We have circles all over our Colorado map – these being places that would be nice to visit, and we have another list of suggestions from our friend Johan. It is going to take some planning to weave our way past all these incredible destinations. Weather will be another factor. There has been an incredible amount of rain & snow, so I check online to see what roads are closed. Currently Ridge Rd in Rocky Mtn Nat Pk, Pikes Peak, Evans Mtn & Independence Pass are closed. Well that cuts our list down!
John has been researching too & found a great 4x4 road through Phantom Gorge to the old mining town of Cripple Creek. So we head off via a few scenic roads (this time there are too many trees!) When we arrive in Florence a local tells us Phantom Gorge & the Shelf Rd are closed. At the next town – Canon - we check with the police. Yes both roads are closed. We will have to use the main road. On our way we see the third road is open so we head that way. It looks as if it has just been cleared. Cripple Creek is a great town to explore – heaps of old mines. The Heritage Museum is great – way more info than we can possibly absorb. Then head on to the even more amazing Victor. Smaller & less touristy, but we can explore so many more old mines, and even drive up into the new gold mine to have a look down into the massive open cut mine. When a local lady we meet tells us that The Shelf Rd has just reopened, we decide to drive it straight away! So we head off on 16 scary miles at 6pm. First into a canyon, then along a ledge. Guess whose side the drop was on! It is just getting dark as we pull in to the Shelf Recreation area – where the tarseal starts!
Because we have been driving in circles we end up back in Canon. A good place to get a grease & oil change done on GR2. When we finally leave we follow the Arkansas River for miles. Lots of great gorges, some pretty crazy water & lots of rafts & kayaks. We are heading to Independence Pass, which reopened a few days ago. A magic drive up into the snowy mountains to 12,095ft.Then the road drops down to the ritzy town of Aspen. A drive through will suffice for us. It is getting late & we want a spot to camp. We end up beside the Frying pan River – another great spot. (Just a note: we heard that there was an avalanche at Independence Pass that took out a few cars!!!)
Another check on our maps shows that this side road goes right through – so why turn around & go back to the motorway. It soon turns to metal & eventually peters out. There are 3 goat tracks – they look wet & muddy. We turn around, but on our way back see another side road with signs to Eagle, which is out by a main road – decision made – we will head that way. The gate is open & a sign says “Road closed in the wet”. It’s dry, so we carry on. It gets wetter & then snowier!!We plough on, stopping at a gorgeous lake for coffee. Then more snow & slush until finally we reach a LOCKED GATE!! We haven’t seen any other traffic for about 40 km. Fortunately it is only a mile walk to the ranger station at Sylvan Lake to get help. The Forest Service has to be called in to open the gate – our adventure for the day. Eventually we reach the motorway – easy driving for the rest of the day! Stop at the very posh Vail to explore. It reminds us of Whistler – full of resorts, shops & restaurants. Can’t stay here the night so head to the river for the night. Again BLM land.
The day starts cold & gray. We are heading to Rocky Mountain Nat Pk. Hopefully we will be able to see part of it, as the Ridge Rd is closed. But when we finally arrive we discover that it opened yesterday. YAY!!! It is Sunday & there are heaps of cars, but that doesn’t matter. This place is magical – look at my photos. We stop to watch herds of deer, walk numerous tracks (including one lake surrounded by snow) and drive the amazing Ridge Rd through walls of snow. AWESOME.
At the end of the day we exit the park at the very touristy town of Estes Park. Heck, where will we camp. We decide Hotel Walmart will do, so simply head to the nearest one. The GPS takes us through an amazing gorge to Loveland. Tomorrow we are going to see our friends Johan & Anne at their home in Denver. After some chores we head there. We spend 2 nights with them chatting & generally enjoying ourselves. We visit the great Clive Cussler Car Museum not far from their house, and spend a day exploring Boulder & the surrounding scenic countryside. But time to head off – more places to tick off our list. We head to Red Rock Amphitheatre, which Brad visited last year while in Denver & then the huge factory outlet shops (great fun). All good things come to an end – much to John’s relief. On to Colorado Springs to visit Garden of the Gods at sunset. Magic.
Today’s destination is Pikes Peak a world famous hill climb track – John is looking forward to driving the same route as countless racing cars. Only the last mile is not open, which is pretty good – a few days ago it was only open halfway. Needs to be cleared for the race at the end of June! An amazing drive – especially all those hairpins. Back to the main road again – time to head west through more lovely countryside, then a bit of backtracking, and on to Gunnison, with yet another snowy mountain pass.
We find a tire shop in Gunnison that will balance the wheels tomorrow morning. They recommend a great spot for the night – right up in the hills with trekkers, mountain bike riders & dirt bikes. Hartman’s Rock Recreation Reserve – we wouldn’t have found it on our own. Heaps of spots to camp.
Again another cold, gray day. A few more scenic roads to take (these are from Johan’s list) after our visit to the tire shop. We head up Kebler Pass – another dirt road – there was a back route we looked at but it was impassable with snow. Lovely drive, eventually reaching the very European looking ski resort of Mount Crested Butte. We continued along the dirt road to Gothic, which was a mining town but now is a research centre. Retrace our steps & head into the historic town of Crested Butte. Such a pretty place we stay for lunch. The weather turns nasty for the rest of the day as we drive through more mountain passes & on to Glenwood Springs. Finally pull over in Avalanche Creek State Forest for the night – right beside a mine.
Our final day in Colorado today. Head on to Glenwood Springs. Our last “to see” is Hanging Lake, but we decide the rain & walking don’t mix to well. We head onto the motorway. Utah here we come (again)