28 May 2012

Vacation: Part Two - Independence Pass and Leadville

Hands off, ladies and gents...he is mine!
Driving up a steep, steep climb.  Gaining altitude oh-so-slowly.  Watching those on their bicycles strain against the incline and gravity, muscles pulsing as they make their way up the Pass.  Watching the clouds gather, and then dissipate, and then gather again.

That was Independence Pass.  This was our trip to and from the Continental Divide and the Roof of the Nation, Leadville.

A local in Aspen told us about the Pass.  Promised us cuts in the snow so deep we wouldn't believe it.  For us, there was no snow (scary, no?), but the scenery, the drive, the being amidst the mountains was enough for us.  

Independence Pass is the straightest, fastest way to get from Aspen to Leadville in Colorado.  It is closed for the majority of the year due to ice and snow.  Lucky for us (and not for mother nature and our planet), it opened early enough that we could take advantage of it.  We set out mid-afternoon from Carbondale, making our way past Snowmass Village and Aspen in order to begin the climb.  

It starts out calm enough with gorgeous views down a mountain valley.  You can almost feel the air thinning as you climb, sense the sun becoming more intense.  I don't think our little rental was built for this kind of thing!  As we climbed, the drop-offs on my side of the car became steeper and the heights kept building and building.  It's enough to take your breath away!

At 10,830 feet, you come across the ghost town of Independence.  An old mining camp where they used to pan for gold.  We stopped the car to walk among the ruins of old cabins, marveling at their small size, wondering how strong these people must have been to take up residence in such a remote space.  While we were there, the wind was whipping around the old nails holding the remnants together, threatening to tear remains down the mountainside into the creek below.  After taking some time to see and reflect, we decided to continue moving up the Pass.

At 12,095 feet, we found ourselves at the Continental Divide.  By now, the weather had turned crummy.  We watched dark clouds roll in as a biker adjusted his helmet and shoes to make his way back down the mountain using nothing but breaks, courage and his legs.  We stepped out onto this ledge they built - supposedly to afford amazing views, but ours was blocked by a wall of grey cloud.  

We wandered through the little bit of snow for a while and then decided it was time to 
continue on to Leadville.

Cool rock formations at the Divide.

Driving into Leadville is an experience.  You are coming out of these mountains, coasting down, down, down and then you find yourself making the trek across open land to get to the town itself.

Down from the Divide...that is REALLY, REALLY far down the valley!

Leadville considers itself to be the "cradle of Colorado history."  At 10,430 feet, it is the highest incorporated city in the United States.  The town itself is made up of a main street with shops, bakeries and bars and is surrounded by, what most of small-town America is looking like these days, smaller and run-down homes and buildings.  Dave and I wandered up and down Main Street and took in the gorgeous views from every angle.  We sampled some absolutely amazing cookies from Cookies with Altitude (if you are ever there, you HAVE to get their cookies.  I'm not kidding...these things are addictive!).

Leadville's Main Street
Art gallery in town

For those that don't know, Leadville is home to the Leadville Race Series.  In essence, this was a sort of mecca for me.  I greatly admire those that take on the challenges of this terrain on bike or by foot and to actually be in the town where it starts and ends was pretty amazing!  We visited a shop (a converted old  saloon) that was home to the Leadville Race Series shop.  They had maps, running and biking gear and plaques that featured the names of those that had completed each race of the series.  I was in heaven!

It was time leave Leadville.  We had two choices for how to get back - follow the main road back to the highway or brave Independence Pass again.  Guess which one we chose?  Along the way, we stopped along the Pass to grab lunch by the creek.  It was a great spot with the roaring water and some goodies to tide us over until dinner.

One of my favourite pics of Dave from the trip.

Our lunch spot.  Yeah.  Seriously.
We closed out the night by taking in a couple glasses of vino on the patio of Hestia, a cute little spot on Carbondale's Main Street.  The perfect ending to our time in this part of Colorado.

Stay tuned for Part Three!
Patio and mood lighting at Hestia.
And, in remembrance of Memorial Day...

Today we remember those who served and died in the Armed Forces of our country.
Having grown up in the military community, this day means more than just a day off work.
Take a moment to reflect and remember...

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