And I’m off!
Today’s route was a very familiar route for me. I’ve been up and down this scenic byway over and over again ever since I can remember…well, to be exact, I’ve travelled the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway since the 1970’s; first, as a passenger in my Mom’s car and then when I finally got my driver’s license (in the late 70’s) and ever since. It really isn’t that far from Denver, which makes it a very easy half-day or day-trip if you plan on doing some hiking. Today, I actually made plans to visit a couple of spots I hadn’t been to before, namely Nevadaville and Historic Eldora. So, with my trusty Kodak Easyshare M580 in hand, I set off with my very sleepy 14-year-old daughter for the southern end of the byway – Blackhawk.
Getting to Blackhawk meant driving up the very twisty Clear Creek Canyon. You’ve got to be careful and take your time though, because there is quite a bit of traffic up and down this canyon from the Blackhawk/Central City Casinos. As we passed bus after bus, my daughter was curious as to the sheer number of them. I told her that people go up to the casinos to gamble and drink. So, instead of driving themselves and not being able to drink, or having to find a hotel room for the night, they take the bus. She thought it was a clever idea…making the roads safer.
As we approached Blackhawk and the Peak to Peak Byway sign, I veered west up through town and to Central City. As we drove past all the old buildings, my daughter asked why so many of them were empty. I explained that these buildings used to be stores that sold trinkets, collectibles, mining memorabilia and other things to visitors that used to come to these towns before the casinos were built. She was saddened to know that the stores were no longer open and said that the least the casinos could do was pay for advertising for the stores to keep them running…I smiled and marveled at her thought process.
As I drove through Central City, my daughter remarked at how interesting and cool the buildings were…those that were not casinos, that is. I explained how the Central City Opera House still holds operas during various times throughout the year. She was impressed to hear that some places have survived the casino boom. Soon I came to the turn off for Nevadaville and went up a steep incline which soon leveled out about a half-mile up. As we drove, we saw the empty mine shafts that dotted the hillside leading up to the ghost town of Nevadaville. I didn’t stop right away, but drove up about another half-mile to see how far the road would lead us, but decided to turn around as the snow on the road became deeper.
When we came back to town, I parked the car and took a few pictures…
Back on the road again, I continued northward along Peak to Peak, or P2P as my motorcycle riding buddies and I have affectionately named it. My next stop was going to be the town of Rollinsville. I had wanted to take a right hand turn to see the railroad that carves between a steep and rocky canyon, but was quickly turned back to the road, because the right turn was actually a private road. So, I kept going until I got to the Eldora Ski area turn off and proceeded to the historic town of Eldora.
Since this town is still quite inhabited, I decided to not take as many photos and instead we drove through town off of the main street and looked at all the very unique little cabins, the Eldora Goldminer Hotel and the hiking trail head (part of the Indian Peaks Wilderness trails)…still drawing a crowd even in winter. I wondered how people lived back in the late 1800s in the tiny cabins that dotted the quiet little blocks that made up Eldora.
My dreaming continued as I left Eldora and drove north again along P2P. My next intended stop was going to be the Chapel on the Rock (also known as St. Catherine’s), which is part of Camp St. Malo. Unfortunately, the St. Malo Center had been destroyed by fire in November, 2011. Although the chapel had not been touched by the fire, two priests were guarding the north and south entrances to St. Malo, so I could only take pictures of the chapel from the road. As I walked along the road to try and get a good vantage point, the priest at the north entrance told me to not go any closer to the chapel. He had a heavy accent; I couldn’t quite place it, but possibly Russian. I looked at his disheveled clothes and his matted hair and wondered how long he stood watch in the minivan which he had parked perpendicular to the entrance. I took a few shots from the side of the road, hoping they would turn out ok, considering the vantage point I had wanted was not accessible.
My daughter was growing weary by now with all the stops and starts along this route, so by the time we approached the Long’s Peak vantage point, she was grumbling, “Again!” Not too far and we would be in Estes Park, but I wanted just a few more photos before driving into town.
Ahhh…finally, Estes Park and the Stanley Hotel which sits on an eastern hill facing west into town. This hotel’s history is quite infamous, having been highlighted in a movie, “The Shining,” and a cable television show, “Ghost Hunters.” As I walked around looking for places to take some photos, I pictured Model T’s rounding the bend and slowly rolling up to the hotel as women in vintage dresses with wide-brimmed hats lounged on the veranda and men stood by leaning up against the pillars laughing and smoking from their pipes.
The treat du jour was a must stop at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory where my daughter got a slab of Tiger Butter and I chose a Mocha Valencia Truffle…mmmm, now that was a tasty and memorable end to my first Colorado Scenic Byways tour.
One down…24 to go!
Peak to Peak Scenic Byway Tour
- Length = 55 miles
- Start time = 11:30
- Home time = 5:45
- Total round trip = 165 miles