The Cordillera community spans the lower Colorow Creek drainage, which gathers water from descending ridges and valleys at the northern end of the rugged Sawatch Range. Seven thousand acres in size, portions of the Summit and the Territories are located so far west that they have expansive views of the Brush Creek drainage above the Town of Eagle. Elevations range from 7,100 feet at the bottom of Colorow Creek Road to 9,400 feet at the top of the Summit, and lands within Cordillera exhibit wonderful environmental variation.
Lower elevations in Cordillera generally support plants characteristic of Colorado’s high elevation deserts, with sage, rabbit brush, pinion and juniper dominating south facing slopes. Thick stands of Douglas Fir and Colorado Spruce are found on cooler north facing exposures, and there are isolated groves of aspen that provide beautiful fall color. Serviceberry is the most common larger shrub in the Divide and displays a beautiful white flower in the spring.
In contrast, lands in the Ranch, Summit, and the Territories typify environments of the Rocky Mountain montane and sub-alpine biotic zones, with lush meadows and significant stands of aspen, spruce and fir. On drier hillsides, there are large areas of lodgepole pine, and sage is widespread in open areas, which harbor an assortment of beautiful wildflowers at higher elevations. Soils tend to be richer in the Ranch and Summit, and they can be especially deep beneath aspen stands. The forest understory contains a diversity of deciduous and evergreen shrubs, including scrub oak, wild rose, dogwood, alder, mountain ash, currant, willow, shrub oak and spreading juniper. Solitary Douglas firs found in the Ranch and Summit can grow to be quite large; some are estimated to be over 300 years old.
Wildflowers are prolific throughout Cordillera, and include columbine, wild geranium, lupine, flax, penstemon, purple aster, larkspur, heart-leafed arnica, buckwheat, coneflower, paintbrush, and yarrow, just to name a few.
Climate and Weather
Cordillera’s climate, a function of its low latitude, high elevation, mid-continent location, is one of its best kept secrets. Four distinct seasons and 300 + days of full or partial sunshine a year support the wide variety of outdoor activities enjoyed by all. In the summer, days are warm and nights are cool. Winters bring plenty of snow and cold, but the relatively high zenith of the sun and dry air can make it feel quite warm even on a chilly day. Autumn is all about cool winds and changing colors, spring, when new leaves emerge, is called the mud season. Weather systems on the west slope of Colorado generally approach from the northwest, but southerly flows are common as well, and there are many localized storms and events. Precipitation in Cordillera ranges from 15 to 25 inches a year, falling predominantly as snow in the winter.
With few exceptions, the air in Cordillera is crystal clear, and the daytime sky is as blue as blue can be. Views from roads and homesites are expansive, spectacular and completely unique to the community. The peaks of the Sawatch Range and the pristine lands of the Holy Cross Wilderness are in Cordillera’s immediate backyard to the south, with the wilderness boundary just three miles from the Big Park Trailhead. To the east the ski runs of Vail are backed by the jagged skyline of the Gore Range, home to the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness. The high plateaus of the Flattops Wilderness fill the stage behind the expansive view of the lower Eagle River Valley to the west. Many other named features, both built and natural, are visible from Cordillera’s many viewshed vantage points.
On any clear evening in Cordillera, the stars can be breathtaking. Residential lots and open spaces are generally isolated from urban light sources, and homeowners enjoy and strive to preserve the area’s dark night sky. Consistent with Eagle County building code requirements, outdoor light fixtures are required to be shielded and/or downcast, and lighting of landscaped areas is discouraged.
Cordillera provides excellent wildlife habitat and is home to healthy populations of mammals and birds common to the central Rockies. Local wildlife is beautiful and intriguing, but it is fragile and easily disturbed, and if approached some species can be dangerous. Caution and care are warranted in order to live in harmony with our forest friends. Big game animals include mule deer, elk, black bears, and the rare moose. Coyotes and fox are common. Mountain lions are found wherever there are deer, but they are shy and rarely observed during the day; the same is true of bobcats. Pets can mysteriously disappear in wildland areas like Cordillera, and keeping them in a kennel or close with you on a leash is very much for their safety.
Smaller mammals include squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and marmots. There are skunks, racoons and nocturnal pine martens, and you might also encounter a porcupine in the lodgepole forests. Seeing an ermine (short-tailed weasel) is a special treat, especially in the winter when its fur is white. Birds are everywhere in Cordillera, and include hawks, turkeys, owls, flickers, finches, jays, robins, woodpeckers, grosbeaks, and everyone’s favorite, the chickadee. This is a short list of the birds that might be seen.
More About Wildlife
It is illegal to place food or salt outdoors in a manner that attracts unwanted wildlife, and even bird feeders and barbeque grills can be problematic in this regard. Bears are of particular concern. While they generally attempt to avoid people, bears are not easily frightened, and they are always hungry. If a bear begins to associate a location with food, he or she may visit with increasing frequency. Bears are strong, persistent, and quite resourceful at gaining entrance to garages, homes, and even vehicles if they believe a meal is possible. Doors with lever-style handles should be locked at all times, and food and garbage should never be located where it can be accessed by any wildlife.
Big game species, if encountered, should be treated with caution. Elk and deer can be aggressive if approached, and moose are downright mean. When encountering a bear or lion around your home or on the trail, make sure it has room to move away. Stand tall and gather together to look as big as possible. Loud noises like shouting or banging on a pot or using an air horn can be used to hasten their exit. Do not run, but if the bear or lion stands its ground, it is time to back away. Be especially careful if cubs are present. In the event of an incident, notify Cordillera Public Safety who will in turn notify Colorado Parks and Wildlife. If a bear becomes tagged as a nuisance, it usually does not turn out well for the bear.