Colorado has some of the highest places that "normal" people can go, that is to say, people that are not mountain climbers. There are paved roads that are at an elevation of more than 14,000 feet. That is nearly twice the elevation of roads in the Alps of Europe. It also has some of the most impressive gorges.
Continuing the comparison with the Alps, the curvy roads of the Rockies are different as well. Few, if any, places on earth have tighter hairpins than the Alps, those hairpins are simply amazing. The canyon and pass roads of the Rockies do not generally have hairpin turns, but the curves are abundant and have a "flow" to them that allow you to develop a rhythm to your riding. For me, spirited riding through the curves of the Rockies is just as challenging and more fun than the back and forth of the hairpins of the Alps.
Now, on to the "highest" stuff.
Mt Evans is only a few miles west of Denver and the toll road to the top is the highest paved road in North America. Elevation of the parking lot at the top is 14,130 feet.
Rocky Mountain National Park is home to the Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the USA. This road traverses the ridge of the Rockies and in places has drop-offs on both sides of the road. Don't make any mistakes here. Maximum elevation along the Trail Ridge Road is 12,183 feet.
Independence Pass is the highest paved pass in the Rockies, at an altitude of 12,095 feet. Some say that it is one of the most dangerous roads in the US due to its narrowness, altitude, and numerous curves. It was great the day were there, although we did encounter a lot of construction on the way down. The ghost town of Independence, just a short distance from the pass, is testament to the hardship of trying to live at such an elevation year round.
Although not the highest peak mere mortals can reach in Colorado (Mt Evans beats it by 20 feet), Pikes Peak is without a doubt the most famous mountain in the United States. "Pikes Peak or Bust" was the slogan of the 1859 Gold Rush to Colorado and that slogan has stayed with "America's Mountain" ever since.
And now on to the deepest stuff.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is up to 2,900 feet deep and only 40 feet across at the narrowest point at the bottom. It is a very impressive gash in the landscape. There are numerous turnouts along the paved South Rim Road to park and take a peek over the edge. It is quite a sight, unless you have acrophobia.
The bridge across the Arkansas River at Royal Gorge Park is said to be the tallest suspension bridge in the world. If you enter the park, you can ride or walk across the bridge, it has a wooden plank deck. Or, you can take a train ride along the river at the bottom of the gorge. Taking a picture from a good vantage point was close enough for us.
Thomas R. Powell
Last updated on 02/19/2012.