The featured image is a Chicory Flower.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Where can I find the most colorful aspen in fall?
Where are the wildflowers growing?
These are just a few of the questions that many visitors, heck I would say that even Coloradans, ask during the different seasons here in Colorado.
If you are looking for mountainsides covered in color in the middle of summer, then my answer would be…Crested Butte.
As a matter of fact, Crested Butte is considered the “wildflower capital of Colorado” and rightfully so. Every turn along every road and every path and trail in mid-summer is bound to take your breath away. And, every summer, Crested Butte hosts the annual Wildflower Festival during the second week of July. Not that the wildflowers don’t bloom at any other time, but mid-July is peak season for a show of colors.
I’ve been wanting to go to Crested Butte during the wildflower festival for several years now and this year, I finally did it. While my trip out was only for the day, I did my best to make it worth the four and half-hour drive from my place in Denver. The flowers, the town, the people and the weather did not disappoint.
Hiking around Crested Butte:
I took my daughter along this particular trip and we left before the sunrise. We made it to town in time for breakfast and after that, we were on our way to hunt for the best display. I quickly found out that no matter where we chose to go, we were not going to be disappointed. But, on advice from the nice folks at the visitor center, my daughter and I attempted to hike Woods Walk. This is an easy trail for low-landers and those who typically don’t get out to hike too often…ahem, my daughter. I wasn’t disappointed and despite my daughter’s tummy acting up (she headed back to the car while I wandered around the mountainside), I was treated to an amazing display of color and blooms.
When I got back to my car, I made a pit stop at a gas station for two tall cold bottles of water and my daughter and I were off again to explore another area I was curious about….Gothic. This ‘ghost town’ is quite the opposite…as in, the place is bustling with activity; from hikers, to scientists, to visitors wanting to learn more about the biological lab which is the main focal point of town. “RMBL was founded in 1928 on the remains of an abandoned mining town in Gothic, Colorado. Approximately 160 people are in residence there during the summer field season. Over 1200 scientific publications have been based on work from the Laboratory (currently 60-80 per year).” (Wikipedia)
We took a little break here at Gothic and then continued along the road as far as I thought my little old two-wheel drive car could handle it.
At one point, about a half-mile outside of town, a sign is posted that warns, “Only 4-wheel drive” can handle the road ahead. I kind of ignored this sign for about two more miles before I gave in and we headed back toward the Crested Butte area. Of course, not before I took a few more shots of the amazing scenery of the area. Oh and by the way, this road continues over Schofield Pass and then on to the town of Marble on the other side of the mountain range. One section along this road is affectionately named, “The Devil’s Punchbowl.” Go ahead, look it up! My suggestion would be to search for videos on YouTube.
The next curiosity I wanted to satisfy had to do with the Castles along Ohio Pass road. Of course, I found many images of the Castles on the Internet, but I had to see it for myself. So, off we went over another dirt road. This time though, the dirt road is a little tamer as compared to Schofield Pass road. To get there, I took Hwy12, otherwise known as Kebler Pass road to the junction with Ohio Pass road. This junction comes about 100 yards east of Kebler Pass. The road is actually a forest road, so it isn’t as well maintained as Kebler Pass road, but still drivable in my little old car. Not too far after the junction, you come out of the pine trees and to an area of road which is not quite wide enough for two-way travel.
The road has a sharp drop-off, but the views are spectacular. After a few miles of driving downward through an extremely old stand of very tall aspen, we came to a very open valley, green with grass and dotted with several ranches. I found the wildflowers a little harder to get to along this road, since many of them were up steep hillsides. The road continues on from here for another 20 miles until it reaches Hwy50. Since I had other things on my mind, I turned around and headed back toward Hwy12.
This road is 32 miles long and connects Crested Butte to Hwy133 and Paonia on the southern end and Carbondale to the north. The road itself takes you through what may be the oldest stand of aspen in America (just hasn’t been proven yet). The aspen are tall and straight, and the feeling you get while driving through them is that of serenity and peace. Of course, that is if you aren’t zipping through as if on your way to an important meeting. When you come out of the aspen on the northwestern side, you get an amazing view of the Anthracite Range.
Along this route, it’s best to hike one of the many trails (Lost Lakes, Lake Irwin, Anthracite, and more) to get a better view of wildflowers. While the aspen are amazing along the road, the plants that cover the floor (under the aspen) are mostly fern with a sparse few lupine scattered throughout for good measure. I know that I could have found plenty of wildflowers had I had the time for another hike.
After the Anthracite Range, I turned around and headed my humble little car back in the direction of Crested Butte for dinner before hitting the road for a four and a half-hour drive. My daughter and I stopped in at The Last Steep and enjoyed massive sandwiches….I had the jerk chicken and she had a “basic” burger.
When all was said and done…I decided that most definitely, I will return with a mission. Whether that mission will be to capture the rapture of fall, or to seek out new wildflower hidden treasures, some of the beauty is in the planning, or lack there-of as the case may be. Crossing fingers that part of the next excursion includes a few nights local stay.
Some of the Colorado wildflowers we viewed, but did not necessarily capture digitally include:
- paint brush
Check out Colorado Wildflowers website for more info on the many different wildflower species in Colorado.
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.
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.
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…
Yes…I saved my favorite byway for the final Guess the Byway post. 😉
Guess which Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway these two photos were taken along. Guess the byway by Friday, May 16th 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…
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.
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 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…
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.
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.
Photo 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 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…