Monthly Archives: September 2009

Searching for Colorado Fall Color

Colorado Color – Off the Beaten Path

 

While steady streams of gawkers admire Colorado’s fall colors from busy highways those willing to eat a little dust and dodge a few potholes discover even greater rewards. I share a few favorite, off-the-beaten path roads around the state. 

  • Boreas Pass – Breckenridge to ComoAspen Trees 08

    Narrow gauge trains once puffed across the Continental Divide at Boreas Pass – named after the Greek god of the north wind. Today the old railroad bed provides a gentle grade for automobile traffic.

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  • Crested Butte to Gothic     

    Curving Gothic Road Thru AspenA short but always rewarding side  trip to a Crested Butte visit. “The Butte” isn’t exactly a place you stumble upon, you get there on purpose. And, some choose to never leave. A former ghost town, Gothic is now headquarters of the Rocky Biological Laboratory, a high altitude environmental research field station.

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    • Old Mining Roads Above Central City

      Prospectors rushed to the area 150 years ago when gold was discovered in Gregory Gulch. Central City soon became a supply and cultural center – nearly designated as the state capital. The remains of old mining camps and abandoned Mount Baldy Cemetery in Fallmines dot the hillsides – Nevadaville, Apex, Russell Gulch, American City.

     

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    • Ohio Pass -  Gunnison to Crested Butte 

      Ohio Pass - PeakThe most colorful autumn route between Gunnison and Crested Butte is  the Ohio Pass Road. Not the most direct, fastest or smoothest but without a doubt the most vibrant.

     

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    • Last Dollar Road – Dallas Divide to Telluride

      I almost hate to share this personal remote treasure. Bob first took the family down this road three decades ago in our International Scout. Rough, rutted and ungraded – 4WD is definitely advised even thought I did drive it once in a Honda Accord. I had to buy Bob a much needed….

      Last Dollar Road Aspen 

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                                  Image these aspen in their golden glory. 

     

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  • Colorado Fall Color – Ohio Pass

    Ohio Pass

    Gunnison to Crested Butte

    The most colorful autumn route between Gunnison and Crested Butte is Ohio Pass - Peak the Ohio Pass Road. Not the most direct, fastest or smoothest but without a doubt the most vibrant. North of Gunnison the road follows the Ohio Creek Valley – hay fields, cattle ranches and more recently built ranchette homes. Aged willows grow close to the creek. Stacks of large hay rolls promise feed for livestock during the coming winter. At approximately fifteen miles deserted, decaying structures are all that remains of Baldwin, once a company town for one of the region’s largest coal mines. Peaks of the West Elk Wilderness and The Castles –  eroded volcanic remains – rise to the west. The further along the road we travel the thicker the aspen – area has been blessed an abundance of the quaking trees. At 10,076 –ft, Ohio Pass is not above timberline; near the top, dense growths of ferns carpet the forest floor. This is also a great drive during wildflower season.

    Ohio Pass - The Castles**Photography Note –Sept. 20,2009 -In the hour we spent driving Ohio Pass Road this morning we had everything from thick low-hanging clouds, bright blue sky, rain and rainbows. There are a lot of aspen yet to change along this route.

      • The Route – Drive north of Gunnison on CO135, after mile marker 3 watch for “Ohio Creek Road” signs, turn  left (Forest Road 730). The road is 23.5 miles to the intersection  with the Kebler Pass Road. the first eight miles are paved, the remainder gravel/dirt. Some sources list this as a jeep or 4WD road. I disagree, I believe it’s appropriate for automobiles except for extremely low clearance vehicles. (Drove this road 9/20/2009, saw no reason 4WD would be required.) Large RVs and boat trailers are not advised on the narrow portion near the top of the pass. At Kebler Pass Road, turn right on County Road 12 for the six mile drive into Crested Butte.      

    Colorado Fall Color – Boreas Pass

    Boreas Pass – Breckenridge to Como

    Narrow gauge traAspen Trees 08ins once puffed across the Continental Divide at Boreas Pass – named after the Greek god of the north wind. Today the old railroad bed provides a gentle grade for automobile traffic. Although bumpy in spots with random potholes 4WD is not required. Plenty of aspen and panorama views of the Ten Mile Range and Breckenridge to the northwest and South Park to the southeast make the drive a popular autumn destination. An interpretive site atop the pass includes  the section house, “Ken’s” cabin, stone rubble of the original engine house and a boxcar. Even on a clear sunny day you’ll probably be reminded of the Greek god – Boreas.       

                           

                                                                            

    • The Route – From CO 9 on the southern edge of Breckenridge turn east on Boreas Pass Road – County Road 10. You may want to stop at Rotary Snowplow Park to examine the massive 108-ton machine once used to clear railroad tracks. Although the first few miles are are paved most of the road is graded dirt, approximately 10 miles to the summit and another 10 miles down to Como. A semi-circular stone roundhouse recalls the days when Como bustled with railroad and mining activity.

    Colorado Fall Color – Gothic

    Crested Butte to Gothic

     

    A short but always rewarding side  trip to a Crested Butte visit. “The Butte” isn’t exactCurving Gothic Road Thru Aspenly a place you stumble upon, you get there on purpose. And, some choose to never leave. A former ghost town, Gothic is now headquarters of the Rocky Biological Laboratory, a high altitude environmental research field station. In several locations on the road to Gothic aspen line both sides of the road forming an overhead canopy. Slopes across the valley support hearty stands. Be sure to stop and view the East River goosenecking its way downstream. This same area is prolific with blossom during wildflower season. 

    • The Route – From Crested Butte drive north to Mt. Crested Butte, the community built around the ski resort. The paved road ends at the north city limits. I East River Goosenecksswear they never grade the first 100 yards to scare off city slickers. Bob suggests they actually dig holes in that section of road. After you dodge the first potholes the roadbed is generally fairly smooth going. Continue on Gothic Road three miles to the town of Gothic. The forest service road beyond the research station becomes rougher; it is car passable for several more miles but 4WD is necessary to continue up Schofield Pass.

     

     

    ***Warning – The north side of Schofield Pass is extremely dangerous with a history of deadly accidents. Four wheel drive vehicle and experience is essential.

    Aspen Around Cabin - Gothic Road

    Colorado Fall Color – Central City

    Old Mining Roads Above Central City

    Prospectors rushed to the area 150 years ago when gold was discovered in Gregory Gulch. Central City soon became a supply and cultural center – nearly designated as the state capital. The remains of old mining camps and abandoned Mount Baldy Cemetery in Fallmines dot the hillsides – Nevadaville, Apex, Russell Gulch, American City. Although casinos and tourists fill today’s Central City and Blackhawk much history remains in them ther’ hills. Aged tombstones in ten cemeteries relate the burdens and perils settlers faced.

    • The Route

      Central City can be easily accessed by either I-70 and the Central City Parkway or US6 and CO119 through Blackhawk. Many gravel roads such as Nevadaville, Bald Mountain and Upper Apex roads are car passable while many jeep trails wander further off the beaten path.

    Caution: Remains of mines and shafts made the area dangerous for hiking off established roads and trails. Stay safe. Be respectful when visiting historic sites and cemeteries – take nothing, leave no trace.

    Colorado Fall Color – Last Dollar Road

    Last Dollar Road – Dallas Divide to Telluride

     I almost hate to share this personal remote treasure. Bob first took the family down this road three decades ago in our International Scout. Rough, rutted and ungraded – 4WD is definitely advised even thought I did drive it once in a Honda Accord. I had to buy Bob a much needed cold beer by the time we got to Ridgway; he earned a couple that day hefting boulders out of the road to save the undercarriage. On a map, Last Dollar Road looks like a shortcut from Dallas Divide to Telluride; but, don’t count on saving a minute of time. It’s slow going, not only because of road conditions but you’ll want to stop frequently for photos. Aspens abound along the route, their white trunks crowding the edge of the road aLast Dollar Road Aspennd branches forming an overhead canopy. When out of the groves of trees we’re treated to magnificent views of the Sneffels Range and the San Miguel Mountains. Development from the Telluride end has encroached since our first adventure but Last Dollar Road still calls, “Follow the path less traveled.”

                                    

                                                                                               

                                                             

                                                                                Image these aspen in their golden glory.        

    • The Route –  Colorado Highway 62 connects Ridgway and Placerville in Southwestern Colorado. From CO62 turn south off just one mile west of the top of the Dallas Divide. Last Dollar Road curves around the Telluride airport before intersecting with CO145 going into Telluride.

    Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad – Colorado

    Riding the Narrow Gauge Rails

    DSNGR Train Billows of smoke, hissing steam and haunting echoes of the whistle signals the departure of each train out of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad station. Yearly, up to 200,000 passengers board the historic train for the 45-mile scenic journey through the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado.

    Founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1879, Durango continues to  rely on the railroad as a major economic force. The spur to Silverton opened in 1882 carrying freight and passengers to the mining community, returning with over three hundred million dollars in precious metals. Today, after 126 years of continuous operation, tourists are the valuable cargo. Rail buffs from around the world make Durango a prime destination.

    Coal-fired steam engines pull an assortment of vintage rolling stock from city to wilderness. Standard fare riders choose between open-air gondola cars or vintage coaches. A variety of premium classes adds more comfort and amenities for the 3½-hour, one-way journey. The dramatic scenery of rugged peaks, waterfalls, cliffs high above the Animas River and wildlife thrills all passengers. D&SNG Railroad by River

    Legend holds that founder of the Denver & Rio Grande, General William Jackson Palmer, implemented narrow gauge because he wanted to prevent men and women from being able to sleep in the same bed on the train. The narrow cars only had room for single sleeper bunks on each side. With rails set 36 inches apart, compared to 56.5 for standard gauge, narrow gauge was less expensive to build and ideal for mountain terrain with sharper curves, steeper grades and narrow ledges.

    Arrival in Silverton seems a step-back to the days of the Old West. The entire town is a designat06-Silverton Shoped National Historic Landmark reminiscent of a Western movie set; false-front emporiums, ornate Victorian hotels, wagons and stagecoaches traveling the dusty streets. Rail passengers have a two hour lay over, time for lunch and a walk around town. Some choose to overnight in Silverton- allowing time for jeep and mine tours or a high country hike. Reservations can also be made for a one-way rail trip with return by bus, a practical choice for younger children or those unable to devote an entire day to train travel averaging 18 miles-per-hour.