On Sunday we took a drive up through Eldorado Canyon and headed towards Nederland via a way we hadn’t explored yet. Upon reaching Ned, we headed south on the Peak to Peak Highway chomping up some miles of road we’d yet to explore as well. It was much to our surprise when we rounded the bends into the canyon town of Black Hawk. In front of us was a huge building, a hotel in fact, and within a quarter mile it was evident that we’d reached a mini-vegas. Black hawk is a town that seems to have gone through a renaissance where multiple large casino’s have been erected and construction plagues the main road through town as they work on building a wrap around thru-way to stave off congestion. It was quite comical to come across this oasis of lights flickering under a hot June sun.

As we made our way into Idaho Springs we inadvertently hopped onto I-70 West and started seeing signs for “Mt. Evans-Open To Top.” We had no clue what Mt. Evans was or how high the top was but we dared to venture in that direction to find out. We drove once again through canyon after canyon until the car started climbing higher and higher, eventually sneaking us views of the high rocky peaks all around. We drove past the gorgeous Echo Lake recreation area where it seemed like a few hundred folks had parked along side its shores, enjoying the afternoon sun and trying their luck at casting a line into the crystal waters. On the far end of the lake, we made it to a small visitors center with a sign for the Mount Evans Auto Road.

The Mt. Evans Auto Road is the highest paved road in America. It is also known as America’s Highest Auto Road. For $10, we entered the gate and began our climb. We were shocked by the enormity of the krumholz that lined the side of the narrow road. These small alpine trees we knew so well as mini-shrubs in New Hampshire are tall and twisted out here. An impressive sight indeed. The road wastes no time in gaining elevation. It’s 15 miles from start to the top. The road, which has no guardrail, twists and turns it’s away precariously along the top of many cliffs and alpine meadows. I was terrified and brought new meaning to the term “White Knuckle Ride.”
We started winding our way up and into the Arctic Circle.. or what seemed like it. Above 11,000′ the world is still very much playing host to winter. Snow fields are HUGE! We managed to snap a few photos on the way up of the cars passing in front of the huge drifts, some of them about 20+ feet in height. The road continued along the top of some pretty precarious cliffs. I won’t lie when I tell you I was nearly pooping my pants. Whenever the road narrowed, I drifted my car more towards the upslope side of the road even if it was the wrong side to be on. If a car came form the other direction, I froze stiff in the proper lane and waited for the “safer lane” to open up again. Eventually we reached a parking lot at the base of a gorgeous peak. The lake below it’s icy cap was still frozen over and many avalanche trails could be seen. We pulled over and decided to walk around a bit, walking over to a view spot and took some photos of the mountains, many of which are hiding behind the thick cloud of smoke that had drifted north from Arizona’s Wild-Fires.

After our “breathtaking” (Literally) break, we drove the rest of the way to the summit. The road got narrower the higher we got, the turns tighter and the air thinner. By the time we reached the summit, we had made it to 14,100′ in elevation. We got out of the car to look around. It was 90 degrees down in Denver, it’s 40 degrees up here. I’m in shorts and a t-shirt, we hadn’t planned on anything today really and this had become a pretty amazing treat. I froze while walking around the parking lot area, the true summit of the peak another 100′ above us. The more telling tale is of being out of breath after walking a mere 50 yards on the summit proper.

We turned the car around and began the long roller coaster ride back down the 15 mile auto road. We slowly, and in third gear, made our way back to the bottom. We stopped for a few more pictures along the way. To snap shots of the car along-side the snowdrifts, the marmots that own the place and of course some worthwhile views. For $10, it doesn’t get much better, especially if you want to get above 14,000′ without walking there. I’m sure we’ll return to the Evans Auto Road once the smoke clears and we find more time.

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2 thoughts

  1. Hello John

    Glad to see you had a great time by Echo Lake, Summit Lake and Mt. Evans.

    Thank you for your great review, it IS beautiful up there.

    Many people make that white knuckle drive in shorts.

    Visit us again soon!

    RangeTracker

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  2. A good read as usual.
    Peg and I used the Mt. Evans road for acclimating to climb Elbert.We hiked acouple of times on the trails as you drive the road,thinking the more the better.Still was heavy breathing hiking up to the summit.Driving up to that altitude can be a challenge to a flat lander and even dangerous to some.We were fine but we could sure feel it.Being Old Timers the road was free with the Golden Age pass.Nice pictures glad we did not have the snow.

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