Beautiful Southern Colorado!
There is a magic dividing line in Colorado somewhere just south of Colorado Springs beyond which the tourist industry has ignored. From the interstate the mountains are visible on the horizon but unless you get off the pavement you miss the beauty they offer. Without droves of visitors, the forests and canyons are silent, except for your own thoughts and the wind in the trees.
After visiting family in Pueblo I decided to take a two-lane tour on the way home, looking for some soul-soothing beauty. The autumn colors were just starting to make their appearance. The prairie land east of the mountains was painted with goldenrod.My first stop was in search of a different kind of color. Red seemed like a good choice!
The Holy Cross Abbey in Canon City was established by a group of Benedictine monks in 1924. The Brothers experimented with establishing a winery but abandoned the effort in favor of their more successful boarding school for boys. The abbey school flourished until the 1960’s but then, like many religious establishments, declined in the following decades. The school was closed in 1985 but the abbey continued to support the community, opening its grounds for a variety of community events. In 2001, under the supervision of a professional viniculturist, the abbey introduced a line of wines and now hosts a tasting room and gift shop. In 2005 the small remaining group of Brothers voted to close the abbey and relocated to other religious establishments.
The abbey grounds were purchased by a private corporation and the winery continues to be a successful venture which has won more than 100 regional and international awards. If you visit be sure to enjoy the picnic area and take a tour of the grounds!
I turned north at Highway 9, bypassing Royal Gorge. I didn’t visit this time, but it is well worth the visit. The area was decimated by a forest fire in 2013 and many of the historic buildings were destroyed. The park has bounced back, better than ever. If you like excitement you can shoot the Arkansas River rapids through the gorge or take a helicopter tour over the canyon. You can walk across the Royal Gorge on one of the highest suspension bridges in the world or simply tour the rim of the canyon.
The ride up Highway 9 is where you strike gold! It’s a two-lane straight to Fairplay, but I couldn’t help taking a little detour to one of my favorite hiking places, up on High Park Road.
Colorado is covered with undeveloped BLM and National Forest areas. I wandered around the sandy washes that criss-cross this part of the Guffey Volcanic center. As a life-time geologist, I love poking around in the rocks that form the floor of the washes. Spring run-off deposits a hodge podge of different kinds of rock here, from beautiful examples of quartz crystal to boulders of volcanic scoria. No getting tired of a single kind of scenery here! I found my favorite kind of gold in the leaves, but there is evidence of others who have sought another kind of gold in these hills. I timidly approached this mine shaft, wishing I had a flashlight.
I have, however, been blessed with a small amount of common sense and know better than to crawl into an abandoned mine shaft. Sometimes curiosity just has to remain unsatisfied.
This area is less than 20 miles from Cripple Creek, which is still an active mining district, so I guess this hopeful miner had a chance!
OK. Back to Highway 9, knowing that it’s going to be really late when I get home. There’s too much “pretty” to drive very far without stopping! The highway cuts across the Guffey Caldera and as you descend, you are surrounded by the rims of an ancient composite volcano that was active about 39 million years ago.
There is a lot of argument about the geology of this area. Some evidence suggests that volcanic activity in this area may stretch as far back in time as 58 million years ago- making the area as old as the uplift of the present Rocky Mountains! A caldera forms as the result of a catastrophic eruption (think Mount St. Helen’s) but there is no remaining evidence of such an event here. So what is it? Who knows! Guffey Volcanic Center
Passing the rim of the Guffey Caldera the highway enters the rolling hills of the 39-Mile lava flow. The gold here is goldenrod and prairie grass that has gone to seed. I did find a special friend enjoying the beautiful day!
The South Platte River winds across the lava flow and beckons trout fishermen- including me! There is public access to the river right along the highway and two state park reservoirs are fed by the river. Great fishing hereabouts!
Reaching Fairplay, I found vast stretches of aspen forest in all its autumn glory!
With night falling, I followed the highway as it looped back into Denver and I joined the line of red tail lights on the interstate. Time to get serious about going home, but it was a beautiful day loving Colorado!