I was probably off in college when my Dad saw an advertisement, probably in the Chicago Tribune, for land in Colorado. Some friends of my parents had moved to Colorado, my parents visited them, and for whatever reason my Dad purchased two 5-acre lots of ranch land 60 miles due west of Pikes Peak.
Years later, when Dad died, my Mom gave one plot to my brother and the other one to me. The taxes are around $140 a year and it’s not only fun to be able to say I have land in Colorado, but it’s given me a place to stop and to walk around a little on my annual trips from the desert Southwest back to Michigan.
Besides, the drive west from Colorado Springs on U.S. 24 is spectacular as it winds through the mountains, past Pikes Peak, and enters a vast valley framed by the 14,000-foot peaks of the University Mountains.
The “ranch” is located near Hartsel, Colorado, and I’ve done a variety of routes from there back to Arizona, where I used to live, or to Nevada, my current residence.
There’s Colorado 9 south to U.S. 50 for a wonderful drive west with the Arkansas River churning to your right. Keep going west and you climb over Monarch Pass. There’s also U.S. 285 south and then U.S. 160 up and over Wolf Creek Pass and down into Pagosa Springs.
On my most recent visit, I tried something different. For the first time, I turned right at the T-bone intersection in Buena Vista instead of left and stayed on U.S. 24.
My dog-eared 2006-edition Rand McNally road atlas places dots along 24 all the way from Buena Vista to the I-70. The book’s Legend says those dots indicate a “scenic route.” Wow, were the cartographers correct! The scenery was spectacular and I’m still wondering how the old mining town of Leadville stays attached to the steep face of the mountain on which it was built.
It was only after I got home and was getting ready to write this story several months later that I found my copy of Motorcycle Journeys Through the Southwest and discovered that the road I’d driven was part of what bikers known as the “Peeling the Banana Loop.”
Quick note: If you’re looking for guidebooks to great driving roads, check those written for motorcyclists.
Motorcycle Journeys notes that U.S. 24 is the “Highway of the Fourteeners,” because it passes 10 mountains that reach at least 14,000 feet in elevation. It also notes that as you approach Leadville, you pass Mount Elbert, at 14,433 feet the highest of the Rocky Mountains and second-highest in the 48 contiguous states.
It also points out that Leadville, itself perched at 10,152 feet, is known as “Cloud City” and has a rich history, both in terms of mining and stories of romance. Remember the story of the unsinkable Molly Brown, a Titanic survivor? She lived in Leadville.
The area also was the base for the famed 10th Mountain Division, the so-called Invisible Men who, dressed in white like the snow, fought in the Italian Alps during World War II.
I was on a schedule to get home and didn’t linger, but I can assure you that once I feel safe to travel again, and hopefully without the need to be a masked man, I’ll be heading back to the ranch, and definitely will be lingering in Leadville.