Tag Archives: rocky mountains

Byways and Wildflowers

South Mesa, just south of the town of Boulder, CO (about 20 miles east of the Peak to Peak Byway), boasts a plethora of wildflowers in late spring and early summer (June through July).

The featured image is a Chicory Flower.


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.

End of Week #20 Guess the Byway Photo Contest

We have a Winner!

Congratulations to Maria Sharp! My Facebook friend, who correctly guessed that the photos posted in last week’s contest were taken along the Top of the Rockies Byway.

Week 20

These two photos were taken along two different sections of the byway. This byway traverses Independence Pass at one point, as well as includes sections of the 10th Mountain Division Memorial Highway and the Climax mining operation north of Leadville.

Photo 39: My riding buddy Jen, stopped for a few shots of the old mining car along the roadside opposite one of the largest mining operations in Colorado: Climax Molybdenum. This part of the byway traverses Fremont Pass just south of Copper Mountain Resort and north of Leadville.



Photo 40: Castle Creek Road lies at the western edge of the byway, is eleven miles long and ends at the base of Montezuma Basin. The wildflowers captured in this photo bloom in early July for a few weeks and then disappear leaving no trace.

Guess the Byway Photo Contest – Week #15

Guess which Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway these two photos were taken along. Guess the byway by Friday, March 14thth 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 15

Byways Photo ContestPhoto #29:







Photo #30:

Guess the Byway Photo Contest – Week #1

Here are the first two photos along a Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway. Guess the byway by Friday, December 6th at midnight PST and win your choice of the two photos. The first person to correctly guess in the comments section below wins! Review the rules here

Photo #1:

Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways Photo ContestPhoto #2:

Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways Photo Contest

Byway #25 – Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway Tour by Sport Bike, Auto and 4 x 4 – Dinosaur Diamond

Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic BywayRoad(s): Paved = straight in the lowlands; curvy up to the pass and in the national monument
Round-trip from Denver: 927 miles
Length of Byway: 486 miles (including the Utah portion)
Vehicle types: Car, sport bike
Elevation change: 4,514 feet to 8,268 feet
Location: West/Northwest Colorado

Everything Old is New Again

I took my youngest daughter on this tour, because of the dinosaurs that used to roam the area millions of years ago and have since been unearthed in various quarries along the byway. She’s never seen this part of Colorado, so it was all new to her. It was good to have her enthusiasm along the way as we saw some of the BLM protected pictographs north of Douglas Pass in Canyon Pintado along the byway.

A Bittersweet Tour

Two years earlier, I was out west in Fruita, Colorado visiting a friend and enjoying the views from the Colorado National Monument. The visit with my friend was well worth the five-hour drive out west. This time around, I did not have the chance to see my friend, since she and her family were out of town. My daughter and I did make the best of things as we chose to stay in a very nice Marriot hotel in downtown Grand Junction, the Fairfield Inn and Suites.

The last time I was out west, I took a long route to drive home and took all day to see some Colorado mountain countryside which I had never seen before. This time around, the drive going to Grand Junction was the long route. I had been dying to see Dallas Divide again for several months. My aim was to drive along Last Dollar Road in the late afternoon to see the changing aspen against the backdrop of the jagged mountains of the divide. While Dallas Divide and the Last Dollar Road are almost 90 miles south of Grand Junction, this “side trip” was well worth the diversion on our way to Grand Junction.  I will let the photos speak for themselves…

Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway

Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway

Dinosaur Diamond

This particular byway is yet one more byway in Colorado which actually goes into another state. In the case of Dinosaur Diamond, the byway extends into Utah. The landscape along the byway is quite spectacular, mostly because of the red hues of the sandstone all along the drive. Had I had enough time to take more days off from work, I would have extended our tour into Utah to see Arches National Park in Utah. My daughter loves that area as well.

Another downside to traveling the byway was the fact that the US government had been shut down, so we weren’t able to see some of the points along the way, like the Colorado National Monument and the heart of Dinosaur National Monument, as well as the quarry. That being said, the drive up to Dinosaur to see part of the monument was still worth the trip. There was still plenty for us to see and the weather was cooperating quite nicely.

Douglas Pass

On the way to Dinosaur Ntl. Monument from the south side, you can visit the Colorado National Monument, as well as the dinosaur quarry on the northern edge of the Colorado Ntl. Monument to see where dinosaur fossils had been unearthed in the early 1900s – Dinosaur Hill, Fruita.

Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic BywayHeading north from Fruita, you end up on a very straight and what seems desolate stretch of highway 139. Before you, lies the Book Cliffs, which look like tall sandcastles of different colored layers, but are actually made of colorful sandstone. You don’t see the green pinyon and colorful scrub oak of what ends up being the foothills before Douglas Pass until the road reaches the cliffs and they give way to the green mountain valley which leads up to Douglas Pass.

Soon though, the road begins to twist and curve as you begin to gain altitude and the temperature takes a quick dive as the pass looms above you in what seems like a very steep incline. And then…after a few very sharp hairpin curves, you’re there…at the top of the pass. Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic BywayWhile there is a pull-out at the top, you will notice that the route in getting there on either side is quite steep and you realize how special this mountain pass really is considering where it is located…at the western edge of Colorado’s semi-arid high country dessert.

Kokopelli Pictographs

Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic BywayOn the northern side of Douglas Pass, you quickly descend into Canyon Pintado and soon find yourself surrounded by low sandstone cliffs and all along this part of the drive; you find BLM signs of the Kokopelli Pictographs which have withstood the test of time for several hundred years. This is where my daughter came alive. She was not only curious about the origins of the pictographs, but thought about how the artists created their art to withstand the weather for so very long.

Although these off-road sites were part of the BLM though, we still were able to get close enough to take photos and wonder about the art work, mostly because they were so close to the road and no locks, or chains blocked our path. Still, I was disheartened to see that at one of these sites, Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Bywaythere were people who thought it was necessary to try and deface these ancient pictures by carving their names into the cliff-sides alongside the images.

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic BywayAs you continue driving northward, the landscape becomes stark and desolate after passing through Rangely and continuing north to the town of Dinosaur. At this point, you can head west into Utah, or go east for two miles to the entrance of Dinosaur National Monument. After stopping at the visitor center in Dinosaur to find out if we were going to be able to see any of the monument, we headed east to the monument entrance. What I had learned at the visitor center was that although the middle point of the monument was inaccessible due to the government shut-down, the road getting there was still open.

I was pleasantly surprised as we drove north along this road to find that it climbed in elevation and we soon found ourselves on a plateau with Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Bywayviews as far as the eyes could see (at least as much as the haze would let us see) in all directions. The landscape wasn’t as barren as I had imagined and the layers of colored sandstone were nearly outdone by the colors of the vegetation which include not only pinyon pine, but scrub oak and aspen as well.

As we drew closer to the closed end of the road, we also passed over the Utah state line and came to a fork in the road, which is also known as “The Center of the Universe”, or in other words Echo Park. At this point, I wanted to continue forging along any road Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Bywaythat was open, but because this road is a one-way dirt road and I couldn’t tell whether it was going to be open all the way down, I erred on the side of caution and headed back south to Grand Junction and dinner with my daughter at her favorite place, Johnny Carinos.

The End of the Byway Tours

Driving home the next day was only a little bittersweet. While this was my last byway tour over the past two years, I know I will be coming back for more. And in the future, it won’t be as quickly, but rather, I will find a way to spend more time along each byway and find more out-of-the-way nooks and crannies along these byways to add to my ever expanding wealth of Colorado Byway knowledge.

Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway

Byway #23 – Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway Tour by Sport Bike, Auto and 4 x 4 – Gold Belt Tour

gb_byway_sign_092113-72Road(s): Paved = High Park Road and Teller County One; both curvy in spots; Dirt = Phantom Canyon Road and Shelf Road; 4-wheel drive and high clearance recommended when wet, but is passable by 2-wheel drive in lower gear when dry.
Round-trip from Denver: 413 miles
Length of Byway: 131 miles
Vehicle types: Car, 4×4; dual sport
Elevation change: 4662 to 9,350 feet above sea level
Location: South Central Colorado

Cripple Creek

Base camp is what I called this wonderfully eclectic hamlet.  We made it just in time for the annual Cripple Creek cemetery walks guided by artists, actors and actresses of the area all dressed in period garb. I loved it!

Unfortunately, my friend and I weren’t in Cripple Creek for the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery Tour, we were there to drive the Gold Belt Tour…crossing fingers. I say “crossing fingers,” because I wasn’t sure that my little ol’ 2-wheel drive Pontiac Vibe was up to the task of traversing a so-called 4×4 road, ie. Shelf Road. I thought I’d give it the ‘old college try’, though. I guess that’s a better way than explaining the technical aspects of driving a road that’s marked 4-wheel drive only by taking a front-wheel drive only car on it. I figured I’d drive as far as I thought I could handle it, er the “car could handle it” before turning around and heading back to ‘base camp’.

Backin’ It Up

Allow me to back this blog up a bit and fill you all in on the details before I get into the real fun…driving the byway.

I recruited the companionship of my co-worker and friend again for this byway tour. I knew she would be up for it, since she had so much fun on the Flattops Trail earlier in the summer. This time around, instead of wildflowers, we were hoping to get a glimpse of some of Colorado’s famous gold…um, aspen gold that is. And what better place to view some gold than smack dab in the middle of Colorado’s still running gold mine – CCnV. Well actually, we didn’t exactly try to descend into this particular mine to view aspen, but we did drive the roads that the miners use.

My friend and I decided that the last day of summer and the first day of fall would be prime time to not only view the changing aspen leaves, but also to celebrate the seasons. So, I booked us a room at the Hotel St. Nicholas and we left in the morning from Colorado Springs to drive the first part of the Gold Belt Tour Byway.

Gold Belt Tour Bywaywelcome_cripple-creek_092113-72

This particular byway needs a little bit of explanation, because it is actually four different roads that converge on the gold mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor. Two of the roads, Phantom Canyon Road and Shelf Road are dirt roads. As I had discovered with all the research I did in advance of this tour, Shelf Road actually requires 4-wheel drive to travel this leg of the byway. As I dug a little further on the Internet and read some reviews of these roads, I discovered that some people also had enough chutzpah to attempt to drive Shelf Road in their 2-wheel drive vehicles. But…we all know that what people say on the Internet cannot be true…oh wait…strike that. Of course, I took it with a grain of salt, which is why my friend and I decided that if the road seemed really bad, we would turn around and come back to it when we actually were driving a 4×4.

Phantom Canyon Roadvicki-on-cliff_092113-72

The morning started out wonderfully sunny and with a hot cup of coffee in hand, my friend and I were off on our jaunt westward into the mountains of Pikes Peak country. After we stopped at the visitor center in Cripple Creek to get a map of the Gold Belt Tour and learned a little bit about the roads, we were off on our journey to find the start of Phantom Canyon Road in Victor. What we learned at the visitor center was that it was advised that we drive both Phantom Canyon Road and Shelf Road from the north to the south, since drivers coming in the opposite direction have to make room for cars by hugging the edge of the road which sometimes plunges downward sharply several hundred feet.

Finding Phantom Canyon Road was a bit tricky though, because there really isn’t a clear sign with an arrow pointing, “This way to Phantom Canyon Road.” After a couple of U-turns, we finally settled on a dirt road on the northern edge of town which split off to a local lake and recreation area. We opted for the right leg of this split and were quickly relieved to find that we were on the correct road after we noticed the road number sign on the side of the road.

This road begins by meandering through some pasture and forested land, but as you round a bend in the road, the hillside drops off into a deep canyon. The road itself also narrows a bit at this point and stays that way for most of the rest of the journey as it travels along a days gone by narrow gauge railroad bed. The canyon is named ‘phantom’ canyon because the tall conical-shaped rocks dotted throughout the canyon tend to cast phantom-like shadows along the canyon walls as the sun is setting or rising.  A few features of this canyon also include two old railroad tunnels which are wide enough for a car to drive through and a balanced rock which sits atop a Cliffside of about 100 feet.

Connecting Roadsflorence_rr_092213-72

On the southern end of Phantom Canyon Road along the byway, sits the town of Florence. We stopped close to Main Street and visited the town museum which sits a block away from the Denver and Rio Grande train station. After leaving, we followed the byway through Canon City where we stopped again by the correctional facility. Yep, I said correctional facility. The Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility sits on the western end of town, right along the main thoroughfare…highway 50. As you round the bend of highway 50, you have to pay attention to the road sign which points you to the infamous Skyline Drive if you want to catch a glimpse of millions of years old dinosaur footprints along an ancient rock outcropping.

Skyline Drive not only features these newly discovered dinosaur footprints, but it is a one-lane road which traverses the top of what is called a hogback. These geologic features can be found up and down the Colorado eastern Front Range. The only one with a road that travels along its crest is the one at the western end of Canon City. Driving along this road not only provides you with breathtaking views, but a chance to see prehistoric history up close and personal. There are a few pullouts along this drive which make it easy to take in the beauty of the landscape.

High Park Roadold_ranch_high_park_092113-72

After enjoying the views atop Skyline Drive, we continued our adventure along the Gold Belt Byway by heading north along High Park Road. As a side note, this road is fun to ride on a sport bike as well. But, this time, we drove the road in my lil ol’ Pontiac Vibe. All along this part of the byway, you pass mountain park land and historic ranches. One old ranch we passed as we took a turn northward had a particular draw for us, so I pulled over and waited for the sun to come out from behind some clouds to capture what I was seeing.

Teller County Road One

When you come to the end of High Park Road, it splits off into Teller County Road One at Evergreen Station.  This two-lane paved road is the first stage route to Cripple Creek and is quite twisty and it winds through the mountainous terrain with its huge rock outcroppings jutting out between pine and aspen trees.

Cripple Creek

As we crested the last hill on the northwest side of Cripple Creek, I noticed the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery to the right where the cemetery walks would take place again on Sunday. Since my friend and I were keen on getting checked in to our hotel and taking advantage of the rooftop hot tub during the sunset, we chose to not stop anywhere until Hotel St. Nicholas. This particular hotel has quite the history, since it was first built as the areas general hospital in the late 1800s during the height of the Gold Rush.  It is also considered to be haunted, which made our choice of lodging just a tad adventurous as well.

Although we did not have any ghostly encounters at the hotel, we did enjoy a spectacular sunset from the rooftop hot tub as well as one heck of a sunrise. Our room was located next to the hot tub area and faced west, so although the sun did not stream into the room in the morning, our western view gave us quite the mountain view vantage point as the sun’s morning rays slowly touched the mountain tops of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.donkey_smiles_cc_092113-72

Remember what I said about this town being quite the eclectic hamlet? Well, after we had breakfast at the hotel, we also had our Cripple Creek donkey encounter. That’s right, I said donkey encounter. Since this area is the sight of the world’s largest gold camp, it only makes sense that some of the descendants of the donkeys used to haul supplies more than one hundred years ago in this area would still be roaming the hills. As a matter of fact, these particular donkeys are allowed to roam free throughout town because of their significance in the history of the area. Not only that, but the town holds an annual Donkey Derby Days to help raise funds to feed and care for these animals throughout the year.

Shelf Road

After hanging out with the donkey heard and stopping off at the Cripple Creek Museum to chat with the locals who were dressed in period garb for the cemetery tours, we made our way to the southern end of town to find the start of the last leg of our byway tour: Shelf Road. At first glance, this road looks like any other dirt road. It did not look like any of the 4×4 jeep roads I had been on in the summer with my hubby. Jeep roads tend to have rocks and boulders jutting out in the middle of the road, making it impossible for any vehicle except one with high clearance and low to mid-range torque to traverse it. I did not let the looks of the road get me overly confident though, because the area had also suffered from the same flooding rains that wiped out many roads in northern Colorado the week before. So, I took it slow and easy.shelf_vibe1_092213-72

After about the first mile, I noticed that this road had a pretty fast descent from the Cripple Creek area. When we stopped to take some photos, we also had a different vantage point of the CCnV mine which showed us the huge gash in the mountain side that it had taken in order to extract gold. Both my friend and I were in agreement as we continued downward that if I came upon any area that I did not feel comfortable in trying to pass, then I would turn around and go back. As we drove, we came upon a couple on two ATVs heading in the opposite direction. The husband signaled for me to roll down my window and then asked me if I had been on this road before. I told him it was my first time and he said that the road below had been washed out in several places because of the rain. My friend and I looked at each other and again, we agreed that if I didn’t think we could make it, then I would turn around. So, I thanked the husband and we kept on going.

Before we got to the washout area, I imagined that there was a huge gash in the road which was only passable by ATVs, or a high clearance jeep. In my mind, I was picturing a jeep with big tires slowly inching down the gash, crossing a creek bed and then slowly going up the other side. At one point, just before a few technical hairpins in the road, I pulled over and looked down the canyon to see if I could see where the road went. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see anything, so again, I looked at my friend and said to her that I wanted to see what was down there and was thinking that if there was a wide enough area in the road and needed to turn back, then I would. Heck, I figured I could even drive backward if in dire need.

Again, we got back into my lil ol’ Vibe and continued downward as the road cut back and forth along the hairpins, it quickly descended as well and tightened up considerably. Then as we rounded a bend, I came upon the first washout area. To my surprise, this washout had already been filled in with softball sized rocks. As it turns out, this road is driven by many of the miners who work at CCnV and live in Canon City and it is the quickest route to and from the mine. So…of course the washouts were going to be filled in, albeit rough, it wasn’t that hard for my lil ol’ Vibe to slowly cross the rocks. While the Vibe is an automatic, it has manual 5-speed shifting as well, so I placed it into first gear before crossing. Still, I expected that somewhere down the road, within a mile or so that I would come across a part of the road which my car would not be able to deal with. To my surprise and delight, we just crossed the roughest part of the road and a few miles later, it smoothed out and became as easy to travel as Phantom Canyon Road was the day before.

The Shelf

As we continued southward along the road, we came upon a sign which notifies drivers that the road narrows as it travels along the shelf and that only 4-wheel drives were advisable along this area. Again, I thought about it for maybe a second, but since we had come across a few 2-wheel drive cars going in the opposite direction, that thought was only fleeting. As we began traversing the shelf, we noticed that there were quite a few places along this one-lane road which you could pull out and turn around if necessary, as well as pull over and wait for oncoming traffic. More importantly though, were the views from this part of the road. Since we were on a shelf, it’s exactly as it sounds. This shelf is about two-thirds of the way up along a canyon wall. The drop-offs in some spots were drastic, but not as bad as other roads that I have been on, so I wasn’t worried at all. Although a sign warns of not stopping along the road, we stopped a few times to take pictures and take in the views which were quite spectacular. Traffic was non-existent at the time, anyway. After leaving the shelf, the road becomes paved again and the area opens up to ranch land surrounded by hillsides.

Last Stopshelf_road_red-canyon-pinnacles_092213-72

There’s one more unique feature along this byway: Red Canyon Park. This area is characterized by the same type of red rock feature you find in Garden of the Gods, but on a smaller scale. Another difference is that the red sandstone in this area is a very deep red. The only thing I did not like about this park was that the dirt road into the park had become severely rutted because of the rains from the week before. The fact that no maintenance seemed to have been done along this road was a tad disheartening. We did not go too far along this road because driving it was a whole lot worse than driving Shelf Road.

Final Impressions

I was ecstatic that we were able to drive the full length of the Gold Belt Byway. Knowing that using a bit of caution and my car’s technical abilities, we could still drive along a road that warns drivers to use 4-wheel drive gave me a bit of a big head. One thing I would like to mention is that I probably would not have attempted this drive if it had been raining. I think mud would have been my car’s limit on the steep climbs along the route. Scenery and views of the Gold Belt Byway are top-notch, as well. My only regret is that we were not able to capture any aspen leaves in full color-changing mode. Many of the groves of aspen in the Cripple Creek area were still deeply green. So, it goes without saying…but, I will be back here again.


Byway #22 – Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway Tour by Sport Bike, Auto and 4 x 4 – Frontier Pathways

Frontier Pathways Byway SignRoad:   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.pueblo-park-sign-090113-72



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.


Beckwith Ranch

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.

Bishop’s Castle

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.

A Fall Color Explosion

…coming soon to a Colorado Rockies road near you!


  • Flattops Trail
  • Muddy Pass
  • Castle Creek Road
  • Owl Creek Pass
  • …and Last Dollar Road

The first day of autumn is Sunday, September 22.

Are you one of those Colorado drive-by fall color shooters? Have you been dreaming of lying in a bed of freshly fallen golden aspen leaves amongst tall white bark covered old-growth aspen while gazing into the deep Colorado blue sky and shooting photos of colorful quaking aspen leaves? Well stick around, because these roads are just waiting to take you into that full aspen changing immersion experience.

The amount of old growth aspen is what will take your breath away along these routes. Large, straight and sturdy white trunks reach up endlessly into the Colorado blue sky with outstretched branches full of green leaves in the summer just waiting to burst forth with color in the fall. Stop anywhere along the road and within a few steps, you will be completely surrounded by these beautiful stately and colorful giants in the fall.

This year’s Technicolor cast includes:

  1. Owl Creek Pass
  2. Flattops Trail
  3. Last Dollar Road
  4. Castle Creek Road
  5. Buzzard-Muddy Divide

Owl Creek Pass


Location: Southwestern Colorado; between Ouray and Blue Mesa Reservoir

Nearby Byways: Alpine Loop, San Juan Skyway, West Elk Loop


From Denver

  • Hwy285 south to the Hwy50 junction
  • Hwy50 west to the Cimarron Road turnoff going south; aka Road P77
  • The road numbers change from P77, to 858, 860 and then Road 8 which takes you over Owl Creek Pass and connects to Ridgway State Park.

From Grand Junction

  • Hwy50 south to the Hwy550 junction in Montrose
  • Hwy550 south to the Owl Creek Pass (Road 8) turnoff on the opposite side of Ridgway State Park
  • Follow the above directions (from Denver) in reverse

Road Conditions: this is a dirt road passable by 2-wheel drive car. The last leg of this road, closer to Ridgway, gets a bit tight and bumpy, but not impassable by 2-wheel drive. Along this road are tall old growth aspen with a good smattering of pine mixed in. Stop along the higher elevations for a glimpse of the red sandstone cliffs which are prevalent in this part of Colorado for a beautiful backdrop to a golden aspen colored photo.


On the cheap –

On a budget with a bed –

Full luxury experience –

For a bit of history

Map: Owl Creek Pass


Flattops Trail


Location: Northwestern Colorado; between Steamboat Springs and Meeker

Nearby Byways: the Flattops Trail is a Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway


From Denver

  • I-70 west to Hwy131
  • Hwy131 north to the town of Yampa
  • West on Rcr 17 on the north side of Yampa to the Rcr 132 junction
  • West on Rcr 132 also known as the Flattops Trail Scenic Byway which becomes Road 8 all the way to Meeker

From Grand Junction

  • I-70 east to the Rifle turnoff and Road 13 going north
  • North on Road 13 to Meeker
  • Follow the above directions (from Denver) in reverse

Road Conditions: the Flattops Trail is a dirt road with loose gravel in some spots and hard packed dirt in others. This road is 2-wheel drive passable. None of the road is tight and all of it is completely scenic with places along the route to take a side road to a lake, or stop and gaze along one of the passes – Dunckley and Ripple Creek.


Because the Flattops Trail runs along the Flattops Wilderness area, there are no campsites along the route. Wilderness camping permits are needed for rough-in camping.

On the cheap –

On a budget with a bed –

Full luxury experience –

For a bit of history –

Map: Flattops Trail


Last Dollar Road


Location: Southwest Colorado; between Ridgway and Telluride

Nearby Byways: San Juan Skyway


From Denver

  • Hwy285 south to the Hwy50 junction
  • Hwy50 west to Montrose and the Hwy550 junction
  • Hwy550 south to Ridgway and the Hwy62 junction
  • Hwy62 west to the Last Dollar Road turnoff (aka 58P Road)
  • South on Last Dollar Road to the Hwy145 junction and the town of Sawpit

From Grand Junction

  • Hwy50 south to Montrose and the Hwy550 junction
  • Hwy550 south to Ridgway and the Hwy62 junction
  • Hwy62 west to the Last Dollar Road turnoff (aka 58P Road)
  • South on Last Dollar Road to the Hwy145 junction and the town of Sawpit

Road Conditions: Last Dollar Road is a dirt road which is passable by 2-wheel drive car. The road is closed in the winter months from January to May. If the road is wet, it may not be passable by 2-wheel drive, though. Views of Dallas Divide and the San Juans are breathtaking and well worth the trip.


On the cheap –

On a budget with a bed –

Full luxury experience –

For a bit of history –

Map: Last Dollar Road


Castle Creek Road


Location: South Central Colorado; on the western edge of Aspen

Nearby Byways: Top of the Rockies


From Denver

  • I-70 west to Glenwood Springs
  • Hwy82 south to the Castle Creek Road turn-off in the west Aspen round-about
  • Head south on Castle Creek Road until you come to the historic site of Ashcroft – your first stop
  • Two miles from Ashcroft, the road dead ends at a huge meadow which is surrounded by aspen and pine-covered hills

From Grand Junction

  • I-70 east to Glenwood Springs
  • The same directions as above from Glenwood

Road Conditions: Castle Creek Road is paved to the end. From the end of the road, you can opt to take a 4-wheel drive road to Montezuma Basin.


On the cheap –

On a budget with a bed –

Full luxury experience –

For a bit of history –

Map: Castle Creek Road


Muddy-Buzzard Divide


Location: South Central and Western Colorado; in between Carbondale and Grand Junction

Nearby Byways: West Elk Loop and Grand Mesa byways


From Denver

  • I-70 west to Glenwood Springs
  • Hwy82 south to the Hwy133 junction at Carbondale
  • Hwy133 west to a few miles past McClure Pass
  • Right, or west onto FR 265
  • Stay on FR 265 past the Dominguez & Escalante West Muddy Campsite
  • FR 265 is marked as 71 and 4/10 on the west end which connects with Hwy330
  • At the Hwy330 junction, you can take a left and head west toward Colbran and eventually Grand Junction, or take a right and head east toward I-70 and Silt.

From Grand Junction

  • I-70 east to the Hwy65 junction
  • Hwy65 east to the Hwy330 junction heading east to Colbran
  • Hwy330 east through Colbran – pay attention to road signs along the way and turn off at the 71 and 4/10 road. You should also see a national forest sign along this road marking it as the Grand Mesa National Forest.
  • Follow the above directions in reverse to arrive at Hwy133

Road Conditions: This road is a forest service road and is therefore a dirt road, but is completely passable by 2-wheel drive car.


On the cheap –

On a budget with a bed –

Luxury cabin rentals on a budget –

Full luxury experience –

For a bit of history –

  • Redstone Inn in Redstone between Carbondale and McClure Pass

Map: Muddy-Buzzard Divide



Byway #20 – Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway Tour by Sport Bike, Auto and 4 x 4 – Top of the Rockies


Road: Paved; Twisty in quite a few spots
Round-trip from Denver: 560 miles
Length of Byway: 115 miles
Vehicle types: car, motorcycle, 4×4 and OHV trails in designated areas
Elevation change: 7861 to 12,096 feet above sea level
Location: South Central Colorado

Time to break out the Zed!

My 750cc, naked standard 2006 Kawasaki Z750 street-fighting machine…grunt!

Ok, ok…so I’m not Tim the Toolman Taylor, but this particular byway deserved to be ridden in the right kind of style…motorcycle style, that is.

And this particular byway deserved to be enjoyed over the span of two days, as well. Why? Well, because I was on a two-pronged mission: the first part was to complete the byway without rushing through and the second part was to capture the summer version of a scene in which I already had three other season shots. Yeah, that’s kind of cryptic, but this area is just outside of Aspen and is not the Maroon Bells, but just as beautiful. It is at the western end of the Top of the Rockies Byway and is at the end of Castle Creek Road.

montezuma-1_070713-72Mountain riding

I met my riding buddy and friend, Jen, early on Saturday, July 6th. I wanted to get to the start of the byway at Copper Mountain as quickly as possible, but not along the main highway (I-70), so we took a different route that took us over Kenosha and Hoosier Passes. I was happy to be riding with Jen, since I hadn’t seen her for several years. Turns out, she had traded in her Honda 600 for a Kawasaki Z1000 (my bike’s big brother).

After getting over both Kenosha and Hoosier Passes, we realized that the mountain pass temperatures were a bit cooler than we had expected, so instead of heading over the next few passes with my teeth chattering, I made a b-line for the closest/cheapest store in Frisco (Walmart). I found a long-sleeved shirt that would fit nicely over my t-shirt and we were off again, heading west toward Copper Mountain.

Byway start

The northeastern start of the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway is at Copper Mountain and yes, this is a ski resort, but there are still tons of things to do here in the summer. Jen happened to mention one of the summer activities when she noticed a golf course where she normally sees what she calls a ‘snow meadow’ in the winter.

copper-mtn_070613-72One thing I like about this leg of the journey as far as being on a motorcycle is concerned is the fact that when you come to a tough hill climb after passing Copper Mountain, the road widens out with a passing lane. This is especially good for people who ride a motorcycle with a tad bit more get-up-n-go than the typical 4-wheeled vehicle.

At one point along this byway, you come across an area that had at one time been flooded but is now a huge open meadow area. This area used to be a valley, but the Climax mining operations had sent its tailings into the area closing up the valley floor. Now, with EPA enforcements, the area is slowly being turned into a wide open meadow area and you can see plants returning.


Zed_and_Zed_Climax_070613-72After topping off at Fremont Pass, you head down into a high mountain valley before going uphill again and enter into Leadville. Here is where Jen and I dismounted our trusty steeds and took a short walk up and down this high country small town’s main street looking for a nice place to feed our growling tummies. After being turned around at Leadville’s Legendary Saloon, we found a nice little place across the street to have a bite to eat. Oh and yes, that Great Dane in the saloon picture really is sitting in his owner’s lap.

saloon_Leadville_070613-72Next stop, 10th Mtn Division Memorial and Camp Hale

It still amazes me how much history Colorado holds even though this state was established in 1876, well after the pilgrims began to journey here from across the pond. Our next stop was along the 10th Mountain Division Memorial Highway at the memorial wall. There, you can find out how soldiers trained to do battle in the mountainous regions of Europe. There’s also a huge granite memorial wall listing the lives that were lost during World War II.

10th Mtn Division Memorial.
10th Mtn Division Memorial.

Further down the road is the base camp for this division, Camp Hale, which was located in the Pando Valley. All that remains though, are barely visible lines cutting length and width wise along the valley floor. There are only a few concrete structures left standing now and most of this valley is used for recreation and ATV trails.

I would be remiss to not mention Redcliffe, or actually the bridge at Redcliffe which is one of my favorite spots in Colorado. During any time of the year, when the lighting is just right, you can capture some amazing images and not just from down below the bridge which is where I tend to end up with the Zed and my camera more often than not.

Pando Valley, Camp Hale.
Pando Valley, Camp Hale.
Redcliffe bridge.
Redcliffe bridge.

Time to move along

After Redcliffe, you wind your way up the side of the mountain and then down again and into the town of Minturn. This town is the last stop along the northern edge of the byway, which takes you out to the main highway, I-70. At this point, we were about 40 some odd miles and one canyon away from our destination. For you 2-wheeled enthusiasts, this canyon is definitely interesting as you can glide through the canyon without having to touch your breaks, as many auto and truck drivers are cautioned to do at many of the tight curves. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then take a look at The Pace. It’s a really good read and explains how any motorcyclist can enjoy all types of curves from wide sweeping, to very tight without the need to rush along the straight only to hit your breaks hard before a corner.

In for the night

When Jen and I made it to our destination, Brettelberg Condos, I was quite pleased with the look of our studio-sized two-bed place. It not only had a full kitchen, but it had two doors, one leading out to the main hallway and the other leading out to a roof-top deck which had a very nice view of the Sunlight ski area and valley. And…we got off-season rates, so the price was below $100; split between the two of us was perfect for my pocket-book. The only thing missing was a restaurant close by. And while it looked like there was a restaurant in the ski area, we chose to head back into town about 11 miles and stopped at a Safeway to conjure up a good dinner at the deli. Back at the condo, we put our meals together and sat out on the roof-top deck to take in the peace and quiet and the fresh air.

Morning, Castle Creek, Aspen, Independence Pass and Twin Lakes

I have to share because this was awesome to wake up to…

Morning in Sunlight.
Morning in Sunlight.

After eating breakfast which consisted of coffee, fresh fruit and a granola bar, Jen and I hit the trail again and headed toward Aspen and the other prong of the Top of the Rockies byway. Before getting into Aspen itself though, I wanted to take my summer shot of the basin that rises above the meadow at the end of Castle Creek Road. I have to say this, but before even getting to that meadow, Jen and I had our breath taken away about two miles down the road. The road itself passes by Ashcroft, which is a ghost town maintained by the Aspen Historical Society. This town is on the edge of a small aspen forest and past that forest, the road rises slightly and crests over a wide-open hill. At this point, where the landscape opens up, the hills were covered in not only sage, but a ton of high country wildflowers. Everything from mountain sunflowers, to Indian Paintbrush were covering the hillside. Both Jen and I had the same idea…we had to stop here before riding in to Aspen. I think though, that my summer shot (in my mind) pales in comparison to that flower-covered treasure we had found.

Along Castle Creek Road
Along Castle Creek Road

Aspen is always a treat for many reasons. Today, Jen treated me to lunch at Mezzaluna and I treated her to desert at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. I also picked up some Tiger Butter for my girls since this has always been their favorite treat from this delightful chocolate shop.

Walking around the downtown area of Aspen, Jen had a hard time keeping herself from wanting to peruse the various shops. The fun part about walking in this area is that it’s an outdoor mall with cobblestone sidewalks, a fountain, a park, an outdoor bar and the ski slopes only two blocks away. The people-watching and Victorian architecture in such a varied outdoor setting is enjoyment enough.

After our downtown Aspen jaunt, we were on our way again. At this point, the byway leads you up the road over Independence Pass. The amazing thing to me about this part of our ride was that it seemed that the whole world had come out to play. All along the road just east of Aspen, people had parked and were playing along the river with their rafts, canoes and playing in the water. There was almost no room to ride by with all the cars and trucks parked alongside the road. I know it had something to do with the fact that this was the end of the 4th of July week and tons of people were on vacation.

When we arrived at the top of Independence Pass, I noticed a huge group of motorcyclists and this group seemed to be from all around the world. Must’ve been a tour group, which is pretty cool. Jen and I posed at the sign while one of the tour members took our photo. We gazed at the scenery for a while and then headed down the other side of the pass.

Our last stop was the historic area of Twin Lakes. Back in the 1800s, people had populated the area upon rumors of gold and silver. Back then, the town was called Dayton. In 1885, it was considered a nice resort town and was mentioned in Crofutt’s Grip-sack Guide of Colorado as “…the most charming summer Resort in Colorado.” Interpretive signs around the historical Twin Lakes area tell the tales of over one hundred years ago. I still need to get across the lakes to see the famed Interlaken; the resort hotel built in 1890 which still graces the southern shore.

twin_lakes_070713-72Riding home

After leaving Twin Lakes, the byway heads eastward toward the Hwy82 and Hwy24 junction while skirting along the northern shores of the Twin Lakes area. It was good to see the lakes full of water considering how bad the drought has been in Colorado. I knew that the water would be drained quickly to meet the demands of thirsty towns, but it still felt good to see the lakes so full.

When we arrived at the junction, Jen and I decided to head southward to Buena Vista which is away from the connecting piece of the byway that goes northward along the Arkansas River headwaters and recreation area before coming to the southern edge of Leadville. Since we did not want to ride along the big highway (I-70) on the north side of Leadville (and struggle in heavy Sunday afternoon traffic), we stayed in the mountains a little longer, by taking a two-lane highway back in to the city (Hwy285). I wanted to note this because this part of the ride was the most harrowing portion of our ride with the late afternoon mountain storms that frequent the Colorado Mountains in summertime. We not only rode through one rain shower, but two rain showers, and one of them had a little bit of hail in it. I was so determined to get home that evening though, I forged ahead, leaning up against my bike’s gas tank and drifting about 100 feet behind the vehicle in front of me (keeping its tail lights in view). I pretty much placed my body on cruise control and endured the pelting. I knew Jen was probably feeling the pain, but both of us were prepared with our rain gear, so we stayed dry for the most part.

The best part of riding this byway without a doubt was sharing in the wonder of another rocky mountain newbie. While Jen has been skiing in several of the places we passed through, she had not driven along the roads that we took over all of the mountains passes on our byway ride.