Rocky Mountains, Denver
One of the highest peaks in Colorado is Mt. Evans at over 14,000 feet, about 60 miles west of Denver. It can be reached by way of what is purported to be the highest paved highway in North America. We were here in late December and did not see much wildlife, but there are bighorn sheep, elk and goats among alpine tundra and bristlecone pines (many are over 1,000 years old). I also understand that on a clear day you can see Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak, the Sangre de Cristo Range, Pikes Peak and the Continental Divide. The peak is accessible by hiking or, depending on snow fall, the Mt. Evans Byway (highway) opens on Memorial Day weekend and closes on Labor Day. There is a fee for use of the highway Nearby is the ancient glacial Echo Lake which is a most picturesque place for hiking, camping and picnicing. There are grills, tables and a stone shelter as well as a campground and the always welcome toilet facilities.
We are not hikers, but enjoyed the drive and the magnificent scenery. The Byway to the peak was closed for the winter so we didn’t reach the peak. However we were at about 13,500 ft which is the highest place on earth we have ever been
Not to be confused with the highest contiguous road- Trail Ridge Rd in Rocky Mountain N.P- the Mt Evans Scenic Byway takes you to the top of this 14,000 plus foot mountain.
From I-70, its about a 13 mile drive to the road which takes you to the summit. This part of the drive is breathtaking as it meanders past snowbanks and offers glimpses of mountains iced in snow and covered with douglas firs. Near the entrance to the byway is Echo Lake Lodge, and one of the bluest lakes I have ever seen.
From here, its 14 miles to the summit. The road is narrow and winding with many a hairpin turn, but the views en route, and at the top, are worth it. Make sure to drive slowly and concentrate on the road as there is little room for error due to the sheer drops just inches beyond your tires. As you ascend, you'll probably encounter some mountain goats as well. The temperature also drops as you gain altitude, as you may have guessed. On a clear day in late May, it was nearly 80 degrees f. at the base, but dropped to about 48 deg at the top.
The byway is generally open between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The CO DOT closes the road after the first heavy snowfall. I drove up a couple of days before Mem. Day when the road had just opened. The 14 ft high walls of snow that flanked the road accentuated the experience, even though they frayed my nerves just a tad.
There are 2 other things to be concerned about when attempting this drive. First, make sure that your car is adjusted for driving at this altitude. Most rental cars are, but if you're from another state, you may want to have your car checked before venturing up. This is not the greatest place for a stalled vehicle.
Second, beware of altitude sickness. Driving results in a quick ascent to 14,000 feet. If you feel dizzy, nauseous and/or have a headache, you probably have a touch of altitude sickness. The symptoms will disappear as you drive down from the summit, but don't stay at altitute too long if the symptoms develop, especially if you're the one driving.
The most difficult thing to do, in my opinion is to go through the Rockies in bad weather, or even in good weather. In fact, they do often close down US 70, the only main artery the traverse, or parts of it. I have been here is weather that is troublesome, and it creates anxiety while driving. That is why I planned a trip out west to end by September month end. It did snow some, but not like it will soon. The sheer beauty of the mountains, though are beyond description-so I won't-except to say it is mind boggling. The declines/inclines can be as steep as 10% and the Glencanyon going through the Rockies is at least 20 miles long; up and down, and so forth.
Loveland Pass is 11,990 feet high, and the Eisenhower Tunnel running through rather than around the pass helps US 70 drivers get through the Rockies. It still is steep, though at about 11,000 feet and some winding and mountain climbing for that poor vehicle trying to get air in high altitudes.
Although most of Colorado's 14ers are located in the soutwest, Grays and Torreys Peaks are not too far from Denver. These are a popular choice as they are two contiguous mountains and can you can climb both in one day by heading across the saddle between the two. Its a tough hike, but you can say that you've hiked two mountains in one day, if that's of any importance.
These are considered non-technical hikes, but there is some scrambling involved. If you decide to attempt this hike, make sure to have a good topo map and all the hiking essentials.
This tunnel is in the highest elevation of the world, at over 11,000 feet. The phase heading west started in 1968 and got completed in 1973. The tunnel going heading east started in 1975 and that took 4 years to complete. The tunnel is located 60 miles west of Denver and about 40 miles form Vail. The alternative was to, and still is today the Loveland Pass at around 11,500 feet up, but a difficult climb and dangerous many months/days. Trucks carrying danger cargo still have to use that Pass.
Snow is another problem form November through April. During that time the average snow falling is 26 feet, so keeping the road clear is not always easy, and at times it is closed. The tunnel is 1.69 miles long, and it runs smooth for the most part if not crazy drivers cause an accident inside the tunnel, or at either entrances. I once got "trapped" due to an accident in the tunnel, and waited for 2 hours before they got traffic moving by using the other tunnel for both ways. There are 52 employees on duty to monitor the tunnels and safety.
There is such an enormous feeling of being little when you get into realizing how big and majestic these mountains are. They have different colors of gray, red, white, cream and interspersed with pine trees and birch/poplars. And all this is free for viewing and on your way to destinations right on the highway.
Since it was a short trip (and because I'm used to low altitude), we decided to rent a car and just drive to the sights. We drove up to the Alpine Visitor's Center, which is right by the highest point on the road. That took us into the tundra and into snow (we were there in June). I was happy with our choice (p.s. bring a jacket and water)
Rocky Mountains is the place to be. You have to ski, snow board, sled, anything. you have too see how beautiful these mountains really are. they will blow you away.
There are numerous reasons to love these mountains so much. they are so beautiful and breath taking. they are also fun. there are about 4 different ski resorts within an hour of each other with some of the greatest snow in all of the US. This the place for letting loose and having fun.
You must visit the mountains plain and simple. To tell you the truth it dosen't even matter where you visit. As long as your above 8000 ft it rules. I am a big time camper/hiker so I really dont go to tourist areas. I usually go to Pike National forest (Fair Play), Blue River, Shelf Road, and Red Feather. Oh yeah you must go to Central City and Black Hawk (Casino area) cool stuff
Because of its proximity to Denver and its relative easiness, the mountain is very popular with beginner climbers and hikers. If you've hours on hand you can start at the base and trek all the way to the summit. To go back down, just do as the locals do and hitchhike. Since we didn't have all day we drove to the base of the summit (there is a $10 fee for all cars going to the summit). From Echo Lake at the base there are plenty of trails leading to the very top. Just be sure to dress warmly (as you can see from the pictures there's abundant permafrost) and acclimate yourself properly to the high altitude.