Land in the Sky: The Anointment

Early morning early summer walk along a wooded road with the collie. Black-eyed vireo—the “Preacher Bird”—finally shuts up. The only sound now, distant years. The collie stops to sniff something amid the roadside weeds. I spy a single garlic mustard plant in bloom, right next to his right back paw. How’d I miss it before this? I stoop to yank it from the ground. Just as I get my hand around it, the collie lifts his back right leg. The black-eyed vireo resumes his sermon.

In Focus: Breckenridge Photographer Liam Doran and the Art of Sport

How do you make it in a mountain town? For Liam Doran, the answer to that question has simply been to do what he loves and focus in.

The most difficult thing about moving to a mountain town? Figuring out how to stay and find work that fulfills you. While that road has not been easy for Breckenridge, Colorado-based photographer Liam Doran, he has certainly hit his stride. A commitment to the things he loves—skiing, mountain biking, backpacking, fly fishing, trail running—a keen eye and sense of how motion and landscape work together has entrenched him in a career as one of the top photographers in Summit County. For good reason, Doran’s images don’t just convey action, they express a love for the mountain life that only someone who is immersed in it can capture. His work has graced the cover of Powder and SKI magazines and he is a frequent contributor to Outside, Skiing, Trail Runner, Mountain, Elevation Outdoors and more. He took the time to share some of his favorite work and talk about what it takes to make it.

How hard it is to make it as a mountain photographer?
Very difficult…but not impossible. There are tons of talented shooters out there—the trick is to find your niche and excel at it.  Then, other branches of outdoor photography will open up.

What brought you to Breckenridge?
The chicks of course… okay, thats a lie.  I grew up in Parker, Colorado, but moved east during high school and college.  I knew I always wanted to get back to the mountains and ended up in Breck after an apartment in Jackson did not pan out.
What keeps you there?
The community.  People here are great and after nearly 18 years here its hard to imagine leaving.
What still gets you jazzed up on assignment?
Meeting new people, traveling to new places and the challenge. I recently had an assignment to shoot Steamboat Springs.  The weather was poor and I dont know many people there but somehow we put it all together at a moments notice and came away with a great three-day shoot.
Let’s take a look at some of your favorite photographers from over the years and hear a little bit of story behind them:


Leland Turner on Orange Dot Trail Breckenridge, CO
Leland Turner on Orange Dot Trail Breckenridge, CO

“This shot took me a few years to get.  The undergrowth only stays that green for a few days every summer and it has to be overcast in order to get the even lighting. When conditions were finally right, I hauled a 20-foot step ladder into this spot.  I had a huge knee brace on from surgery earlier that spring and it was challenging to say the least…but I finally go the shot I wanted.”


Matt Powers on Black Gulch Trail
Matt Powers on Black Gulch Trail

“My challenge was to come up with a shot of my hometown trails that had not been seen before.  The Black Gulch trail provided me with just that opportunity.  Even today, people in town ask where this shot was taken.”




“Most of my shooting is done on assignment, so I really enjoy getting to shoot while just out on the road.  I am often drawn to the old broken-down places one comes across in rural America as they seem to hold a ghostly aura and a direct link to an idealized past.”



“I was headed home after a long trip through the desert and I knew that if I timed it right I could get to Fisher Towers just in time for sunrise. There are a lot of great images of the Titan but I had never seen one quite like this before.”


Sven Brunso on Coal Bank Pass Colorado
Sven Brunso on Coal Bank Pass Colorado

“Currently, the bulk of my work is ski photography and this image is typical of how I like to shoot. Great morning light with strong contrast and a perfect turn. We were rewarded with a photo annual cover in Mountain magazine for our efforts.”


Rich Banach finds the pocket of blue at Revelstoke
Rich Banach finds the pocket of blue at Revelstoke

“This image came from a very challenging shoot for me. Four of us headed to Revelstoke to shoot a ski/travel gallery for a big website piece. The conditions were dangerous and for whatever reason, I had placed a ton of artificial pressure on myself and by the end of the trip my nerves were fried and I had a total meltdown.”



“I love backpacking but I rarely get to shoot it. On this occasion three friends and I got permits to hike the Virgin River through Zion NP. The first day and a half were some of the most beautiful miles I have ever put under my feet.”


Mike "Quigs" Quigley at his cabin where he lives
Mike “Quigs” Quigley at his cabin where he lives

“When shooting for print editorial, you have to learn to shoot more than just action. Things like scenics, food, travel and portraits are all mandatory for a well rounded story. This portrait of Mike Quigley stands out as one of my favorites as it really encapsulates who he is in 1/100th of a second.”

You can peruse more of Doran’s work and purchase prints at

Postcard: Skiing Above the Clouds

Skiing, still. Some days I just want to move on with my year. Others, I cannot resist the frozen white beckoning. Of course, it helps that the water is melting out of the snowpack, finally, leaving us with a surface as smooth as marble to schuss down from the gusty alpine into the warm green world below. This photo was taken June 6 in Park County, Colorado, a mile south of the Continental Divide, where about 60 inches of snow fell during the month of May.

Photo by Devon O’Neil

Land in the Sky: Seeking the Trailhead

A friend suggested I climb a little mountain in Vermont called Haystack. So I did. But the trailhead was not easy to find. It lay along an unfrequented dirt road. Vermont is the second least populous of the fifty states. The one or two farmers I asked directions from gave me stony looks and little else. I finally found the trailhead, which–like most things in the course of my days–came by accident. I started walking. I passed a couple of cows. A hermit thrush called from high in a tree. The brook I crossed was nearly dry. The top of the mountain looked like a farmer’s face, but with more sky and clouds and vistas abounding.

Land in the Sky: On Craft

Friday in the Catskill Mountains. Late afternoon, late May. Sitting on the back deck. The collie and I. On the other side of the mountain, a lineup of bands is tuning up for the annual Mountain Jam. Soon enough, Robert Plant will take the stage. Over here on the quiet side, I’m reading the words of a philosopher. And sipping some wine. The collie lies near my feet, chewing indolently on a bone. Occasionally, he glances up at a yellow butterfly flittering over the grass.

Once in a while the collie will jump up, stick his head between the deck rails, and commence barking—his way of shouting at the woodchuck who lives downslope in a pile of castaway fieldstones. “Get off my lawn!” He barks and he barks and he barks. I look up from my book, tell him to quiet down. He ignores me. I return to my book and read these words by the philosopher: “When I ‘have done with the world’ I shall have created an amorphous (transparent) mass and the world in all its variety will be left on one side like an uninteresting lumberyard.”

That gets me thinking. Maybe tomorrow I’ll leave the philosopher (and collie) behind and head over to Vermont. I’ll do a little hiking. Or maybe I’ll stop and visit that house in Shaftsbury where Robert Frost once lived. I’ve never been there. Or maybe I’ll drop by his grave in Old Bennington. I always enjoy that. A good poet’s grave is almost as good as the poetry. Some philosopher said that. No doubt, as I’m driving along the backroads of Vermont I’ll pass a few brewpubs. These days it’s hard not to. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it, to sample some craft beer? I need to find my craft somewhere. And who knows, along the way there might even be an interesting lumberyard.

Mountain Passages: Insider Info on Travel to Cuba

Thinking of traveling to Cuba anytime soon? Here are some thoughts, possibly useful, that will help. By Alan Stark

When you arrive at the Havana airport there are no jetways, only mobile ramps the ground crews roll up to airplane doors. These ramps look like they were made on a bad day in Romania. The plastic canopy around them has nearly gone opaque with sun damage and age. But here is a warning: It’s always warm in Cuba and mostly downright hot and humid. Don’t get caught behind a slowpoke going through one of these things unless, of course, being slow-cooked is of interest.

Once you are inside the airport, you will encounter immigration positions with a door at the far end. The sense is odd, like walking into a closet with an unfriendly young adult to one side who will decide whether you get the lady (or man), or the tiger. The security door buzzes open to a hanger-like hall with metal detectors and security people wearing starched light-brown uniforms. They are mostly handsome twenty-somethings, and the women have added a twist to their normal uniform—black lace stockings. The incongruity is starting, like encountering one of our bloused-booted, Glock-toting, immigration officers with a three-inch smiley-face pin on his chest.

Cuban WomanThe black lace stockings are a tip-off about what is to happen in Cuba—no, not everyone is going to be wearing black lace stockings. But Cuba is rapidly changing from a drab communist state clone to a multifaceted socialist state. The change appears to be irreversible, if they do it right, and make carefully thought-out changes to avoid huge dislocations. This could be another Velvet Revolution that created the Czech Republic. But, if the party holds onto power and there is no revolution, Cuba will be like Viet Nam, a Socialist government and a highly entrepreneurial population. Call it a the Salsa Revolution—for the Cubans are about to dance their way into the 21st century.

There are hundreds of curiosities within the Cuban government, and many of these curiosities seem to have an antecedent of, “Lets throw this sugar cane at the wall and see if sticks.”

For example, there are two currencies in Cuba one is Cucs (kooks) that the government has set an exchange rate at 87 to US$100. Yup, there is a 13% commission charged by the government to trade dollars for Cucs. This is the currency used by tourists and should be acquired at the hotel on arrival. The second is the Peso that is used by the Cubans as well as Cucs. At this writing, there are no ATMs in Cuba, and credit cards are useless, everything a tourist buys in Cuba is with Cucs. The government doesn’t stop getting into your wallet on the way out of Cuba. When leaving, Cucs are exchanged for dollars at the airport again with a 13% charge. Give them 100 Cucs and they give you back US$87. However, there is a better deal to be had in the hotel lobby or on the street just before you leave. Cubans will pay $100 for 100 Cucs. Dollars come into Cuba as remittances that the Cubans need changed to Cucs and the only way they can do that is through money changers working free lance at and around the hotels.

Cigar aficionados be warned, Cuban cigars are as advertised, they are wonderfully fragrant, mild, and smooth smoking. A trip to tobacco growing region Valle de Vinales and a tobacco farm is a couple hours of pure addiction gratification.

The farmer greets you in a curing barn hung with rack of sweet-smelling tobacco.

cigar seller “How many of you smoke?” the farmer will ask sarcastically, knowing that most Americans, wishing to live forever, have given up smoking but relish a puff or two on a Cuban cigar.  He then talks about how the tobacco is grown and cured, and then he goes to work to skillfully make a cigar, holding some leaves in one hand, cleaning and smoothing the leaves into a tent-like form that he then rolls on a smooth surface. Next, he carefully selects fine wrapper leaves and rolls a perfect cigar. Then he cuts both ends and light up for a couple puffs, and then carefully puts the hot end of the cigar in his mouth and blows smoke out of the cigar. Taking the cigar out of his mouth, he passes it to the nearest now-slavering non-smoker and says, “A good cigar, it draws well.”

After the demonstration he invites you to his house for coffee and/or rum or both while a family member sells cigars at one Cuc each from a cardboard box. In a matter of an hour or so, you can indulge in nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol, a socially acceptable addicts paradise, not to be missed on a visit to Cuba.

Something that also can’t be missed in Cuba are all the antique cars and trucks smoking along the streets interspersed with Eastern Block POS, (remember the Yugo?), a few Japanese and Korean sedans, and the occasional, out of place, fat-cat, thuggish BMW, Audi, and Mercedes. These antiques are the cars from before the 1959 revolution that have been rebuilt many times over, usually retrofitted with diesel engines, and appear to be held together by superb jury-rigging mechanics, imagination, wishful thinking, and wire.

They are a metaphor for how Cubans deal with their situation; don’t go without— make it work—keep it going. Throughout the day and most of the night in Havana, these cars, many of which are for hire (agree on a price with the driver before you get in), smoke and honk their way through the pot-holed streets. They provide a colorful on-going parade of mid-century American engineering, Cuban ingenuity, and entrepreneurial spirit. One note of caution, pedestrians in Cuba are pretty much ignored by drivers. It’s not that Cuban drivers are murderous, but they are a little crazy and crossing a street is an adventure.

Los Cubanos
But the best adventure to be found in Cuba is with the people: Their great love of family and friends, the warmth with which they greet and engage with strangers, and their love of life under a repressive government and a ridiculous embargo perpetrated by morons in our government.

When talking about the future, Cubans recognize that change is coming but say, “it’s complicated, we need to be careful. We need to go slowly.” In the past two hundred years, there have been a number of revolutions in Cuban, some fairly violent.

Cuban WorkerIn spite of Cuban circumspection, change is going to come quickly in Cuba. In the last month, Raul Castro and President Obama met and held a joint press conference. The Cubans are thrilled with the thaw in Cuban American relations, as are American corporations thinking about how they are going to exploit a new opportunity in Cuba. But in past revolutions, American corporations, one of them being the mafia, have taken a good deal more out of Cuba than they have put in. The Cubans are right, they need to be careful. On the business side, they should form their own national corporations that are production and profit oriented on the Chinese model. Or if outright freedom comes, they should limit international corporations to 49% ownership in Cuban corporations along the lines of the Canadian model.

The worst that can happen here is another blood-bath of a revolution. But Raul Cuban turkeyCastro appears to be a smart guy who is probably not going to give up power, and will eventually groom another fat cat to take his place. Cubans now get to vote in municipal elections. The hope is that this vote will eventually carry over to provincial elections, and then national elections and perhaps a formation of a congress or parliament that truly represents the Cuban people. We will all see.

There is much that is in flux in Cuba. In spite of this, still thinking about going to Cuba? Do it for two reasons: (1) Cuban tourism is the financial starting point for a much more entrepreneurial and free Cuba. (2) The Cubans have built a society and culture under difficult circumstance. They are happy and wonderful neighbors who deserve our support.

The fourth of a three-part series on Cuba. Alan Stark is a free-lance based in Boulder who lives with a blue-eyed person and her dog. He can be reached at


Postcard: Black Sheep in Stagecoach, Colorado

We’ve all felt like this guy at some point — like we simply didn’t fit in. But as he and his flock showed during our brief encounter last week in Stagecoach, Colorado, the color of your wool matters less than your attitude and ability to be productive in society. Stark as his appearance may have been, he was filling a vital role here, herding the young ‘uns across the road to the next patch of vegetation. Baaaah’aaaah!

Photo by Devon O’Neil