Vail Valley books: Passes are wondrous places |

Vail Valley books: Passes are wondrous places

Special to the Vail DailyRick Spitzer's "Colorado Mountain Passes," which was just released by Westcliffe Publishers, is available at The Bookworm of Edwards.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Mountain passes are places where vistas, nature, history ” and roads ” collide.

Rick Spitzer has fond memories of, as a boy, driving over Colorado’s passes with his family, wondering what would be around the next bend of the road.

“Every chance we got, we piled into the car and drove somewhere in the state, and sometimes stayed overnight,” said Spitzer, an Avon resident who is originally from Greeley. “They were just fun times to see what was in the state of Colorado.”

Years later, Spitzer decided to combine his expertise as a retired teacher specializing in biology, photography and technology as well as a former park ranger. The result is “Colorado Mountain Passes,” a book that documents in photos and words 27 of the state’s mountain passes and one high-mountain road.

Spitzer spent four years and drove about 20,000 miles to put together the book, which was recently published by Westcliffe Publishers.

Fun facts

The book features colorful photos that Spitzer took with his Canon SLR camera, including panoromic shots of each pass that he pieced together using Photoshop. It also contains lots of facts about the wildlife and history of Colorado.

“There are lots of facts that most people have no clue about,” Spitzer said. “A lot of people think of Vail and Vail Pass, but don’t think about how does it get its name? There was another Vail Pass (now Monarch Pass) in the state of Colorado before the locals trashed the idea. There are a lot of facts like that that are just a lot of fun.”

Spitzer’s favorite pass is Molas, between Silverton and Durango.

“It’s 275 degrees, so it’s all the way around you,” Spitzer said. “It’s the cleanest air probably of any pass in Colorado. I’ve never been over it in smoggy conditions. It’s not very often affected by smoke from fires or things like that, and the vista is just suberb.”

And the most white-knuckle drive, Spitzer said, is certainly “Million Dollar Highway” between Silverton and Ouray. Spitzer profiles the life of Otto Mears, who built the route ” along with many other roads and rails in southwest Colorado ” as a toll road in 1883.

Spitzer said the book functions both as a quick read that you can pick up and learn some interesting facts, as well as a guidebook that you can bring to each of these passes.

Spitzer created a special tripod to take the panoramic photos in the paper. The book includes a chapter of advice on photographing mountain passes.

“A lot of people don’t step away form the curb, so to speak,” Spitzer said. “They get out of the car and they shoot the picture right there in front of their car instead of finding an interesting foreground object or color like flowers or frames from trees or things like that.”

Now that his book is published, Spitzer is working on two new projects that continue to combine his interests in photography and the state of Colorado. One focuses on interesting landmarks of Colorado, and another focuses on waterfalls of Colorado.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or

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