This was the day the adventure finally came to a end and we returned to reality. No, we are not home yet, but we started the morning in an unknown little mining town in the middle of Colorado, and ended in the bustling city of Denver. We spent the night in a Hampton Inn hotel in the busy city, and we fly back home today. The mood has already shifted.
This was the scene outside our hotel room at Red Cliff in the morning. A light snow had fallen overnight.Off in the distance, the sun was trying to break through.Off to the east, the sun lit up the snow-covered evergreens. This was the direction of Shrine Pass and the road that was not taken. That may remain a dream.We headed up the hill and out of town to get back on to US 24. This road did not seem as narrow as it did to us the previous evening, except at the point where it hit the highway, where they seemed to have had to cut down a little bit of the side of the mountain to create the entrance to the road. There was an overhang that seemed like it would be nasty for tall vehicles.
Then it was back on US 24 East. There was more snow around, but the road had been cleared pretty well by that time, and it had stopped snowing. Nevertheless, one had to be extra careful when driving.We arrived at the town of Leadville and stopped to fill gas. Next to the town were the Sawatch Range of the Rocky mountains. Mt. Massive is the closest high peak, over 14,000 feet.I had selected a route that went through Leadville because I had read about this somewhat less known, and perhaps unremarkable to some, town in a book on running. This is the location of the annual Leadville Trail 100, “The Race Across the Sky”, an ultra-marathon where runners covered 100 miles in the Rocky Mountains. I do not think I am going to do that any time soon!
The town itself had a western feel to it, a feeling that we have gotten very used to during these travels. Outside this little cafe you could hear the kind of music that one might have heard in an old western movie, typically in a saloon. (If I remember correctly this sometimes happened before a gunfight broke out.)I took this picture from the middle of the road. I was ready for a shootout!Here are more pictures of the town.And then we were out of town, driving further south in the shadow of the Rockies.We left the snow behind after we left town. As we drove further south, we saw signs for Mt Harvard, Mt. Yale and Mt. Princeton, all mountains higher than 14,000 feet. What an elitist bunch of folks, the people who named these mountains! These are also called the Collegiate mountains.
The road headed south for a long time, and then turned east just beyond Buena Vista, a somewhat sizable town.
Then we were headed east, on a big plain, on a road that ran straight and true for miles and miles. There were fields beside us with cows and horses, and then we saw some animals that we did not recognize. I think they were some kind of deer.
We climbed out of plains into parkland area. The scenery was still beautiful, but not as compelling as what we had experienced in the last few days. But to somebody who was seeing this after having spent all their lives driving in suburbia, this could also seem remarkable.
We passed a little outpost where I finally stopped to take some pictures of buildings that had a western feel to it. This was not the best we had seen during our travels, but this was perhaps the last time we would see such buildings during the travels.It was when we entered the town of Ute Pass that we knew that we were back in civilization as we have known it all our lives. It was a bigger place with a lot of people, a lot of commercial buildings typical of suburbia around us, and names of stores familiar to us.
Shortly out of town, we arrived at the start of Pikes Peak highway. There were already lines forming to pay the fees and enter. You have to drive about 20 miles to get to the top. This picture was taken at mile 10 where we decided to stop for some lunch. We might have sat at the picnic benches had it not been for the description they had at the place for black bears. We ate in the car. You can see the top of Pikes Peak towards the left side of the picture.We left the forest of evergreens as we climbed. The trees thinned out and eventually disappeared.
The last phase of the climb involved a lot of short and sharp switchbacks up the bare face of the mountain. You had to be really careful. We ended up behind a very slow driver who allowed a convoy of about 20 cars to form behind him. The directions for driving this road clearly state that one should pull over and let others pass if there are three cars behind them. (I am told that it is not good to called people names in a blog. So I will avoid doing that.) We reached the top of the mountain in this fashion, in a convoy of slow cars.
We were actually a little disappointed when we got there. There is a wide flat area on top, and the area that we were entering through was blocked off with a lot of construction equipment. Additionally, there were a lot of cars and people around. There was a guy who was helping people get parking.
Here is a view of a vista at the top of the mountain (click on the picture, as usual!).We were at a height where breathing could be difficult if you were not prepared.After stopping in the cafeteria for their world-famous donuts and a cup of hot chocolate, we stepped out behind the gift shop to take in the view.
The pictures below show the place where the cog railroad used to end. This railroad actually operated until recent times, but is out of commission because there is extensive maintenance work needed, and it is going to be tough to get spare parts and fix something that is not a mainstream product these days.Here is a guy who has taken off his shirt. The temperature was below freezing!The lake blow is called Crystal Reservoir. It serves the city of Colorado Springs close by. We will stop by this lake on the way down the mountain.You can walk the trail down the mountain. In fact, there are supported bike rides you can do down the mountain on the road. Can you imagine how hot the brakes are going to be as you proceed downhill!We made a few stops on the way down. Here is a picture of the road at one of these spots, of the direction we had come from.This car looks like it is too close to the edge!Here is a picture of the road going down the mountain in one of the steeper sections.This picture was taken from Crystal reservoir, where we stopped for an extended break. You can see the building at the top of Pikes peak.The blue color of the clear water was remarkable. Pikes Peak is to the left of the picture below.The ripples in the water stopped at some point, and I could take the following picture.We realized that we had taken much less time to explore Pikes Peak than what we had been led to believe would be needed. The evening was still early, and we had to figure out what to do next. We opened up the AAA tour guide book to the pages for Colorado Springs. It seems like The Garden of the Gods was the topmost on the list of things to see. That was where we headed.
The GPS device told us to go in one direction to get to the park, whereas the instructions on the city streets gave us a different direction. We followed street signs. It was the wrong decision. Instead of the Visitor Center, we ended up at the Trading Post. We parked there anyway, thinking that there might be a visitor center hidden somewhere. It was at this point that an overwhelming sense of tiredness overcame me. I was running out of energy. It was time for a Clif bar. We went in to get directions for hiking and were given a map and some somewhat vague directions. We decided that we wanted to head for the Siamese Twins.
We headed down a trail that seemed to be the right direction. A park ranger who had been driving on the road next to the trail stopped and gave us us an official trail map of the park (which was different from what we got at the Trading Post). We had been going in the wrong direction.
We did make it to the Siamese Twins.Here is a picture of the Trading Post as we walked back to the parking lot.We had initially wanted to also walk in another section of the park, but I realized that I was too tired. It must have been all the driving. We decided to head out to our hotel in Denver right away.
On the way out, we passed the place where we had initially wanted to also walk after seeing the Siamese Twins. It was actually the more interesting part of the places in the park, with its huge rock formations. It was the place we would have ended up in if we had stopped at the actual Visitor Center. That is the way it goes.
We joined the traffic heading north on Interstate 25 towards Denver. It was rush-hour time on a Friday evening, and there was construction on the road. Welcome back to the trappings of civilization.
We went out for dinner soon after we checked into the hotel. There was a Thai restaurant within walking distance. The food was good, except that the chef had probably mixed up the dishes that were supposed to be very spicy, and I got more than I had bargained for. Some Chang beer from Thailand helped cool things down.
Back at the hotel, I downloaded pictures from the phone to the computer, but that was as far as I got before an overwhelming urge to sleep overtook me. I conked out the minute my head hit the pillow.