Road: Paved; curvy in spots
Round-trip from Denver: 383 miles
Length of Byway: 103 miles
Vehicle types: Car, motorcycle
Elevation change: 4662 to 9,350 feet above sea level
Location: South Central Colorado
The Wet Mountains
Imagine riding along in a wagon train over a gently inclining mountain range and while peaking at the top, you are greeted with a vast open lush green valley flanked by mountain ranges as far as the eye can see before you. This is the scene that greeted my husband and myself as we drove the Frontier Pathways byway in early September and dropped down into the Wet Mountain Valley on our way to the furthest point west in Westcliffe, Colorado.
Not surprising to me were the amazing mountain vistas and the tight rocky canyons that brought us to the furthest western point on this byway. What was surprising was the Wet Mountains mountain range along the way. Colorado is a semi-arid alpine desert state. So, to come across a mountain range that is known for the most annual rainfall in this state was quite a change. The day we chose to drive this byway did not disappoint in that respect. I chose to leave early (before the sunrise) on this byway drive because I knew that around noon and later, that we would be in for a rain shower or two.
Lake Pueblo State Park
Since we left so early, my hubby and I made sure to bring along a couple of travel mugs full of yummy bold coffee. It was very much worth the extra effort for sure. Our first stop was at the start of the byway just outside of Pueblo at Pueblo Lake State Park. This lake is actually a reservoir which provides supplemental water for agriculture, municipal and industrial uses, as well as for recreation from boating to fishing and hiking, biking as well as other activities in the area. Like many huge reservoirs in Colorado though, this lake has seen better days as far a capacity is concerned. It seemed to me that it had gone down by maybe 50 feet since it had been built in the 1970’s.
After our stop-over in the park, we began our journey west along the byway and through what is known as “Hardscrabble Canyon.” Now, don’t let this name fool you, the canyon itself is about a few miles in length as so the twists and turns, although tight and winding, are few. Points of interest along this canyon include Lover’s Leap, as well as Big and Little Sinking Ocean Liners.
After the twists and curves, the drive seemed to crest out atop a high mountain lush green meadow flanked by trees on all sides. We then descended into the Wet Mountain Valley and as we came through a grove of trees, we were greeted with the most amazing view of the east side of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range rising above the towns of Silver Cliff and Westcliffe. Unfortunately for me, my timing was a tad off as far as getting us to Westcliffe by lunchtime was concerned. I was just a tad too early. For such a small town, they’ve got quite the assortment of eateries. Next time we’re in town, I will be sure to make it a point to drive, or ride through during lunch time.
Since we were driving along a byway that is known as a ‘frontier’ byway, I made it a point to also stop at an historical ranch; the Beckwith Ranch just to the north of town. This historic ranch is no longer an operating ranch, but many events are held here including weddings, as well as local season events. The fact that the ranch takes advantage of not just the views of the Wet Mountains to the east, but also the Sangre de Cristos to the west makes it a must stop on this tour for a moment of time in history as well as for the amazing picturesque views.
After roaming around the ranch house and barn on this historic ranch, we were on our way again, this time heading back east and then veering off to the south on the southern leg of this byway tour. As we drove along, we decided to take a side road to make a quick roadside lunch stop. The side road we chose just happened to be along the edges of a cattle ranch. As we stood there eating our tortilla wraps, several of the cows had decided to wander close to us to find out if we were bringing them some yummy munchies. My hubby and I named one of the cows Bessie, since she made it a point to come as close as possible to try and figure us out.
One of the most peculiar features along this leg of the byway is a castle which has been built completely by hand by a man and his relatives, named Bishop. Bishop’s Castle is easily viewed from the road, but Bishop allows visitors to his pride and joy as well as takes donations. Now, while this engineering marvel may seem sturdy, there are parts of the castle which I dared not climb to. I did, however get as far as a few feet away from the dragon’s head which sits prominently in the middle of the rooftop.
As you can see from the photos, the day was now past noon and clouds had come in and settled over the Wet Mountains. It was only a matter of time before we saw rain from these dark an ominous clouds.
Lake San Isabel
Our next stop along the drive was at Lake San Isabel. This lake seems to be a well-known visitor/vacationer area since we found it to have a lodge and many vacation rentals scattered around it. It also seemed to be quite the fisherman’s attraction as well. And although the rain was just starting to pitter patter when we parked, my hubby and I decided to walk around the full length of the lake along its well-traveled foot-path.
As we walked, we noticed that the resort also made both paddle boats and fishing boats available to visitors. People really seemed to enjoy fishing here too, since there were a ton of families scattered around the whole lake fishing and enjoying the day. Luckily for us, the rain did not pick up in intensity and stuck with a very brief and soft shower. The only thing that was disappointing along our walk was when we noticed the families which were sitting around the lake’s edge did not seem to care about their trash. We noticed one family, in particular, who were moving their camp chairs from one vantage point to another and leaving a pile of their trash in the spot they were leaving.
Side note: This world is the only world we have. The population is growing which means so is the amount of waste we create. So, if you care at all about what you borrow, then take care of the Earth so that your children and others may enjoy it in the future as much as you do now.
As we left the lake, I looked back to the western edge of the lake and noticed the clouds which had floated down the mountain side and made their way over the thick forest of trees which blanketed the western edge of the lake. How ironically serene everything seemed at a distance.
Leaving the Wet Mountains
My hubby and I got back in the car and continued on our journey southward. As we drove, the scenery changed slightly to allow for an open view of the eastern plains as we slowly descended the mountains. As you drive along this part of the byway, you may notice that there are a few old homesteads which are now abandoned and in various states of crumbling down. Depending on the time of year, you may just be lucky enough to also drive through beautifully colored aspen as they change color during fall or maybe fields of wildflowers in late spring and early summer. I imagined that since the Wet Mountains get so much moisture, that any time of year here must be a treat to the nature-lover.
Our views changed as we descended the mountains and soon we could tell we were in south central Colorado with its dry and arid rolling hills full of sage and cacti. I thought to myself how fitting to find such stark differences along this drive…both the lush green landscape which contrasted with the semi-arid Colorado landscape. It reminded me of humanity, which can be full of goodwill and yet selfishly destructive as well.