My love affair with the outdoors began when I was a child, roughly 35 years ago. It doesn’t seem that far in the past, but it feels like another time. I grew up on a suburban cul-de-sac in the San Francisco Bay Area, and my parents gave us wide latitude in exploring the foothills that backed up to our house. Along with other kids in the neighborhood, my brother and I would run along the paths formed by the cows that grazed on the land; bike on the dirt fire truck trails; explore the depressions in the earth caused by mudslides during big rains; and climb old, gnarled oak trees. We saw snakes and pheasants and tarantulas and deer and red-tailed hawks. There were cougars and coyotes out there, too, but they mostly stayed away—perhaps because of the relentless whooping and hollering produced by eight-year-old boys.

As I got older my affection for being in nature deepened, spurred by family vacations to places like the Grand Canyon and Hawaii and frequent trips, both during the summer and winter, to Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe. The beauty of these settings—ranging from stark desert landscapes to lush rainforests to the granite of high mountains—was initially what lured me into the wilderness. But what I learned to appreciate relatively early on was the way nature could change my perspective. Prosaic concerns faded into the relentless surf, and stress blew away with the breeze as it whistled through the redwoods. I felt small in the wild, and I liked that feeling.

When I moved to Denver seven years ago, it was precisely because of the city’s location within the vast playground of Colorado. I wasn’t disappointed: More so than many other parts of the country, the outdoors plays an integral role in our lives as Coloradans. Whether you’re a hard-core mountaineer or a car camper or a novice skier, the picturesque places here continuously beckon us to temporarily escape our to-do lists. Ask a friend or a colleague what she did over the weekend, and the response will likely sound something like this:

“I went camping in Rocky Mountain National Park and saw a bunch of elk!”

“I went fly-fishing on the Arkansas River and landed a 14-inch brown!”

“I rode some epic powder in Vail’s back bowls!”

Much as I learned as a youngster that nature could provide a welcome respite, Coloradans seem to gather strength from large doses of the great outdoors. And because of this, we were inspired to produce this special issue. It is, in many ways, an homage to our magnificent landscapes; it’s also an examination of how we are dealing with pressing environmental issues, such as water shortages, land-use questions, personal conservation efforts, wildlife endangerment, fossil-fuel extraction, renewable energy production, and wilderness protection. With the stories that begin on page 69, we wanted to provide a snapshot of where we are in December 2014. But that wasn’t our only goal: We also wanted to celebrate, in words and images, the love affair Coloradans have with a state so worthy of their adoration.

This article was originally published in 5280 December 2014.
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke is the editorial director of 5280 Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffVanDyke