Get to know the names of ‘The Peaks of Telluride’
There is beautiful mountain photography — and there is beautiful mountain photography with added meaning.
“When I see a pretty photograph on a wall in a public place, I seldom see anyone standing there looking at it,” Jeff Burch said. “I frequently find people standing around my images, studying them.”
That’s because Burch’s images are mountain vistas with precisely labeled peaks — with crisp lines like toothpicks and names attached like little flags.
He recently published “The Peaks of Telluride: Labeled Images and Stories Behind the Names of The Mountains Surrounding Telluride, Colorado.”
The book last week was announced as a finalist in the Colorado Book Awards in the pictorial category.
Burch, a U.S. Forest Service retiree, also sells posters and he previously published “Peaks of the Uncompahgre” with Don Paulson. What did he learn from that book? “Make the pictures bigger,” Burch said with a laugh. “Those landscapes are so magnificent that it’s really difficult to capture them. Panorama images present to the reader what’s similar to what you see.”
That’s why “Peaks of Telluride” is a roomy 13 1/2 inches wide. Stretch one photo across facing pages and you have a 27-inch image that immerses the reader in the landscape.
But it’s not only the photos that are intriguing. Burch lists elevations and fills in the backstories as to how the 100-plus peaks around Telluride received their names, either officially or by common usage.
For instance, he writes, Beattie Peak, at 13,342 feet in elevation, was named for James A. Beattie, “sheriff at the time of the famous robbery of the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride. Butch Cassidy and three others robed the bank of $24,000, none of which was ever recovered, on June 24, 1889. It is believed that a fourth man, rumored to be Bert Madden, Bert Charter, the Sundance Kid, or Dan Parker, assisted the outlaws by setting up the relay horses used in the getaway. Sheriff Beattie arrested Bert’s half-brother, Bill Madden, as he was dropping off a horse to an unknown man, assumed to be Bert. Madden was later released due to lack of evidence.”
In a chapter explaining where mountain names come from, Burch outlines four phases: Native American, early Spanish exploration and occupation, Wheeler and Hayden surveys and the mining boom.
Amazingly, Burch was able to track down the stories behind the naming of all but two peaks — both from the Spanish exploration phase in which there is limited written record.
There are surprises in the names, and sometimes the lack thereof. For instance, that powdered-sugar peak dominant from downtown Telluride? Many people think that’s Telluride Peak. Nope. That’s an unnamed peak. Telluride Peak isn’t even visible from the town.
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is the agency that accepts or rejects and assigns name to peaks. There are efforts from time to time to name them, Burch said, often for historic or contemporary personal heroes. Many peaks remain unnamed. And in congressionally designated wilderness, no new names are being assigned without an act of Congress.
In an interesting twist, Burch’s research on “The Peaks of Telluride” uncovered that a peak once had been called Bridal Peak in a 1962 publication by the U.S. Geological Survey, but the name was omitted by subsequent mappers, and it went unnamed after that. Billy Mahon, who Burch calls the “man on the ground who built Telluride,” provided the map.
“From that point on, I, in the form of Colorado thirteeners, sponsored the restoration of the historic name,” Burch said. “I engaged the entire community. I printed out support cards and handed them out to the local businesses, then met with town councils and county commissioners, and we were successful in March 2014. I just got the letter last week. That was an offshoot of the book, and I’m pleased it all happened at the same time. It kind of took a life of its own.”
Knowing the names of peaks provides for a shared experience, whether you’ve just summited one mountain and are spotting your next climb or are driving down the road, curious at the jagged backdrop and how to refer to it.
“People like to know and refer to places by name,” Burch said. “I think it goes a little further with mountains because people who climb, hike or ski go to those places.”
Dean Rickman, “a true genius and an interesting man,” Burch said, did the layout of “Peaks of Telluride,” which is available in Grand Junction at Grand Valley Books, Hastings and Walgreens in Montrose, Between the Covers Bookstore and other stores in Telluride, Cimmaron Books & Coffeehouse in Ridgway, Buckskin Booksellers in Ouray, Tattered Cover in Denver and at coloradothirteeners.com.