The celebration on the Greenland Ranch started to wind down as the sun set on Saturday night, producing one of the most vivid sunsets ever. From Greenland we could see a huge expanse of Colorado’s Front Range, from Pikes Peak on the south, extending north to Longs. All of it in brilliant hues of pink, magenta, orange and yellow. We walked to our car and drove out in the deep dusk. I commented to my husband that it reminded me of the time that John Fielder and I drove to a high point on Greenland in the dead of morning. He wanted to photograph a view that had been captured by William Henry Jackson in the late 1800’s.
When Tom and I reached our friend’s ranch just north of Greenland, we learned of John’s death the day before. I didn’t really sleep that night, tossing and turning, thinking of John. Sunday morning was gray and gloomy, and it stayed that way all day. Unusual for August in Colorado. By Monday, the sky had cleared, but something still seemed off. The air was still and the sky was pale. Not a deep blue. Not the blue of the Colorado columbine, John’s favorite flower. It felt like the earth was mourning.
I first met John in the mid-1980s. I had helped The Nature Conservancy protect the Bar NI Ranch in the high country west of Trinidad. John knew the land, having surveyed it and other holdings of the CF&I Corporation, during summers in the 1970s, when his uncle was president of the company. John had recently told me that his uncle “was a tough guy, but loving…he brought me to Colorado.”
John photographed many Nature Conservancy preserves after that, and we collaborated on one of his first books, Rivers of the Rockies. The book was published on the heels of Colorado voters approving the 1992 Great Outdoors Colorado ballot initiative, a program which John and I and others, helped conceive and create.
In the mid-1990s, Tom and I joined John, his son JT, two other “sherpas” and three llamas. We hiked out of a private ranch at the headwaters of the Navajo River, and up to the Continental Divide. John was photographing for his book Colorado’s Continental Divide Trail. We were with them for three nights.
That is when I gained a new respect for John, and how hard he worked for each image. He was always up in the dark, hiking to the right spot with his large camera on a tripod balanced on his shoulder, waiting for the light so he could capture the magnificence. Then back to camp to reload his film in the tent. Hiking for many miles and setting up a new camp. Eating early, photographing late, loading film and sleeping. He worked hard.
In 2000, a dream for many was finally achieved. The Conservation Fund and many partners, protected the Greenland Ranch along I-25 in southern Douglas County. Combined with other properties, more than 35,000 acres have now been preserved along 12 miles of the highway.
John was fascinated by this area. Not only its stunning beauty and views, but its history. He would often remind me to “not forget Fremont’s journals … some of the best writing ever about this landscape.” Several images in his book Colorado 1870-2000, in which he recaptured images taken by William Henry Jackson, were taken on or near the Greenland Ranch, where the views have not changed.
In January, I called John to thank him for his generous gift of his photographs to History Colorado. It was then that he told me about his pancreatic cancer, the same cancer that took my father nearly 40 years ago. John, like my father, continued to live his life. He was positive and remained hopeful, and spoke about getting back out to explore and photograph. And so it was a shock when we lost him.
I wish that I had gone to see John this year at his home in Silverthorne. Or that Tom and I had run the Grand Canyon with him many years ago. Or that we had skied the steep and deep at Alta.
But I will always cherish my many memories of John: Spotting a blond bear on our Continental Divide hike, near where Colorado’s last grizzly was killed, and wondering if it might be another “last” grizzly. And driving up to that high point on the Greenland Ranch in the dark, waiting for the light, and watching the sky turn violet on that cool, clear Colorado morning.
Sydney Shafroth Macy lives in Boulder.
The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Learn more about how to submit a column.)