Tag Archives: Colorado Rockies

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.

Just another Weekend in the Rockies


Sunflowers and the Ten Mile Range.

It’s not a byway, but highway 285 going southwest from Denver through the Platte River Canyon, over Kenosha Pass and into the South Park National Heritage area isn’t such a bad road; I think mostly because of where this road can take you on any given weekend day.

Hiking

Yes, I love to hike and Hwy285 has tons of hikes just off the road, or for the adventurous spirits, taking an off highway road can yield some spectacular hiking results.

Mount Bailey: My first hike was up to the top of Mt. Bailey close to our mountain home and about a mile off of Hwy285. I decided to walk to the trailhead from our front door, which was about a half to full mile walk. At the trailhead, you are greeted with a sign that says, “Hike at your own risk.” I wasn’t too worried, even if this was the first time I had hiked the mountain. Less than a hundred yards in, I understood what the sign meant. The first part of this trail seems to have a gentle slope, but right at the first switch-back, the trail slopes upward steeply and this steep grade continues for the rest of the hike. Luckily, the switchbacks not only keep you from completely losing your breath, they also offer a short respite before forging upward.

Of course, I’m talking about myself mostly when I talk about losing breath. I seem to have this issue with exercise induced asthma. It’s nothing I can’t handle, nor does it make me give up. On the contrary, it pisses me off just enough to get my stubborn streak roaring into full steam ahead.

Another interesting thing to note about the hike, is that there are plenty of “stay on the trail” signs along the way, to help guide you as you go. The trail almost seems to disappear at times, because of the ruggedness and maybe also because it doesn’t seem to be used that much. I was the only person on the trail this day.

Just before you reach the end of the trail which is an amazing cliff drop-off, you cross over several metal lines that carry information from the Mt. Bailey radio tower down to the residences below.

The reward after hiking the steeply graded trail with a gain of approximately 375 feet from the trailhead is breathtaking. Of course, I had to watch my step, as there is quite a drop-off at the cliff’s edge. The cliff is quite broad and faces southward producing spectacular views of the Platte River, Kenosha Mountain Range and the town of Bailey below.

Mt. Bailey = 9089 feet above sea level
Trail = 1.2 miles from trail head
Elevation gain = 375 feet

Boreas Pass Trail: The full trail is about 10 miles if taken on the Breckenridge side of the pass. On this trip, my hubby and I drove up from the Como side and parked at the Pass at 11,481 feet. The drive is a very rough dirt road of about 10 miles to the pass. It’s better to drive it with an AWD, or 4×4 vehicle, but this day, we took my small front-wheel drive Pontiac.

There are at least two trail heads at the pass. On the north side of the pass is the Black Powder Trail and on the south side is a trail which you can take to the top of one of Colorado’s 13’ers, Red Peak.

We took the southern trail, but only as far as the first ridge described on the 13ers.com website. The trail is strenuous, but again, quite rewarding when you reach the top of the first point. Because the starting point is quite high in elevation already, it didn’t take too long to leave tree line behind and what lay before us, was the colorful tundra bursting forth with wildflowers. I had lots of excuses to stop and take photos…um, aka catch my breath.

Again, reaching the top of the first point was quite rewarding…not only because of the views, but because of taking on a challenge and overcoming that little voice in my head that tends to want me to give up. After reaching the top, my hubby and I had a nice snack, granola bars and water, and took our time soaking in the landscape and amazing weather.

Coming back down, we had to bypass a small snowfield to get to the trail. As I walked carefully amongst the tundra wildflowers, I looked down and noticed something flitting quickly from bluebell bunch to bluebell bunch. At first, I thought it was a small humming bird, but it had antenna and no long beak. I watched it work its way from one bunch of flowers to the next…sucking in the nectar as it darted back and forth. Later, I learned this strange creature was actually a moth, sometimes called the “hummer” moth. Its actual name is the Banded Sphinx Moth. I won’t include the scientific name, but the website I linked does.

I think we’re going to have to come back to Boreas Pass at least twice…once to hike the Black Powder Trail and another time to hike the full Red Peak trail.

Red Peak Trail (first point) = 12,029 feet above sea level
Distance = ~1 mile from parking area
Elevation gain = 548 feet

Lunch in Breckenridge: After finishing our hike, we were famished…really hungry. Lunch was late for us, but well worth it. We stopped at the Breckenridge Brewery for a sandwich and a beer before heading back home to Bailey.

Heading home: The nice thing about driving over Boreas Pass into Breckenridge was that we didn’t have to touch any high-volume highways, such as I70, which can get quite crowded on weekends. As we headed back to Bailey, we took highway 9 which takes you over Hoosier Pass and into the town of Alma and then Fairplay.

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.

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.

Guess the Byway Photo Contest – Week #21


Guess which Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway these two photos were taken along. Guess the byway by Friday, April 25th 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 21

Byways Photo ContestPhoto #41:

 

 

 

Byways Photo ContestPhoto #42:

Guess the Byway Photo Contest – Week #20


Guess which Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway these two photos were taken along. Guess the byway by Friday, April 18th 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 20

Blog Photo ContestPhoto #39:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Photo ContestPhoto #40:

End of Week #16 – Guess the Byway Photo Contest


We have a Winner!

Congratulations to Brenda Phelps! A Facebook friend who correctly guessed that the photos posted in last week’s contest were taken along the Grand Mesa Byway.

Week 16

These two photos were taken along the tallest flattop mountain in the world. Each was taken at the end of what is known as “Lands End Road”.

Photo 31: This photo was taken as I was riding my motorcycle along Lands End Road (this is a YouTube video I found – not my own) back to the main byway. I saw what I thought was smoke coming up from below the mesa, but after walking a few feet closer to the edge, I realized the smoke was actually the mist of a small waterfall.

 

 

 
Photo 32: This photo was taken outside of the Lands End Observatory. Not too long ago, the observatory was manned by park rangers. Now, it is boarded up and still stands as a distant memory. When my riding buddies and I had taken this byway, the air was not as crisp and clear as those on the linked website. Colorado was suffering from a bad year in forest fires all over the state.

Guess the Byway Photo Contest – Week #16


Guess which Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway these two photos were taken along. Guess the byway by Friday, March 21stth at midnight PST and win your choice of one photo from the byway blog post. The first person to correctly guess in the comments section below wins! Review the rules here

Week 16

Byways Photo ContestPhoto #31:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo #32:Byways Photo Contest