Providing the right music for our scenic drive, Bryon linked his iTunes to the car stereo. Soon, the twanging of the guitar was accompanied by those famous words:
Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lakeAnd the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky
As I gazed upon the granite peaks with just small specks of snow, the blue sky and the big puffy clouds, I couldn’t help but smile inside. I felt so grateful to live in this amazingly beautiful state.
Such was the scene on Sunday when Bryon and I visited the western slope and decided to take the scenic, slower route back over Independence Pass.
Colorado is filled with scenic mountain roads the provide vistas in every direction. Pike’s Peak Toll Road, Trail Ridge Road (Rocky Mountain National Park), the Million Dollar Highway are just a few. But I’d forgotten about Independence Pass because we don’t get out to western Colorado much these days. The beauty and remoteness of the wilderness on either side of the winding mountain road had become a distant memory.
Like other roads, my very first experience on Independence Pass came as a kid. During one our many vacations we took to escape the searing heat of Missouri, we drove to Aspen and then up and over Independence Pass.
That particular day, low gray clouds hung overhead obscuring the mighty mountains. Just as we approached the 12,095-foot pass, the sun broke from behind the clouds, sending rays of sunshine shooting across the road.
“It’s like going to heaven!” my mother exclaimed as we stepped out of our car with nothing but tundra around us. A large snowbank nearby enticed us kids to promptly start throwing snowballs at each other. What a novelty to find snow in July!
When Bryon and I first moved to Colorado ten years ago, we made a repeat visit to Aspen and Independence Pass. Having not visited Colorado for many years, its beauty enthralled me once again. And this weekend, we finally made came back again.
Like many of our most scenic mountain roads, Independence Pass came about due to mining and the silver rush to Leadville and the Roaring Fork Valley. By 1880, the first real road was built using manual labor and hand tools.
Historic photos show a road that looks much like the scary jeep roads you see today. But instead they were traveled by horses and wagons. Throughout the 1880s, traffic was brisk going over the pass, carrying miners and supplies. The east side of the pass featured numerous bridges where tolls were collected — 25 cents for horses, and 50 cents for wagons.
By the late 1880s, the railroads had reached Aspen, and put the Independence Pass road out of business. It fell into disrepair until the 1920s. The rise of tourism and auto travel led to the building of a new road that was eventually paved in 1967 and brings people from all over the country to admire the mountains, meadows and streams.
If you look closely up the hillside, you may see the remains of the old stage road and some of the old wooden buildings of the inns that provided rest and refreshment for those early travelers. We have those stalwart miners and businessman to thank for one of the iconic drives in Colorado.