Sawatch Range, Colorado
I typically try drive Independence Pass each fall when the Aspens are really popping, but having hiked Mt Yale this past Saturday and then camping, I wasn’t really looking to do much, but at the same time, it was a typical amazing Colorado day so I felt bad potentially wasting it by just heading home. I figured I might as well take a scenic drive and the long way home…
Independence Pass is a Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway, part of State Highway 82 (paved), that traverses 32 miles from Aspen to the Twin lakes, just south of Leadville. It’s an absolutely beautiful drive surrounded by 13,000+ft peaks, massive Aspen groves, cascading creeks, and an abandoned historic mining town. Typically the road is only open from right before Memorial Day until sometime in November (weather dependent) and during that time, massive amounts of visitors flock to the overlooks providing an atmosphere more comparable to a national park. You can be hard-pressed to find a parking spot at the summit, kids are trampling all over the wildflowers off-trail, people are lined up to get their obligatory picture with the “Independence Pass” sign, and around the next bend in the road, there’s more than likely a large SUV with Texas plates (substitute OK, NE, IA, AR, LA, GA…) crossing over that yellow line to get away from the cliffs next to the road. But, like the national parks, it is well worth the crowds and hassle.
“Independence Pass was carved out of the land by glaciers and the erosive action of the Roaring Fork River over thousands of years. It is the site of the first road in the Roaring Fork Valley, which was pioneered over Hunter Pass, the original name of Independence Pass, in 1881. An old stage road still remains visible from several locations. The road was built in its current location in 1927 and was paved in 1967.
“The ghost town of Independence sits three miles west of the summit and was inhabited by about 2,000 citizens who came to work mining claims in the area between 1880 and 1883. When the gold boom went bust, most people moved on to pursue other claims or moved to the friendlier climate of Aspen. The final resident of Independence was Mr. J.R. Williams, who was one of the original miners and maintained a stamp mill in Independence until 1920.” (From CDOT)