My goal for today was to get from Colorado Springs to Kanab, Utah, which would serve as my base of operations for tomorrow’s day trip to Zion National Park, as well as my staging area for Sunday’s overnight at Bryce Canyon. But instead of taking 650 miles of interstates, I naturally chose the scenic route. In fact, today’s scenic route was so scenic that the scenic approach to the scenic route was, itself, a designated scenic byway. That ridge of snow-capped peaks I saw yesterday and figured they must be halfway to California? Yeah, I passed by those about an hour into the trip. Coming over a hill and finally having eyewitness proof that such things actually exist (I feel the same way about wild bison and moose) was breathtaking.
My chosen path through the Rockies was Colorado route 82, apparently also known as the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway. A more appropriate name there never has been.
About an hour and a half outside of Colorado Springs, I turned onto the quintessential “windy mountain road.” Over the next 10 miles, over a series of narrow switchbacks, it rose from 7,000 to over 12,000 feet at Independence Pass (which I believe may be the highest paved road in the United States. Nope, that’s wrong. It’s the second highest paved mountain pass in Colorado. Thanks, Wikipedia.)
At the summit of Independence Pass, I was standing among the snowfields I’d seen earlier, well above the tree line for the second day in a row. It was here that I crossed the Continental Divide. So now, if I fall over, I’ll roll to the Pacific Ocean instead of the Atlantic. Actually, I think that may be somewhat of an old wives’ tale. Directly west of the Continental Divide is the Great Basin, which doesn’t empty into any ocean.
Speaking of strange things, someone needs to help me figure this one out: Driving up to Independence Pass, the car ascended over 6,000 vertical feet, and on the other side it descended nearly 8,000. For most of that time I was going a maximum of 40 miles per hour and was locked in 1st or 2nd gear. To my amazement, when I got on the highway at the end of the road, I had gotten nearly 40 miles per gallon for the trip! My theory is that since the biggest force that a car has to overcome is air resistance, driving at such a high altitude presented less resistance and thus allowed the car to be much more efficient. Any chance that could be right?
Anyway, back at the top, signs warned to stay on the paths because the tundra was very fragile. Buried permafrost yesterday and frozen tundra today. What’s next? A high desert? Oh wait, never mind. That wasn’t for another couple of hours.
Coming down the western slope, I traveled through a pine forest that everyone imagines when they think of Colorado. It was around this time that I realized that the perfect music to accompany this particular drive was Mumford & Sons. Their earnest, acoustic, folksy-but-not-hillbilly style complimented the rustic scenery (yes, including a few log cabins). Try it some time if you don’t believe me.
There was a moment, however, that I felt a little like one of the people on that Deadliest Roads show on Discovery or NatGeo or one of those. As I was winding my way around the side of a cliff, with sections of the mountain over me blasted out so that there would be a reasonable amount of clearance, just as the road narrowed so that it was really only a 2-way road if everyone held their breath, someone going the other way broke down, causing a traffic jam behind them, just the way it happens on the show at least 5 times an hour!
Soon I made my way to Aspen. I don’t have any pictures of Aspen because Aspen kind of sucks. Going from the natural authenticity of the Top of the Rockies, I was suddenly surrounded by Audis and middle-aged white men on bicycles with pink sweaters tied around their necks. There’s an airport in Aspen, but let’s be honest – it’s not for us peasants. The runways are conveniently raised above the surrounding roads and each resident of the town parks their private jet along the fence, so that we can all see how rich they are. It’s bad enough that we have to have one Connecticut without having an extra fake one in such a gorgeous part of the country. Oh, and by the way, in over 2,500 miles of driving so far on this trip, Aspen is the only place where I got stuck in traffic.
Leaving Aspen, the scenery began to take on a decidedly more Southwesterly feeling. The red sandstone began to creep into the geology and the tall conifers were gradually replaced with bushes and prairie grasses. Even before leaving Colorado, I was already in the Utah desert.
It wasn’t much hotter in the desert than in, say, St. Louis, but the sun was far more intense. Although I reapplied sunscreen at least 4 times while driving (kids, don’t do that.), it felt like I was getting burned. Not sunburned, burned. As in roasted. Needless to say, I was relieved when the country opened up into some other type of strange environment. It was hilly, but not mountainous. It wasn’t desert anymore, but it wasn’t prairie or forest either. There were some cows, but I feel like, if given the choice, they would choose to live somewhere else.
Finally turning south towards my destination, I was just in time to capture the setting sun lighting up the cliffs to the east:
So here I sit in Kanab, a stone’s throw from the Arizona border, all ready for my jaunt into Zion tomorrow, the first National Park of the trip. Fair warning: I’m planning on staying in the park until after dark, to maximize my chances of getting some really good pictures, so I may be back too late to update this tomorrow. If I don’t get to writing, I’ll at least upload some of the best pictures of the day.