Self Column: Thank you, Garfield County |

Self Column: Thank you, Garfield County

Staff photographer Chelsea Self bids farewell to Post Independent

Glenwood Springs Post Independent staff photographer Chelsea Self photographs the Grizzly Creek Fire the Sunday after the fire erupted and swept through Glenwood Canyon in August 2020.

In December of 2014, I graduated from the Colorado Mountain College Professional Photography program (a great program, by the way) with a portfolio focus in news photojournalism. It was something I knew I wanted and had worked towards since high school when I had the opportunity to shadow a Tulsa World photographer and immediately fell in love with the job.

The photo program is tougher and much more in depth than most would expect. Our class size shrunk from roughly 150 students at the beginning of the two-year degree to a mere dozen or so by graduation time.

The advantage of a small class, however, is the opportunity to get real one-on-one time with the instructors. They never sugarcoated it, though. They told us often how difficult it would be to make a career out of photography: a piece of advice that both freaked me out and motivated me. I knew what I wanted but knew that I would need to work hard to obtain it. 

A solid mixture of luck and good timing would have the staff photographer position open up at the Glenwood Springs Post Independent when I graduated, so I immediately applied and interviewed but unfortunately was turned down due to a lack of writing experience. 

Bummed but determined, I continued to go to community events and regularly sent the editor photos just to let them know I was still around and interested.

Less than a year later, the position was open again and my persistence paid off­ — I started on as the staff photographer in November of 2015.

Excited and a little scared, I jumped into the position motivated to begin photographing the daily events and happenings of Garfield County. It didn’t take long for me to get into the groove and routine of daily deadlines and again I fell in love with the job.

My first year was filled with the beginning phases of the Grand Avenue bridge construction, a very full weekend of Strawberry Days, a week of the Garfield County Fair, the near weeklong closure of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon after two major rock falls and countless late nights covering local high school sports.

Construction crews are fill and repatch holes in the east and westbound decks of I-70 through the Glenwood Canyon after two large rockfalls in 2016.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
Construction crews work to install girders for the foundation of the new Grand Avenue Pedestrian Bridge in July 2016.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
Young cowboys and cowgirls sit on the railing and watch the action of the Garfield County Fair and Rodeo in 2016.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

The more I was out and about the more I got to know the community and the community got to know me. I met new people almost daily and felt honored to be able to not only tell their story but to document the history of the Colorado River and Roaring Fork Valley communities through the images I created.

Though this is a small community I got to experience new things weekly. From an hours-long standoff in Carbondale to a suspicious box left at the West Glenwood Alpine Bank that required the assistance of the Grand Junction Police Department bomb squad — there was never a dull moment.

Then, 2017 was the year of the bridge and the dreaded detour: that first day the bridge was closed I believe I biked at least 30 miles, or that’s how my thighs felt anyway.

With a police chief directing traffic in silly hats in the heart of downtown and a gathering that literally brought the entire town together to celebrate surviving the detour and the opening of the new bridge; it truly was an evening I won’t soon forget.

Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson directs traffic in style during week one of the Grand Avenue Bridge Detour in August 2017.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
Roughly 3,000 people showed up to celebrate the opening of the Grand Avenue bridge and take part in a community photo in 2017.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
The Glenwood Springs High School Airforce JROTC lead the crowd of roughly 3,000 across the new Grand Avenue bridge after the official ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

In 2018, I had my first taste of too close-to-home wildfires after multiple fires broke out throughout the summer months.

A group of rafters get an unexpected show from a Type I helicopter as it drops into the Colorado River on Wednesday afternoon after a fire broke out on the hillside near Ami’s Acres in West Glenwood in August 2018.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
Ami’s Acres resident Chris Mitchell attempts to water the ground near his home in preparation for the fire that broke on the hillside along I-70 in August 2018.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
Homeowners look to the sky and point out the air tankers circling the fire near the Oak Meadows Subdivision which broke out in June 2018.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Fast-forward to 2020 and what started out as a normal year, quickly shifted to something none of us could have expected.

The newsroom and myself battled through those first unsettling months of figuring out how to cover a worldwide pandemic while also not exposing ourselves to an illness that still had more questions than answers.

A nurse walks paperwork out to a patient in a car at the free drive-up COVID testing site in Glenwood Springs, Colo in November 2020.
Chelsea Self | Post Independent

Months later, after a very hot and dry summer, the Grizzly Creek Fire woke us all up to the reality of drought in Colorado. I spent those first few days perched at the top of Iron Mountain watching as our beloved canyon burned; something I realized I had taken for granted.

To say covering the Grizzly Creek Fire was surreal is an understatement. I wondered often during those first few days how I would react had the fire spread to homes in Glenwood Springs and how I would face being tasked with documenting it through photographs.

An airtanker flys around the smoke plume billowing from the Grizzly Creek Fire as it explodes on the south side of the Colorado River above Glenwood Canyon in August 2020.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
Spoke hangs low in the cliffs near the Hanging Lake rest area due to the Grizzly Creek Fire in August 2020.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Luckily, it didn’t come to that and the fire spread eastward; though that didn’t make me feel much better.

Moving forward a year and I was back to spending many, many days watching the landscape of Glenwood Canyon change on what felt like a daily basis during the wildly wet monsoon season.

The one-off spring football season of 2021 also brought the state championship win by the underdog Rifle Bears in Pueblo after a wild fight against the Glenwood Springs Demons during the semi-final game at Stubler Memorial Field. 

Out of my seven years of covering local high school sports, that championship game takes the cake as the most exciting, well-deserved win that I had the privilege to witness.

The Rifle Bears celebrate after defeating the Glenwood Springs Demons during Saturday’s state semi-final game at Stubler Memorial Field.
The Rifle Bears hold hands near the end of Saturday’s 3A state championship game against The Classical Academy.

Throughout the last seven years of photographing the daily happenings of Garfield County I, like all of us, have witnessed the inevitable partner of time that is change.

I’ve never been one who immediately accepts change without hesitation and way too much overthinking. But all change generally happens for a reason.

With this being my last week at the Post Independent, of course the thought of change is weighing heavily on my mind. But this week has also given me the opportunity to look back and realize everything I have experienced and all of the many people I have had the privilege to meet and photograph.

This column was not written with the intention of tooting my own horn or any other cheesy cliché, but instead my way of thanking the communities of Garfield County for welcoming me into your homes, your gymnasiums, classrooms, businesses, ranches and rodeos and all of the many other places my camera and I have walked into.

The support and kind words from all of you throughout the years is something that I took to heart and will keep with me for many years to come. 

Thank you, Garfield County, for letting me show you your world as I saw and captured it.

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