With my bags packed and my GPS set, I drove out of the dark Colorado Springs forest. Ahead of me, the clouds hovering over Pike's Peak were just starting to turn pink from the rising sun. My destination was Oak Creek, Colorado by way of Independence Pass. The more direct route from Colorado Springs would have been to drive up to Denver and then go west on Highway 70. But when my Oak Creek Airbnb host suggested the more scenic route through the mountains in central Colorado, well, how I could I refuse? The journey began on Highway 24, traveling west. It was an easy and peaceful drive through farmland and small towns with a backdrop of grazing buffalo and snow capped mountains.
Soon, I approached the town of Buena Vista with Collegiate Peaks filling the horizon. When you've been driving through mountains for several hours it's possible to get desensitized to their awesome-ness. Not here. No way. There was a sign for the Collegiate Peaks Overlook so I turned in and parked. I found a picnic table where I could sit and behold the 14,000 foot magnificent beast they call Mount Princeton. I imagine the only view better than the view of those mountains from Buena Vista is the view of Buena Vista from the top of those mountains.
Collegiate Peaks: Mount Princeton
It seemed like a good time to grab a bite to eat so I dropped in at the Evergreen Cafe. Inside there was a lunch counter and small dining room. There was a nice sized lunch time crowd but I was able to find an empty stool at the counter. One of the things I love about Colorado is how restaurants embrace clean and healthy eating. The Evergreen Cafe offered a full menu of organic, all natural, vegetarian and gluten free options. When I told my waitress I needed to eat gluten free, she guided me to the perfect selection. The menu said "Great Conversation and Food with Integrity" and that's exactly what I got. Feeling restored from my fantastic fish tacos I continued on my journey.
Now Highway 24 was leading me north, alongside the Arkansas River. At the first opportunity I found a place to pull over to hike the banks for a while. Every so often, rafts full of white water adventurers went roaring by. I found myself laughing and waving at them. I wished I could have jumped on. All the way back to the car I was grinning to myself, thinking, "Colorado is awesome!"
At the town of Granite, I exited on to the famous Highway 82 that led to Independence Pass marking the continental divide. The road twisted around higher and higher into the Sawatch Mountain Range with views of roaring rivers and Alpine forests below. Each winding turn brought unexpected and wonderful surprises. All of my senses were fully engaged. The two lane road narrowed in some places creating a tricky situation with oncoming traffic...and there were no guard rails. My focus was split between rubbernecking at each new jaw dropping site and trying to not drive off a steep overhang and, well, you know. Finally, I summited the mountain at over 12,000 feet.
I pulled over at the scenic overlook to get out and take in the view. I know it's been said before, but it's really like you are in the middle of your very own IMAX movie. There are no words or photographs that can adequately describe that breath taking panorama. Everything around me was hued in shades of pastel, even the atmosphere. Vibrating green grass, delicate wildflowers and crystal blue ponds fed from the melted snow were all competing for my attention. But it was THAT VIEW that really got me. I will never forget it.
I finally rolled into my Oak Creek accommodation about 7 pm, almost eleven hours from when I began...eleven fabulous and unforgettable hours. Colorado seemed to have an endless supply of natural beauty but, BY FAR, Independence Pass was the most impressive.
Can't wait to see what Oak Creek and Steamboat have in store for me!