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Mount Evans and the Road to the Stars

Mount Evans and the Road to the Stars

 

Mount EvansLast July my boyfriend suggested that we take a daytrip to the very top of Mount Evans while explaining to me that it is the highest paved road in North America.  I was up for a new experience and I got even more excited when I found out it would only take a few hours to get there from my home in west Denver.  As an added bonus, we could stop for pizza at the famous Beau Jo’s restaurant in Idaho Springs on our way back home.

 

Shockingly enough, I am a Colorado native that had never been to the top any Colorado “fourteener.”  So this seemed like something I should probably experience.  Also, since I’m not much of a hiker, a nice drive to the top seemed like a win-win situation! As we headed off in my two-seater convertible, little did I know that I would be embarking on one of the most memorable days of my life!

 

The day started off hot and it was well into the 90s in Denver, but before we left, my boyfriend suggested that we wear shoes (not summer flip flops) and that we also bring some light jackets and sweatshirts. I scoffed at the idea of a jacket since it was a horribly hot day, but once we reached the top, I thanked him profusely for the suggestion!  Apparently, the temperature drops three to five degrees for every 1000 feet in altitude, which meant that 45-degree weather awaited us at the top. 

 

Along with our jackets, we also brought a small cooler and filled it with some snacks and bottled waters just incase we experienced any altitude sickness.  I was very thankful for this because after we got to the top of Mount Evans and were up there for about hour, I started feeling a bit lightheaded and dizzy, which is common.  The only thing we did not bring with us was sunscreen.  Unfortunately I learned the hard way that the sun is five percent stronger for every 1,000 feet in elevation, and that driving up Interstate 70 in a convertible with exposed arms and no sunscreen was indeed a very poor idea.   

 

The Journey on the Road to the Stars Begins

The trip up to Idaho Springs and the Mount Evans exit (exit 240) took us approximately 30 minutes.  We made a quick stop for a bathroom break at a gas station and were shortly back on the road.  Heading up Colorado Highway 103, we quickly reached the fee station where we paid a ten-dollar access fee and were given a free guide to Mount Evans, which came in handy and was packed full of great information about what we were about to experience. 

 

Mountain Goats on Mount Evans

We wound our way up past the Mount Goliath Natural Area where hundreds of beautiful and unique Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine awaited us.   According to the guide, these twisty trees are the oldest single living organisms on earth!  The Dos Chappell Nature Center is also located at this point on the road.  I was too excited to get to the top of the mountain, so we did not make a stop, but it staffed by local rangers and open on a daily basis. 

 

 We kept driving onwards and upwards until we eventually came to Summit Lake, the highest park in the Denver Mountain Park System.  According to our guide, the lake’s environment actually mirrors that of the artic. There were plenty of people parked at the lake, which had the second set of restroom facilities we came across since the Dos Chappell Nature Center down at Mount Goliath, but we decided to keep going because we could always stop and see more of the lake on the way back down the mountain.  At this point in our journey, I also noticed that we had finally passed the treeline and it was getting cold!  Apparently trees stop growing where the average temperature in summer is only 50 degrees. 

 

 

The Top of Mount Evans Awaits

 

From Idaho Springs, it took us approximately 45 minutes to reach our final destination - the top parking lot of Mount Evans.  At this point we were 14,130 feet in elevation and I actually felt like I was on top of the world! In every direction I could see mountain range after mountain range, and some of them were still snowcapped.   It was time to get out of the convertible, stretch, and then go explore our surroundings. 

 

Our first stop was the remains of the Crest House, a home built at the top of Mount Evans between 1939 and 1941.  Tragically the home caught fire during a propane explosion in 1979, but within the still-standing stone and mortar walls were information plaques about the structure. I became absolutely enchanted with the architecture of this ‘Castle In the Sky” that was designed in the shape of a star to resemble the night sky.  In fact, the still-standing star-shaped platform is now home to an observation deck.Ruins on Mount Evans

 

After wandering about the remains of the Crest Home, we made our way to the public restrooms.  The lines for the unisex stalls were long, so we decided to walk around the grounds and take pictures of the scenery for a while. This was the best decision we made all day!  When we got back to the restrooms, a rather large heard of Mountain Goats and their young awaited us!  Apparently they like to lick the minerals from the leftover ice melt that the Rangers apply each day around the area.  We spent at least the next 20 minutes just observing and taking pictures of them putter around the grounds licking the dirt.  Somehow they were eventually spooked.  In an instance they all ran off into the distance and disappeared down a cliff into what seemed like mid air.  Just like that - they were gone! To date, that was the most amazing Colorado wildlife experience I have ever had.

 

After all of the excitement with mountain goats came to a close, I was unfortunately starting to feel the affects of the altitude. So we decided to grab some water from the car and make one more loop around the grounds before we called it a day.  In the peaceful cold mountain air, I stood silently under a partly cloudy sky and looked out to the northwest where I literally could see for miles and miles.  A nicely placed guidepost informed me that I was looking out upon Longs Peak and other various mountaintops.  Then off to the east of that was the city of Denver, which I could barely see out on the plains. 

 

I walked around to the other side of the parking lot that contained another guidepost pointing out that I was looking directly at the top of Pikes Peak in the far-off distance. So there I stood at the top of Mount Evans looking from peak to peak along the Colorado Front Range. According to the guide I got from the fee station, the original plan for the road to the top of Mount Evans was to extend it down the west side to Grant, Colorado. There it would connect with Highway 285 and become the middle of the Peak to Peak Highway linking the three 14,000-foot peaks (Longs Peak, Mount Evans, and Pikes Peak) all together.  The road to Mount Evans that I drove upon that day is what remains of that original project built from 1924 until 1930, and paved in the 1990s.  It was almost surreal to be on top of the world looking at peaks I have seen hundreds of times from my north and south travels along Interstate 25.  I can only imagine how cool of a journey it would have been had they finished the original Peak to Peak highway system.  

 

Spending the last few minutes soaking in all that we could possible see at the top, I noticed that it was getting sort of late in the day and the wind was picking up.  We thought maybe a rainstorm was headed our direction, so we decided to make our way back to my car.  As we descended down the hill, I made one quick stop on the road where I could take a nice picture of city of Denver off in the northeastern distance.  We drove past Summit Lake again, but decided that we were too tired to get out and walk around.  Honestly, I think we just had Beau Jo’s pizza on the brain! 

 

In total, we spent about two hours at the top of Mount Evans that afternoon, and it was by far one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had in the Colorado Mountains.  I would highly recommend that everyone make the trip next summer when the road opens up again from late May until early September.  Not only is it just a short distance from Denver, it is also a cost efficient way to see some of the most beautiful mountains on earth.  They certainly did not name it “The Road To The Stars” for nothing!

 

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