We eschewed the interstates today in favor of scenic state route and U.S. highway driving.
Our route took us up CO-17 up to US-285, following the Sangre de Cristo mountains and San Luis Creek. We drove across relatively flat grasslands but were flanked by mountains to the east and west.
We took a detour into Salida, which is a mecca for kayakers who want to enjoy the Arkansas River. It is the heart of Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, which is a long, thin state recreation area that follows the river. It’s also a really cute community. If I ever learn to really kayak, I’ll have to come back here.
From there, we followed the Arkansas River north to Leadville. On the way, we passed several fourteen-thousand-foot peaks, including the Collegiate Peaks (so named because they include such peaks as Mt. Harvard, Mt. Yale, and Mt. Princeton).
We didn’t really have any purpose for being in Leadville, so we ultimately headed east of town for a picnic lunch at Turquoise Lake.
Then came the exciting part of the drive. We headed west on CO-82, passing the highest peak in Colorado, Mt. Elbert. Standing at 14,440, Elbert is the second-highest point in the lower 48 states. (The highest is Mt. Whitney in the Sierras in California, standing at 14,505.) The drive up was just beautiful – following a river valley and winding up the mountains. After a steep climb, we arrived at Independence Pass, at an elevation of 12,093 feet. We stopped and took some photos, admired the view (there was still a bit of snow up there), and breathed in the chilly, thin air.
The way down was a little more harrowing. The road was incredibly narrow at points, and was very winding. It was pretty – following the Roaring Fork River, but the driver doesn’t have much opportunity to admire the view because all focus must be on avoiding collisions with other cars or with the side of the mountain.