Tag Archives: Colorado Byways

The Byways Revisited – Pockets of Color in the Colorado Rockies


Colorado’s fall color explosion begins in early September with high country aspen beginning their golden exhibition deep in the central and northern mountains.

While there are many places I would love to go to view the aspen in their colorful fall garb, this time, I stuck to the central mountains so that I could make it home in time for the evening Broncos kick-off. Still, my little ole car ended up with more than 250 miles in this round-trip jaunt.

So, where did I go? To the Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway, the 10th Mountain Division section of the byway that is.

First, let’s get to the color and yes, there were some aspen which were already breaking free of their summertime green exploding into gold with a little bit of orange and rust thrown in for good measure. All along the drive from Minturn to Leadville, aspen were changing in pockets of gold. The most dramatic views were along the Battle Mountain drive.

Pockets of gold along 10th Mountain Diviision Highway.
Pockets of gold along 10th Mountain Division Highway.

The road along this drive climbs high above the Eagle River and the aspen hug the steep hillside only stopping when the hill gives way to dramatic black, red and rust-colored cliffs.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, stopping at almost every pullout, soaking up the scenery, breathing in the cool fresh mountain air and taking in the colorful scenery. Not even the dark clouds that drifted over the mountain range could keep me from feeling completely delighted. Luckily, the storm clouds during my drive came and went pretty quickly, leaving amazing blue and puffy white-cloud skies behind. With the green and gold covered hillsides and red colored cliffs in the background, I was in complete awe of the scenery.

Now, let’s move on to the history of this byway. There are two major historic distinctions along the byway between Minturn and Leadville. One is a rich mining history and the other is a military history. In between Minturn and Red Cliff is the abandoned mining town of Gilman. Now, while this town is an abandoned ghost town, the age of many of the buildings in this town are not as old as one might think, because the town was last inhabited in 1984. That’s right, I said ‘19’ – 84…only 30 years ago.

Gilman ghost town.
Gilman ghost town.

So, what happened? Well, the zinc extraction industry went belly up (with rock-bottom zinc prices) and the town was condemned by the EPA…that’s it in a nutshell. Check out the Substreet blog for more historical information and lots of photos of the town and surrounding area.

As for the military history…well, that comes in the Pando Valley area of the byway, now called Camp Hale for the military operations that took place there during WWII. Camp Hale is located between Red Cliff and Leadville. Many of its distinctions include ski training operations of the 10th Mountain Division as well as a secret CIA training camp from 1958 – 64 with the Tibetan freedom fighters. Check out the linked website for interesting information on all the activities that took place there.

When you visit the area now, you might see a few long forgotten cement walls, some sort of road system which has been almost completely covered by natural vegetation and hopefully you will never come across any, but munitions are still being recovered by the military in its cleanup of the area. Note: if you do a google search for Camp Hale on Goolge Maps and turn to the satellite view, you can still see the outline of the camp buildings and road system.

When I stopped at the roadside pullout which memorializes the secret CIA and Tibetan training operations, I got out of my car just long enough to watch the storm clouds which had been chasing me since Battle Mountain blow down into the valley, completely engulfing the mountainsides, leaving nothing in view except for a thick mist.

Camp Hale Tibetan freedom fighters memorial plaque.
Camp Hale Tibetan freedom fighters memorial plaque.

I took a few shots before the rain began and then hid in my car as it blew through and then quickly retreated through the other side of the valley and over another mountain range. The smells left behind were thick and rich with scents of pine and late summer. Soon, the clouds broke and gave way to a perfectly blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. I was in heaven and lingered for a while longer before continuing on to Leadville.

One other historical note to mention and this piece of history unfortunately has no name, although it’s known as cabin in the valley according to a photo I found on a Google search. On previous jaunts in this area, I had always just cruised past this broken and falling down cabin, but this time, I stopped. When I approached the cabin, I noticed that it had two distinct rooms. This was different from other old relics I had come across in the Colorado Rockies, so I made sure to take as many photos as I could from different angles before leaving the area.

Oh and just so you know, the last leg of the byway from Leadville to Copper Mountain also has a ton of colorful aspen viewing right along the byway. It definitely is worth taking a whole day to linger along the drive if you go.

Looking southward from the road to Freemont Pass along hwy91.
Looking southward from the road to Freemont Pass along hwy91.

Maybe even take a train ride in Leadville during this time of year to capture the changing aspen with an historical train as backdrop against the high mountain peaks. Check out the Leadville Twin Lakes website for more information on the fall train tours.

For info on what to do and see, where to stay and what to eat along the Top of the Rockies Byway, here’s the linked websites in recap:

If you plan on touring the full byway, make sure you do it in summer, since the top of Independence Pass is closed in winter. The furthest end of the byway takes you to Aspen, so be sure to bring a fully packed wallet as well.

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End of Week #25 – Guess the Byway Photo Contest


We don’t have a Winner!

Well, despite no one guessing this byway, I had fun reliving each and every tour I took of the 25 scenic and historic byways here in Colorado over the last two years. So…I’m going to say, I win!
This last post is coming a week late, since my hubby and I celebrated my 50th birthday out of state. Yes…I said out of state. Before I get into that trip, let me share the last byway in the Guess the Byway Photo Contest with all of my readers. Byway 25 was the Alpine Loop (Backcountry Byway).

Week 25

These two photos were taken along the 4×4-only section of the byway. You can find this section of the byway along Hwy550 just south of Ouray. While all of this byway is dirt road, the very rough 4×4 section is about 10-15 miles of the full 60+ mile byway.

Photo 49: This photo was taken in the first few miles of the byway along a shelf road. The road hugs a cliff and most of it is one-lane. The scenery is breathtaking and you can catch glimpses of times past with the many different abandoned mines that dot the mountainsides.

Photo 50: The top of Engineer Pass is quite breathtaking as you get amazing 360-degree views of the San Juan Mountains. The best time of day to get up here would have to be before noon, as the afternoon will bring thunderstorms and as you can see, low-hanging clouds.

Guess the Byway Photo Contest – Week #25


Happy 25th Anniversary to Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways program!

Guess which Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway these two photos were taken along. Guess the byway by Friday, May 23rd at midnight PST and win your choice of photo from the byway’s blog post. The first person to correctly guess in the comments section below wins! Review the rules here

Week 25

ColoradoByways Photo ContestPhoto #49:

 

 

 

ColoradoByways Photo ContestPhoto #50:

 

 

 

Yes…I saved my favorite byway for the final Guess the Byway post. 😉

End of Week #24 – Guess the Byway Photo Contest


We have a Winner!

Congratulations to Brenda Phelps! My Facebook friend, who correctly guessed that the photos posted in last week’s contest were taken along the Los Caminos Antiguos Byway.

Honorable mention to BigBoy4006 for almost getting it right as well. I will send a high res version of any of the photos from the Los Caminos Antiguos Byway to you as well. Just let me know which one.

Week 24

These two photos were taken along very different areas of the byway. The Cumbres and Toltec narrow gauge railroad winds its way up to Cumbres Pass on the border between Colorado and New Mexico. The view of Blanca Peak is best seen from the San Luis Valley region.
Photo 47: This photo was taken as the train criss-crosses across highway 17 as it winds it way up to Cumbres and La Manga Passes. This train was on its way back down to Chama, New Mexico as it was late afternoon. It’s pretty cool watching the people on the train as they gaze out their windows at the mountain scenery.
Photo 48: This photo was taken at the highways 150 and 160 crossroads. The view of Blanca Peak from here is quite spectacular…although, you can see three sides of this mountain (east, west and southern facing) from different roads. The sign in the photo talks about the Ute many hundreds of years ago and what they thought of horses when they were first introduced to this region.

End of Week #23 – Guess the Byway Photo Contest


We have a Winner!

Congratulations to Brenda Phelps! My Facebook friend, who correctly guessed that the photos posted in last week’s contest were taken along the Unaweep/Tabeguache Byway.

Week 23

These two photos were taken along the beautiful redrock Unaweep canyon which runs north and south along the west-southwest edge of Colorado. I was lucky enough to ride this byway by motorcycle with a friend of mine at the end of May in 2013. I say, “lucky” because riding the twists and turns of the canyon is such a blast by bike.

 
Photo 45: This photo was taken at the Gateway Canyons Resort, which lies at the northern end of the canyon. I’ve never stayed at a posh resort before…never really had the funds to do something like that. This resort though, sure had a very strong draw. I definitely can appreciate some of the conferences that take place here…being Earth-minded is very important to me…if you haven’t already guessed that.

 
Photo 46: This photo was taken along the twists and turns of Unaweep Canyon and shows the Hanging Flume, which was recently restored. The history that traverses the canyon isn’t just pioneer history…it’s ancient history dating back to the time of the dinosaurs and it’s also mining history (uranium in particular), which includes the build up to the end of World War II.

Guess the Byway Photo Contest – Week #23


Guess which Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway these two photos were taken along. Guess the byway by Friday, May 9th at midnight PST and win your choice of photo from the byway’s blog post. The first person to correctly guess in the comments section below wins! Review the rules here

Week 23

Byways_Photo_Contest_#46Photo #45:

 

 

 

Byways_Photo_Contest_#45Photo #46:

End of Week #22 – Guess the Byway Photo Contest


We have a Winner!

Congratulations to Brenda Phelps! My Facebook friend, who correctly guessed that the photos posted in last week’s contest were taken along the Dinosaur Diamond.

Week 22

These two photos were taken along the road just before and just after Douglas Pass (along the extreme western edge of Colorado). This byway is actually a full loop encompassing parts of Utah as well as Colorado.

Colorado Byways Photo ContestPhoto 43: My daughter joined me on this overnight trip. When I drove the pass, we came upon the Kokopeli ruins on the north side (Canyon Pintado Petroglyphs). Because of the government shut-down during October of 2013, there were signs up on gates that warned visitors they could not pass. Unfortunately, I don’t think the government should be worrying about only visitors when it comes to these ruins. The steps and short walkways that lead to a closer viewing of the art work are in dire need of attention. The signs that stand there to explain the ruins are washed out by years of bright sun washing away the stories that accompany the ruins. Despite lack of information, my daughter and I took our time viewing each site along the byway.

Photo 44: This photo was taken along highway 139 before reaching the hills and canyon that take you to Douglas Pass. And yes…I was standing smack dab in the middle of that road. It was early and not many people were out and about…plus this is a pretty barren part of Colorado. Still…the colors we saw that morning were quite spectacular.

Guess the Byway Photo Contest – Week #22


Guess which Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway these two photos were taken along. Guess the byway by Friday, May 2th at midnight PST and win your choice of photo from the byway’s blog post. The first person to correctly guess in the comments section below wins! Review the rules here

Week 22

Colorado Byways Photo ContestPhoto #43:

 

 

 

Colorado Byways Photo ContestPhoto #44:

End of Weeks #21 – Guess the Byway Photo Contest


We don’t have a Winner

No one correctly guessed that the photos posted in last week’s contest were taken along the San Juan Skyway Byway.

Week 21

These two photos were taken along two different sections of the byway. This byway traverses the breathtakingly beautiful San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado. Parts of the byway also intersect with the Trail of the Ancients Byway.

Byways Photo ContestPhoto 41: I had a riding buddy along for the scenery and thrills of the twists and turns along the mountainous sections of the byway. We were unfortunate to have ridden into southern Colorado during a time when it was wrestling with dozens of wildfires. One of these fires completely clouded the skies and views in Telluride. But this particular photo was taken along the Million Dollar Highway section of the byway the day after retreating from the Weber fire near Mancos.
Byways Photo ContestPhoto 42: This photo was taken along an off highway route knows as the Last Dollar Road. This dirt road cuts across the Dallas Divide and passes by the historic Last Dollar Ranch as it creates a short cut of sorts between Telluride and Ridgway. While it may cut down on distance though, it adds in time and scenery.

The Wilderness Act Turns 50


Boy do I feel in good company. In a very few weeks, I too will be celebrating 50 years of life on Earth. I can’t think of a better way than to enjoy nature and the wilderness than to wander the beaches and forests in the place I was born…but, that’s in a month. For now, let’s celebrate the Wilderness Act!

For those of you who may not know…the Wilderness Act protects pieces of land from any development. That means when you wander into places designated as ‘wilderness’, you won’t find any improved roads, or any utility-type services…no cell towers…nothing. We don’t have many places like these around the country, but those we do have are a treasure to embrace and to be left as they are.

And for a taste of wilderness…here’s a favorite wilderness area in Colorado I love…also known as “The Cradle of Wilderness”.

Trail around Trappers Lake.
Trail around Trappers Lake.