For decades we drove over western Colorado’s mountain passes knowing that in autumn the valleys explode with yellow, orange and red quaking aspen. Finally mid-September 2021 we saw it. Colorado did not disappoint!
West-East: Leaf-Peeping Scenic Byways* and Drives
|(1) Grand Mesa Byway*|
|(5) Castle Creek Road|
|(7) Independence Pass|
|(9) Top of the Rockies*|
(2) Marble Mining Trail
(6) Ashcroft Ghost Town
(8) Buena Vista
|BV to Leadville, Minturn,|
(10) Gilman’s Ghost
1. Grand Mesa Scenic Byway
After leaving Utah’s red rocks this color blast would have been more than enough, but nature repeatedly whispered (sometimes shouted) “If you thought that was great, look at this!”
2. Marble – The Mine
A cool mountain town, 7,992 feet, population 120. Marble’s legacy is the Yule Mine (1873) whose stunning white marble was used for The Tomb of the Unknowns and parts of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Marble Quarry Road
At the base of the mountain is a winding dirt road that transports you to a short hike and an overlook of the working mine. A delightful walk.
Directions: Turn off Highway 133 onto County Road 3. Turn right at Marble’s Volunteer Fire Station to Marble Quarry Road at the base of the mountain. Tip: Save time for Slow Groovin’ BBQ – the line will be long . . . only restaurant in town.
Valley and Wilderness – Elk Mountains
The view from the mine will blow your mind. Tip: a 4×4 road (or 7 mi hike) will get you an iconic photo of The Crystal Mill, an 1892 wooden powerhouse (we missed it – NEXT TIME).
3. Redstone Coke Ovens – 1889
On Hwy 133 are remnants of 249 “beehive” coke ovens used to burn impurities out of coal. Loaded through the hole in the top, coal was heated up to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. The carbonized coke was removed through an opening in the oven’s front, loaded and shipped by rail for use in steel production.
Directions: Highway 133 across the road from picturesque Redstone (a tourist treat).
4. Aspen Village
Famous for its skiing and surrounded by the Elk Mountain forests, we made the most of our stay. I walked every street up, down, across and back.
Best part was making new Kiwi friends whose New Zealand family (whanau) made introductions. Oh My God . . . I had never had Elk Burgers before. THANK YOU Rangi and Sarah.
5. Castle Creek Road (CR 15)
Near Aspen – Wow! A great drive and an even better bike ride.
Directions: From the Aspen rotary Castle Creek Road dead-ends at 13 miles with views of the Elk Mountains. At mile 11 is Ashcroft.
6. Ashcroft Ghost Town – Castle Creek Road
In 1885 Ashcroft was a silver mining camp with two newspapers, 20 saloons, and a school. Boom to bust. In 1939 a plan to build a ski resort in this valley was interrupted by World War II.
7. Independence Pass
And then it snowed on our way to Buena Vista.
8. Buena Vista – Whitewater Park
I could live in this small mountain town (population 2,500) gorgeous views, good food and pleasant developments in the works.
This river trail was developed as a whitewater course and is also a sweet walk. The loop trail is about 4 miles – 2 hours, or 30 minutes between footbridges.
9. The FINALE! Gilman – Abandoned Mining Camp
The “MUST STOP” moment: Slamming to a halt on Highway 24 right before Minturn for this ghost town view.
Rotting 9,000 feet above sea level, mined during the 1880’s for gold, silver, lead and zinc, it operated for 100 years. In 1986 the EPA forcibly evacuated the town because of its toxicity, designating it a Superfund Site.
(See link – the town is on private land, trespassers prosecuted: “One basement room has a pile of x-rays of miners, taken and stored by the company.”)
This route was a great driving tour. We did get out of the car to hike – next Colorado post.