Wizard of Awe: YVLT Conservation Protects Awe-Inspiring Landscapes Across NW Colorado

“An awe-inducing stimulus — whether a stunning landscape, an intense religious experience, or a cloud-skimming skyscraper — gives us a sense of vastness, seeming much larger than us and the things we are used to.

–Association for Psychological Science-

Photo: Fred & Flora Wolf
Dramatic skies at YVLT-conserved Deep Creek Meadows Ranch.   Photo: Fred & Flora Wolf


You’ve almost certainly been awe-struck by something in Northwest Colorado.

Maybe you have experienced it at Emerald Mountain Park, taking in the Yampa Valley’s sweeping open vistas as you walked through YVLT-conserved lands.  Perhaps you were awe-struck by the rosy alpenglow of the day’s last light as it danced across the Valley’s snow-capped peaks.  Maybe you felt this way while watching elk wander across an open meadow, or experienced it the last time you looked up and felt truly dwarfed by the starry night sky.

Year after year, season after season, the Yampa Valley finds so many ways to stoke our sense of awe and wonder.

New research suggests that we should continue to seek out these jaw-dropping life experiences, as they can positively impact not only our mental health, but our physical health as well.  It turns out that awe stimulates both the body and the mind.


The Science Behind Awe – And Why We Need These Experiences in Our Lives

Awe is an undeniably powerful emotion, and it’s one that everyone has experienced at some point in their lives.

But for years, awe – and how it affects us – has largely been a mystery to the scientific community.  Today we are finally getting a better grasp of how it can influence the brain after recent studies examined its impact on human behavior and cognition.

While awe is a positive and captivating feeling, we experience it differently from other positive emotions.  Happiness is usually accompanied by smiling, bliss, and an increased heart rate, but awe triggers a distinct and unique physiological response (raised eyebrows, jaw open, eyes wide).  This suggests that awe stimulates a wholly different sector of the brain.

Researchers now know that awesome experiences can actually lead to higher brain functioning!  If you are curious about the science behind it, here is a brief explanation: “[t]hese jaw-dropping, breath-taking displays of awe could help to enhance visual perception and moderate physiological arousal, thereby facilitating the complex cognitive processing induced by an awe-inspiring stimulus,” the researchers concluded (Association for Psychological Science, “All About Awe”).

Awe-inducing stimuli, like a vast open landscape or a towering mountain peak, can also contribute to our spirituality by influencing the way we perceive the world around us.   “Awe may focus our attention on the here and now, but research indicates that it also prompts us to think in more self-transcendent ways, shifting our focus from inward concern to an outward sense of universality and connectedness,” the study found.

Preliminary research suggests that awe can improve physical health, as well.  “That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions—a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art—have a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” explains UC Berkeley Professor Dacher Keltner (co-author of the study).  Cytokines play a key role in boosting immune systems to repel inflammation, injury and disease.

There is still a great deal we don’t know about awe, but we do know that only certain places, environments, or objects can evoke this unique feeling.  Support YVLT today and we will continue to preserve the stunning landscapes throughout Northwest Colorado that inspire and fill us with awe!


Click here to support YVLT today in conserving AWE throughout the Yampa Valley.


Glas Deffryn Ranch on the Yampa River: YVLT’s Latest Conservation Project

YVLT is excited to announce the completion of our latest conservation easement: Glas Deffryn Ranch on the Yampa River!

If you have ever traveled along Routt County Road 14 – the “gateway” to Stagecoach Reservoir State Park and the surrounding residential community – then you know firsthand what an idyllic stretch of Routt County it is.  YVLT’s new ranchland preservation project marks a significant step forward in keeping this landscape connected by connecting an unbroken 5-mileconservation corridor along the Yampa River watercourse (bordering RCR 14) comprised of conserved properties and public lands.


Take a look at YVLT’s conservation corridor (click to enlarge):


Landowners Steve and Pam Williams have long wished to see their 207-acre ranch permanently preserved, and today their dream has finally become a reality.  Glas Deffryn Ranch consists of two holdings; 86 acres on the Yampa River upstream from and bordering Stagecoach Reservoir State Park, as well as an additional 121 upland acres where the ranch and its agricultural operations are headquartered.  The Williams’ purebred fold of Scottish Highland cattle can often be seen roaming the property’s open pastures.

“We truly appreciate the expertise and tremendous support we have received from Yampa Valley Land Trust, Routt County PDR, GOCO and the Gates Foundation to help us realize the dream of keeping this small ranch we have cobbled together over the last 18 years as one entity into the future for the benefit of agriculture, wildlife and the natural view shed long after we are gone,” Pam says.

Great Outdoors Colorado, Routt County (through its Purchase of Development Rights Program), and the Gates Family Foundation provided funding for the conservation easement on the 86-acre riverfront parcel.  The 121-acre holding received funding from Gates Family Foundation, as well, allowing the Glas Deffryn Ranch conservation easement to move forward.  Both transactions were complemented by a generous donation of value from the landowners, in addition to contributions from YVLT supporters.  Further, the Vernon Summer Revolving Loan Fund assisted with transactional costs.

Approximately .75 channel miles of the Yampa River bisects Glas Deffryn Ranch.  Adding to its conservation significance, the 86-acre riparian parcel borders both Stagecoach Reservoir State Park and Iron Springs Ranch, a 640-acre riverfront property also under conservation easement with YVLT (which is contiguous with the 99-acre, YVLT-conserved C-Cross-C Ranch on the Yampa River).  Collectively, these lands form a conserved river corridor spanning five consecutive channel miles along the Yampa’s watercourse, providing landscape-scale environmental protection and safeguarding the stunning rural vistas that characterize the Stagecoach area (see it on the map, above).


The Williams’ fold of purebred Highland cattle can often be seen roaming the property’s open pastures.


Glas Deffryn Ranch is notable not only for its scenic qualities, but also for the quality wildlife habitat that exists there.  Nearly 70 percent of all species in Routt County rely on riparian environments at some stage in their life cycles, and over 200 migratory and resident bird species have been documented in the Stagecoach area.  The 207-acre property provides important habitat for grouse, great blue herons, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, mule deer, elk, moose, bears, mountain lions, and more.

The Yampa River is truly the lifeblood of Northwest Colorado.  Its protection is critical not only for today, but for the future of this great region.  YVLT will continue to look for opportunities to safeguard this vitally important resource, along with working ranches, open lands, and critical wildlife habitat throughout Northwest Colorado.  To date, YVLT has conserved over 55,290 acres across 75 conservation easements in Northwest Colorado, with a focus on the Upper Yampa River Valley in Routt County.

YVLT would like to thank the people and organizations that made the Glas Deffryn Ranch conservation easement possible: Great Outdoors Colorado, Routt County, Gates Family Foundation, YVLT supporters, and Steve and Pam Williams.

Join us in protecting the very best of the Yampa Valley and Northwest Colorado!

Donate today.

Open Land Preservation Also Preserves Autumn Fireworks Across NWCO

Every fall, “Colorful” Colorado reminds us how it earned its moniker when stunning displays of seasonal change crescendo in its aspen-blanketed hillsides and cottonwood-lined rivers, igniting the state’s diverse mountain landscapes with explosions of color.


A quick science lesson behind the fall color: trees produce less chlorophyll as the days grow shorter.  As a result, the leaves begin to lose their green hue.  The vibrant shades of yellow, red, and orange that follow are actually the “true” pigment of the leaves (the color they would be without the presence of this biomolecule).

Nature’s eye-popping fireworks first take hold at high elevations – the upper reaches of areas like Buffalo Pass, Emerald Mountain and the Elk River Valley – before gradually creeping down to the valley floor as chilly fall air returns to Northwest Colorado.  If you explore any of these places this fall, it’s likely you will gaze upon (and maybe even photograph) YVLT-conserved lands at some point in your journey!

This year, arborists believe the Yampa Valley will experience its peak fall colors sometime between September 23rd and the first week of October.  With temperatures dropping and abundant sunshine in the forecast, there is arguably no better time to get outdoors and marvel at this jaw-dropping annual phenomenon!

YVLT conservation projects have protected huge swaths of forest and open land that contribute immeasurably to the fall experience in this area.  To date, YVLT has preserved over 55,290 acres across Northwest Colorado – protecting the photogenic mountain landscapes that burst with color every autumn.

If you enjoy the Yampa Valley’s glowing fall foliage, support the only locally-based organization dedicated to preserving its open lands and forest resources.

Click here to donate to YVLT today!

Steamboat Marathon: A Run Through Conservation in the Elk River Valley

 moon valley.fallriver_horizontalA pristine stretch of the Elk River on YVLT-conserved Moon Valley Ranch, just west of the marathon course.

On June 5th, around 1,000 runners from across the nation will converge on Routt County to participate in the Steamboat Marathon, renowned as one of the most beautiful road races in the United States and ranked by Runner’s World as a “Top 10 Destination Marathon” (in addition to previously making the publication’s list for “10 Most Scenic Marathons of the Year”).

Now entering its 35th year, the celebrated event begins at Hahn’s Peak Village near the base of the iconic dormant volcano – one of North Routt County’s most recognizable natural features.  From there, the course meanders through the majestic Elk River Valley along the ranch-lined County Road 129 and culminates at the historic courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs.

The marathon is extremely popular in part because of its beautiful scenery, which inspire a long list of superlatives and add to its allure.  For instance, the Steamboat Chamber of Commerce highlights the event’s idyllic setting in its marketing tools: “Run alongside the roaring Elk River through the emerald green pastures on Country Road 129 with the snow-capped Rocky Mountains of Colorado all around and find out why the Steamboat Marathon was ranked as one of the “Top 10 Destination Marathons in North America.”

warren barn 2It will be difficult for runners to miss the big red barn at YVLT-conserved Warren Ranch!

Land conservation is among the key reasons why the Elk River Valley remains pristine with a wealth of natural areas despite its close proximity to Steamboat Springs.  YVLT has preserved thousands of acres in this area, protecting the river valley’s visual and ecological integrity and allowing race participants to enjoy miles of “emerald green pastures,” rolling forested hills and long stretches of undeveloped river corridor.  With your support we have made significant strides in conserving this magical area, but there is still much work to be done.

If you love the Yampa Valley and Northwest Colorado, please donate today – your support will enable YVLT to preserve more irreplaceable places in this incredible region!

Higby haymeadowThe hay meadow at YVLT-conserved Higby Ranch, looking towards the marathon course on RCR-129.

Tour de Steamboat Showcases NWCO’s Spectacular Conserved Landscapes

Steamboat Springs is well-known for hosting a wide variety of events and festivals that attract thousands of people to our vibrant mountain town.  Many of these unique events showcase Steamboat’s rugged mountain scenery, its wealth of natural areas and abundance of wildlife – qualities which are undoubtedly a huge draw for visitors and locals alike.  Our organization may not be front-and-center at these events, but YVLT is quietly working in the background to preserve the very best of Northwest Colorado; safeguarding these captivating landscapes and their important ecological qualities.

Among the most popular summer gatherings here is the Tour de Steamboat, a road biking event featuring various signature loops throughout Routt County and its stunning locales.  Returning for its 12th year this July, the Tour de Steamboat is touted as a scenic, non-competitive highway ride which unites roughly a thousand passionate cyclists every summer.  According to the Tour de Steamboat website, participants “are encouraged to ride at their own pace and enjoy the majestic scenery in our part of the world!”  The annual gathering is thus both a celebration of road cycling and a chance to savor the awe-inspiring open landscapes of this region.

Not coincidentally, the featured routes (distances of 26, 46, 66, and 126 miles) pass through areas where YVLT has focused its strategic conservation work in an effort to preserve those incredible landscapes and natural areas.  For instance, the 26-mile “Sidney Peak” loop finishes at Sidney Peak Ranch, a 1,500-acre property under conservation easement with YVLT. 

SMR brochure photo fallStorm Mountain Ranch provides a beautiful backdrop as bikers ride along Highway 40.

The 66-mile “Yampa Loop” brings riders along County Road 14 past the Stagecoach area, a conservation corridor where YVLT has permanently preserved several channel miles of the Yampa River and many scenic upland areas which are visible from the road (below).

Iron Springs Ranch on CR-14: Part of YVLT’s “conservation corridor” near Stagecoach and featured on two TDS loops

Cyclists from near and far flock to Steamboat Springs to participate in this increasingly popular ride; one of the countless events held here that benefits from land conservation.  One website describes the ride as winding “through some of Northwest Colorado’s most spectacular areas” (Kansas Cyclist).  Another promotes the Tour de Steamboat as “riding all over the gorgeous landscapes of Northern Colorado . . . When you take part in this event, you will have the chance to witness the beauty of some of the most popular places in Colorado” (Rocky Peak Productions).

It is evident that riders enjoy the Tour de Steamboat not just because of its fun atmosphere, but also because it takes place in such a spectacular mountain setting.  Without land conservation in Northwest Colorado, these beloved landscapes and scenic vistas would be eroded over time.  With your ongoing support, YVLT will continue to preserve large, connected natural areas and open landscapes across Northwest Colorado – safeguarding our most treasured natural resources and scenery, as well as the health and vitality of annual events like Tour de Steamboat.