moment: Mud Season in Colorado

Silence. An earth-rocking, soul-stirring realization in the middle of bitter-cold ranch country outside Kremmling, Colorado. Exactly what a new parent needs: Fresh air and a deafening absence of sound.

It was a Friday afternoon, the last day of April. I’d left work early, and the three of us — me, Hailey and our little daughter Varenna — had made our way to the mountains through sun, snow and their indignant cross-breed, the sunny-blizzard. Our venture would take us to the usual place — Steamboat Springs — for some needed rest and relaxation. But for the moment, I was on the side of the road, hands in pockets and facing the wind, staring at the empty land while Hailey fed our groggy little girl. Getting out of the car meant getting in touch with things. It meant shooting a few frames on my camera.

In the grassy field were a pair of sandhill cranes — perhaps my favorite birds in Colorado. Gawky, golden with a red patch between the eyes, they poked about the grass and lifted elegantly on short breezes, their wings expanding to make use of the wind for a few seconds. What I would have given to have them unleash that awkward, clamorous call of theirs … but they never did. They poked for bugs.

And then, a different calling: over Rabbit Ears Pass by dark. Back in the car, on the road, and five frames in my digital camera. It was good to be back traveling and shooting.

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At Home With Varenna

And so an amazing first two weeks at home with our little girl has come to a close. Back to work tomorrow, but the journey, the adventures, the milestones — they will only keep coming with greater regularity. I feel like I’m meeting a new Varenna everyday. A bigger, smarter, savvier little girl with each sunrise.

Two weeks ago, she was a swollen little newborn who could barely keep her eyes open. She’d claw at her cheeks and eyebrows, the sensory experience of her new life too much to handle. Tonight, while lying on my chest, she wiggled her way from my sternum to burrow her face under my armpit, as though she’d find a food source under there, the whole time making ravenous little grunts. I could hardly contain my laughter it was so cute.

Varenna looks a little like me, and she looks a little like Hailey. And yet at the same time, she looks, and acts, not at all like either of us. It’s so incredible to see the individualism of a newborn. She’s mellow, content, and yet capable of incredible assertiveness. Her eyes are blue one day, blue-gray the next, hazel the next, blue again the next. The fact that I can’t peg her personality, let alone her physical traits, down makes parenthood all the more surreal.

Since we’ve come home, we’ve had several visitors come over. Hailey’s parents have visited, and we’ve Skyped Hailey’s brother and sister-in-law in Virginia and grandmother in St. Louis. My mom and dad came by for dinner, and this Thursday, since we were feeling pretty house-bound, we took Varenna to their house in the foothills southwest of town. Four or five sets of friends have stopped by to meet her, and my brother and his family have come by, with his wife Amy spending last night at our place (what a trooper … she even helped with night duty). I thought that our wedding was the once-in-a-lifetime event where gratitude for these friends and family would be the most intense. To have that experience twice is truly a blessing.

Varenna’s room has turned into a neat little sanctuary, complete with woodsy creatures, stuffed animals and a soundtrack of birdsong that we like to play on a compact sound system. Whether Varenna the Newborn eventually becomes Varenna the Outdoorsy Girl is entirely up to her, but for now, she’s got a lot of cuddly creatures surrounding her.

I’ve set up a blog just for Varenna photos. I did it mainly for family and friends to keep tabs on her (and to keep the Tanager Blog focused on travel, portraiture and other photography). My favorite post so far has to do with the many faces of this girl.

So there you go: our little family. Hope you are all enjoying spring …

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Introducing Varenna Autumn Day

Life has changed for the better. Way better.

On Sunday, March 7, my wife gave birth to our first, a daughter, Varenna Autumn Day. Weighing 8 pounds, 2 ounces, she is a big baby, and as we’re finding out — once that big baby has been delivered — big is beautiful. She’s strong, healthy, sleeps well, feeds well and just might be rolling over in the next few weeks.

Varenna has lived in anonymity for the last 9 months. She was bashful during both ultrasounds, and despite our desire to know her gender and start formulating her life story in our minds, we had to wait until her entrance to get to know her on that level. The doctor’s announcement of “she’s a girl!” was a moment of sheer elation — like a first kiss, never to be duplicated again.

Girls are a rare thing in my family. In her generation, the Days have produced three boys (my brother’s sons Andrew, Isaiah and Jeremiah); in my generation, one girl out of five. On the Reitzug side, she is the 15th in her generation, but only the fourth girl. Even the doctor predicted a boy when she realized how big she was … her entrance was the best surprise of my life.

Last Sunday was a grueling day — labor started around 5am, we checked into the hospital by 11am, and she arrived shortly before 5pm. Hailey’s parents were her first visitors at 5:45pm, followed by my brother, his wife and their boys (that’s 6-year-old Andrew holding her above) and then my parents shortly thereafter. The next thing we knew it was midnight and the parade of late-night feedings had begun. What just happened?

Big kudos to the staff at Rose Medical Center, especially the nurses in labor/delivery and post-partem. The level of care they offered to Hailey and Varenna was outstanding.

We’re home now (have been since Tuesday), and I’ll get another post up on life at home with Varenna. After that, the Tanager Blog will continue to focus on travel, portraits and the other photographic work I do. I’ll be setting up a baby blog just for her, and for the friends and family who want to see how she grows.

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Momma Gets Henna

So far, this pregnancy (and therefore the blog) has been devoid of belly pictures. Well, not any longer.

On Sunday, Hailey had a henna artist — Amy Swagman, who has her own henna design business — come over and paint a beautiful henna tattoo design on her baby bump. There was no deeper reason for doing it. Just a “hey, that would be fun for the baby shower” kind of impulse. And since I haven’t gotten around to doing maternity pictures … well, here they are: our documented evidence of what pregnancy with Baby Xerxes was like with six weeks to go.

Amy began with a peacock design over the belly button, and the design emanated from there.

Our babe is a real roller. Loves to kick, tumble and do gymnastics all day. Made for an interesting spectacle as Amy tried to apply the design. Crazy kid.

As the design transpired, I bounced between taking pictures and watching the J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets! defeat the Chargers. That was awesome.

And here is the final design. The ink dried, and then came off in the morning with the wrap that went over it. Now Hailey has this beautiful tattoo for the next two weeks, at which point it will fade away.

But by then, the Olympics will have started, and then once the Olympics are over, the bags will be packed for the hospital and we’ll be on guard to the finish line. Not sure how many blog posts I’ll get up there before then….

If you are interested in any kind of henna design, look Amy up. Here is her website: http://www.hennadenver.com.

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Cookie Day, Christmas and My First Stab at Dog Photography

Hailey and I just returned from Richmond, Virginia, where we spent Christmas at her brother Jason’s house. There is definitely a different feel to nearly everything these days (obviously, because of the baby we’re expecting). This is particularly noticeable with the holidays. A year from now, Christmas will be very different, and it will only get better I’m sure, as we introduce our child to Santa, giving gifts, cookies, ornaments with stories behind them, and all the other traditions.

I thought I’d do a quick post on the holidays, starting with pictures Hailey took on Cookie Day. Above is her mom, Diana, and our sister-in-law Amy, enjoying a surplus of chocolate.

And here is Isaiah, our nephew, carefully decorating a gingerbread cookie, bedhead and all.

While coordinating this annual tradition, Hailey emailed my mom with the subject line “Cookie Day.” My mom noted that at first glance she thought Hailey was using a new nickname for our baby. And so, December was the month that “Xerxes” became “Cookie.”

Below is our nephew Andrew, and my personal favorite: oatmeal-craisin-and-white-chocolate-chip cookies.

I missed Cookie Day this year, but my brother was able to attend, and here he’s giving the annual reading of the Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher. This is one of my favorite books from growing up … sadly it’s out of print, but you can buy it used on Amazon for $288.

Fast forward two weeks, and we’ve arrived at Christmas morning in Richmond. We had a large group to celebrate with this year, including Hailey’s grandmother from St. Louis, her aunt and uncle from Chapel Hill, and her cousin Diana (below, wearing a Chinese paper hat we all received in our stocking) from Brooklyn.

The King/Goerner families have turned stocking stuffers into an art form. Despite the lack of children (until next Christmas at least), they all give each other cheap toys and fun games that usually entertain until noon. Here’s Jason showing off his rubber-ball-and-paddle skills (if you can call them “skills” … we all were pretty clumsy with them). Hailey and I gave out the fun noisy balloons we bought in Mexico back in April. You blow them up, let go of them, and they make a high-pitched buzzing sound as they fly around the room. Smudge — Jason and Ali’s dog — killed our balloon on it’s second flight, to howls of laughter from all.

Another King/Goerner family tradition … the Christmas Day jigsaw puzzle.

Hailey’s cousin gave us some adorable baby clothes and bibs (we’re amassing quite the haul by now), and on Sunday night, some of Ali’s family came to visit for dinner. Hailey’s mom got to play Nana for a bit with Ali’s niece, little Gracie.

OK, so I have to admit. I’m funny about dogs. Most people who know me well know that I’m … shall we say “averse” to most dogs. I like to chalk it up to the fact that I’ve been attacked by them three times in my life (twice as a toddler, and once this past year while riding my bike). But the fact is I don’t like stepping in poo and the sound of barking simply grates my nerves.

But I hereby grant a lifetime waiver to Minnie and Smudge, Jason and Ali’s incredible two dogs. They’ve done an excellent job training them, and they are the best behaved puppies I’ve ever met.

Minnie (below left) is particularly sweet. A natural lap dog who wags her tail 5,614 times a day, she’s also one tough pooch. In 2003, she was hit by a semi. She lived as a stray for another 8 or 9 months before a shelter took her in. Her back hip was so destroyed, she was about to be put down. That’s when Ali adopted her, hired a surgeon, and rehabbed her back to health. She has the slightest limp to this day, but knowing this story — and seeing that happy little tail wagging all the time — is enough to melt my cynical, dog-loathing heart.

As for Smudge? He’s the biggest optimist I’ve ever met, human, animal or otherwise. Stroll through the kitchen or by the dining room table, and there he is, on his hind legs, silently begging for food with a smile on his face (below right). His success rate is roughly 1 in 88 begs, but that doesn’t stop him. Doe eyes, dangling tongue, a paw tugging at the air … The mutt is a frickin’ comedian.

And finally, here’s a close-up of Minnie in front of the Christmas tree. The yellow spots in her fur? Yeah, that’s hair dye from when Jason dyed her burgundy and gold for a Redskins game. Let’s just say that at 4-11, even happy little Minnie is disappointed in the Redskins.

Pretty soon I’ll be posting images from a day trip we took to colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Ah yes, travel photography. Good to get back at it. Look for that soon.

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The Hall Family

(click on images for a larger version)

On Saturday, Hailey and I did a family portrait shoot with the Halls — Bryce, Marni, Oliver and Harrison — at their Centennial home. Marni is my sister-in-law’s sister; she was the maid of honor at Ben and Amy’s wedding while I was the best man.  So we’ve known each other for roughly 15 years, and it’s such a treat to see her and her wonderful family these days, especially since Hailey and I are expecting in March, making their two-month-old son Harrison an automatic play buddy for our baby.

We did much of the shoot in their front room, which for me was conveniently empty and east facing, making it very studio-like with lots of natural light (yes!). Their two-year-old son Oliver took only a few minutes to warm up to us (after all, it had been a few months since we last hung out). He showed us some of his awesome toys in his play room, and then he had fun jumping off an ottoman onto a massive, pillowy, stuffed sheep chair. He’s also a natural in front of the camera. Look at that smile and pose!

Harrison was born just two months ago, and he’s at that super sweet age where his eyes search everything and he’s smiling a bit. The blanket in these images below was knitted by Harrison’s grandmother, Linda (Bryce’s mom).

After the shoot at their house, and a little lunch, we all went to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden. This place is awesome. Locomotives and cabooses of all kinds, a Galloping Goose engine that makes circuits, and all sorts of memorabilia in the gift shop. I’m not a model-train collector by any stretch, but we’re definitely hitting this place up when our child is old enough to love it like Oliver does.

Thanks to Marni and Bryce for such an awesome shoot. Really fun, really engaging and easy-going. What more could a photographer ask for? We had a blast!

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