An ode to my late brother, Christopher Paul (March 10, 1963 – March 22, 1994)…
Taken too soon from his family. He was a head-in-the-clouds idealist who loved everything natural…down to the atomic level.
My brother was an electrical engineer who loved physics. He could keep me enthralled for hours with his ideas and knowledge of the universe. So, it seemed fitting to me to drive along a highway that was duly named because of mountain peaks like Harvard, Yale and Princeton that line the way south in Colorado’s central Rockies. Everything about this tour and not just the names of the peaks, but everything spoke of Chris to me.
Chris was born in March. March’s birthstone is the aquamarine. Mt. Antero, which lies along the Collegiate Peaks Byway is home to Colorado’s largest aquamarine, which is also Colorado’s state gemstone.
The byway itself is about 57 miles long and runs from Granite, CO on the northern end, to Poncha Springs and Salida on the southern end. The mountain range along this drive is known as the Sawatch Range and is home to a dozen 14,000+ foot peaks. Many of these peaks are named after Ivy League schools which can be found on the northern end of the byway. The names include: Mt. Harvard, Mt. Yale, Mt. Princeton, Mt. Columbia, and Mt. Oxford.
On this particular tour, I got lucky to have a beautiful sunny day greet me as I started off on my journey. Just because it is March, does not mean we have amazing weather here in Colorado…well, I guess that’s a subjective statement, since spring skier’s love the spring snows here in Colorado. Yet another thing my brother loved to do: ski.
As I headed south from Granite to Buena Vista, I stopped just north of Buena Vista and took a side road to get closer to the mountain peaks rising above the ranchland. My first stop was at the foot of Mt’s. Harvard, Yale and Oxford. From the main road, these peaks can be seen from the road signs that point them out through the trees, but when I took that side road to get up close, I was pleasantly surprised to find the land opening up to show off their massive beauty.
Just south of Buena Vista, is the last of the Ivy League peaks, Mt. Princeton. At this point, you can head east for just a few miles to climb a hill and capture the peaks in all their glory. The view is amazing to say the least.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the many activities available along this byway is river rafting. The Arkansas River runs all along the byway and you can find several rafting outfitters along the way, if you are so inclined to do some rafting in the summer. I won’t get into too much detail about activities and places to stay, since this byway‘s organization maintains a really good website at Collegiate Peaks Byway.org. When you visit the website, also note that there are several downloadable brochures and a map, which shows quite a bit of detail.
As I drove south along the byway, I noticed many side roads which I would have loved to have taken and so would my brother, but there just wasn’t enough time in the day. I did, however, take the road that pointed toward Mt. Princeton Hot Springs and St. Elmo. While St. Elmo is a ghost town and lies along a dirt road well into the mountains, there are people who still live there, so the road is maintained throughout the year. This was lucky for me, since the area had seen more than a foot of snow in the past several days.
Along the road to St. Elmo, there are several 4-wheel drive roads, which again, my brother enjoyed doing. I know I will have to come back to this area in the summertime with my hubby to do a little off-road adventuring….maybe even stay a night or two in some luxury.
My last stop along my byway journey was in Salida. The day had pretty much run away from me and although I had all intentions of finding a unique little restaurant to sooth my growling stomach, I ended up at Subway finding something easy to eat as I drove. But…I did find time to walk along the main part of town and found a unique little feature of the town on the north side. It was a small skate park which had a bowl and few other features. After my walk, I pulled in to the parking lot here and listened to the music that was playing as a teenager was catching air as he rose out of the bowl and then smoothly fell back down into the bowl to rise again on the other side.
Yes…this was one of my brother’s favorite activities as a teen. He would hitchhike from Denver to Boulder to skate at the only skate park along the Front Range back in the late 70’s, early 80’s. Now, there are skate parks all over Colorado. My how times change and yet…don’t change.
There’s a lot of history along this byway…from old mining towns, to pioneer trails and railroad routes all in a short 57-mile stretch in the Colorado Central Rockies. At Poncha Springs, which lies just west of Salida, you will find yourself, literally, at the “Crossroads of the Rockies. “ This little town lies along the junction of two transcontinental highways…hwy50 and hwy285. This is where I took my last photo of Mt. Shavano, as the sun was now deep into the western sky.
As I drove homeward, the sun began to set and I thought of my brother; gazing off into the universe…smiling…