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.
Crested Butte to Gothic
A 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.
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 mines dot the hillsides – Nevadaville, Apex, Russell Gulch, American City.
Ohio Pass - Gunnison to Crested Butte
The 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.
Image these aspen in their golden glory.
More posts on Colorado Fall Color:
Gunnison to Crested Butte
The 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. 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.
**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.
Boreas Pass – Breckenridge to Como
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. 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.
Crested Butte to Gothic
A 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. 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 swear 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.
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 and 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.
Denver to Buena Vista
September 18, 2009
Heading west out of the Denver area on US285 we see only tinges of fall colors –hints of things to come. About five miles east of Bailey we begin to see groupings of small aspen dressed in their autumnal gold. West of Bailey we note that some of the willows along the river banks seem to be shedding their foliage without reaching peak color, their leaves a dull ochre.
As we ascend Kenosha Pass color intensifies, especially the last four miles to the summit. Thick dark storm clouds are gathering to the north so the light isn’t ideal but the large number of aspen near the top of the pass have mostly transform to a wave of yellow. Color worth the drive. The Colorado Trail crosses the highway at this location, very popular with hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.
We made a quick stop in Como to snap a few roundhouse photos even though the approaching rain created poor lighting. Color in Como consists of old homes brightly painted in shades of blue, salmon and house, outhouse and birdhouse in matching canary yellow. I’m amused at the sign pointing to “Downtown Como.”
Crossing South Park towards Fairplay the grasses and scrubs give off as much color as the aspen. The thick aspen groves on the slopes east of Red Hill Pass have just begun their transformation. Good color around Fairplay, however as US285 turns southward the trees on the eastern side of the Mosquito Range are still in summer green.
Trout Creek Pass and the remaining miles into Buena Vista sport only a smattering of aspen.
***Road Delay Alert – US285/24 between Antero Junction and Johnson Village is in the final stages of being resurfaced. Signs say, “Expect 15-minute delay;” and, we did wait about 20 for our turn along a one-lane stretch. The project has only a few segments remaining but for the next few days you may have to wait patiently.