Byway #9 – Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway Tour by Sport Bike, Auto and 4 x 4 – Mt. Evans Scenic and Historic Byway

So, how did you spend your Independence Day? Did you get to see a professional fireworks show, or did you shoot off your own store bought firecrackers?

Me? Well, since Colorado was under a fireworks ban, no one was allowed to shoot off their store bought firecrackers. And, since some counties decided to not hold their professional shows, I decided to take another Byway tour to celebrate Independence Day.

My plans were to still enjoy looking skyward, but instead of doing a sky-watch in the evening, I chose to do mine in the early morning. Since July 3rd was a full moon, I figured I’d watch the moon setting over the mountains as the sun rose. You know how the lyrics go in the national anthem…”…and the rockets’ red glare…” Yeah, I still got some red glare in the morning, but it was from the sun rising. So, yes…I got a chance to oooh and aaaah on the Fourth of July even with the fireworks ban in Colorado.

On to the Byway

The Mt Evans Scenic Byway is one of those byways that isn’t very far from me, so it wasn’t too hard for me to wake up at 3:30 a.m. and then leave around 3:45 to drive up into the mountains.

If you approach the Byway from the east, you can take it from the Evergreen Parkway, or highway 74. Even though it was still quite dark for me, I still had my way lit by the full moon, although the landscape was still just a tad dark. I wouldn’t suggest taking this Byway at night though…not unless you’re used to driving twisty mountain roads in the pitch dark.

Along this part of the route, you rise in elevation from around 6500 feet above sea level to right around 10,000 feet at the entrance to Mt Evans Road. From the entrance station, you follow Mt. Evans Road to its summit, which rises to 14,000 feet above sea level. This is the highest paved road in America. During the day, after passing through the sub-alpine forest, the road opens up above tree line and you almost feel as though you could fall off the edge at any moment. The road has a sheer drop off at several different spots, but is spectacularly breathtaking nonetheless. I won’t say what it feels like at night with the moon to light your way.

Mt. Evans Summit

When I reached the summit area parking lot, I realized that I would not be alone to enjoy the sunrise and the moonset. There were several other vehicles parked and a crowd at the top of Mt Evans along with a crowd of teenagers at the parking area. They may have been part of a church group, as there were two small white busses parked in the lot. It didn’t bother me. I kind of felt comfortable with the company to enjoy the sunrise. The kids were pretty easy-going and seemed to really be into the whole idea of watching the sunrise on the Fourth of July. So, I just smiled a lot to myself as I shot some photos.

One thing that was a bit of a disappointment was the huge amount of haze in the area. It seemed that this day was the one day that Mother Nature had chosen to allow the smoke from all the fires in the state as well as those in Utah to just sit and settle. So, while I got some really bright red shots of the sun, I did not get to see the moon, since it had become obscured by the haze as it sunk lower in the west.

Moon setting behind the smoky haze.
Fourth of July sunrise on top of Mt. Evans, Colorado.
Mt. Evans “Castle in the Sky” observation area.
Rotary sundial at the Mt Evans parking area.

After the sunrise

As I watched the sun come up, I also noticed the mountainside come to life with animals other than the human kind. A pica began his morning with busily running between rocks where vegetation was growing to under other rocks where he deposited the vegetation. He repeated this jaunt over and over again, only stopping for a few moments along his path to enjoy the sun on the rocks as it began to warm the air. Further down the road past the parking lot, I noticed a few marmots peaking out between the rocks and boulders to sniff the air and then run back to their hiding places as cars passed.

Soon, the teenagers left and the crowd changed to people who had come up to enjoy the sunrise and hike up to the top of the mountain, as well as a handful of professional photographers who had come up to enjoy the wildlife and capture their act as they began their day. Most enjoyable of all the wildlife were the Big Horn Sheep. Yep…and there were a bunch of them, too. They had started coming up the mountainside not too long after the photographers had arrived and they quickly and quietly found their way amongst the boulders to the edges of the sidewalks that hugged the parking area. It seemed that the sheep were interested in salt deposits along the edge of the walkway.

What was so completely interesting to me was the fact that they were not afraid of any of the human life that were wandering around. Heck, I crouched in between some boulders to watch and shoot some photos and they just walked around me…only a few feet away. I was mesmerized by them. As I sat there, I realized I could be shooting my camera along with all the other photographers who were already clicking away, using their fast shutter modes. At one point, one of the photographers, Jack Hicks, came up to me and gave me his business card telling me to send him an email and he would send me the photos he took of me sitting amongst the sheep.

Colorado high mountain Pica.

Colorado Big Horn Sheep

Going back down the mountain

When I finally got my fill of the wildlife and the altitude, I began my trek back down the mountain, stopping at Summit Lake and again at the Alpine Garden Loop for a short walk and to enjoy the many wildflowers that were in full bloom. As I walked along the garden loop, I realized how hungry I had become and decided that I could not wait to eat, so instead of heading back down to Idaho Springs (30 miles down the mountain), I stopped for breakfast at Echo Lake Lodge (about 8 miles down). This particular lodge has been around for almost a hundred years and has a wonderful location at the eastern end of Echo Lake.

Mt Evans Summit Lake

I ordered a Denver Omelet made with egg whites, ham, green pepper, onion, and mushroom… and it was accompanied with ranch potatoes and whole wheat bread. Talk about yummy. Oh and the coffee? That was first on my list…I was dying for it to be honest. Felt so good to sit there, sip my tasty coffee and watch the humming birds outside as they flew back and forth from the trees to the bird feeder right outside the window. I enjoyed my breakfast slowly and did some people watching as a huge group of cyclists had ridden up the road to stop in front of the lodge for a break. It didn’t take too long for the whole mountain side to buzz with activity as so many people had made the same choice as I had to escape the city and enjoy the mountains for the day.

Echo Lake Lodge on Mt Evans Scenic Byway
Denver Omelet with ranch potatoes and Chipotle Tabasco sauce
Hummingbirds as seen from the Echo Lake Lodge restaurant window.

Driving down the western side of the Byway from the lodge, I was eager to get to historic Idaho Springs, so I could get some shots of the downtown area and of the historic buildings that make this town a unique stop for anyone’s day-trip (from Denver) plans. There are a few places in particular that I wanted to get some photos of…first was Miner Street, next was the historic train behind the city building and finally, was the water wheel that has been a fixture of Idaho Springs for many years. Oh and wouldn’t you know it…I also found a chocolate shop where they make and sell handmade chocolates…mmmm.

Miner Street, Idaho Springs, Colorado
Colorado Southern RR engine #60
Beau Jos Pizza…a Colorado original. Home of the Mountain Pie and wonderful place to stop and fuel up after a day playing in the high country.
The Charlie Tayler Water Wheel.
Idaho Springs hand made chocolates.

Time’s a wasting

The only thing missing on this Byway tour was the presence of my kids. Although not many teenagers would have wanted to join their parents at 3:45 in the morning, it still would have been a nice addition to my drive. So, with that said, I bid my farewell to Idaho Springs and headed back to town just in time to take my girls out to an early afternoon movie.

More photos

For the full photo spread, check out my album on photobucket…Mt Evans Scenic Byway

Interactive Map

Mt Evans Scenic Byway…with photos added

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