Thirty years ago, a young student from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley was facing a crossroads. While working on her master's degree, Kathy Simpson was asked to decide between studying the greater prairie chicken in the Pawnee National Grasslands in northeast Colorado, or the greater sandhill crane in California Park in Northwest Colorado.
As her car crested Rabbit Ears Pass and the Yampa Valley came into view, she said, "I'll take that one."
That decision is one that Simpson has never regretted, as she made the valley home, and today still appreciates the surroundings that some people just don't see, or even take for granted.
"I went to work for the Bureau of Land Management after college," Simpson said. "First in Kremmling, and then for the Little Snake Field Office here in (Craig)."
She moved onto a job as the county 4-H agent in Craig, a position that fueled her love of horses.
During the boom years in Craig, she married Jim Simpson, and today they live on a ranch north of town on Fortification Creek.
The ranch was a natural fit for Kathy Simpson. It was a place where she could continue riding horses, although the riding was much different from her formal riding education in dressage.
Simpson can be found most weekdays at Colorado Northwestern Community College, where she is a biology and mathematics instructor.
She enjoys the small class sizes that allow her more time for each student, and she is excited to be teaching nurses this year in their first-year of required classes on drug calculations.
"It will be a delight in that I get to use my science background," Simpson said. "It's not just math, or science. It's a combination of both. I enjoy it."
Simpson and fellow instructor Karen Solomon are known at the college for organizing the spring break trips the students enjoy each year.
"We both love to travel and have experience with it," she said. "We go to fun places like London, Paris and Rome. Rome is great."
The students and teachers usually spend six nights on each trip. Simpson said the trips are open to anyone, and usually a dozen or more people attend.
The trip to Rome included a water-taxi ride through Venice, as well as a bus trip through the northern regions of Italy.
Simpson's passion for horses goes far beyond the local cow horses and leads to Spanish bloodlines of the Lipizzaner stallions. She found herself with a chance to purchase a quadrille horse at Temple Farms in Illinois that was trained to Grand Prix levels.
"The bloodlines can be traced to a sire that Gen. George Patton brought back to America," Simpson said. "I got to acquire that horse, and it lived the rest of its days with me."
Also of interest to Simpson is the flowering orchids which she grows, and encourages others to enjoy.
"I just always loved orchids," she said. "There's a good amount of people growing them now. You see quite a few at the fair."
Simpson said phalaenopsis, or the "moth orchid," grows well in Northwest Colorado.
The self-taught artist in Simpson comes out on occasion. She enjoys watercolors and taking photographs, and she credits living in Moffat County for encouraging both of those pursuits.
"It really helps to live here, and have the mountains and animals as subjects," she said.
Simpson was recognized for her artistic ability in 1997, when her artwork of sheepdogs and border collies was selected to be the poster for the Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials.
"I used dogs owned by Gary Visintainer and Sandra Kruczek," she said of the poster. "It helped that I was teaching anatomy. I just closed my eyes and it came to me."
Simpson said the best part of her job at the college has always been the same.
"It's the students -- interacting with them and watching them learn. It's cliche, but it's true," she said.
There may be more artwork in the future for the college instructor, but what she really hopes for, is to find the time to pursue more classical dressage with her horse.