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Colorado's Scenic Byways - Mt Blue Sky

Colorado has 26 designated Scenic & Historical Byways and one of my goals is to collect photos from all of them. Thirteen of these are also designated as America's Byways which means Colorado has more national byways than any other state; additionally, 10 are National Forest Scenic Byways, and two are Bureau of Land Management Back Country Byways -- a fantastic commentary on the rich scenic and historic value of the state.

Photo of mountains seen from near the top of the Blue Sky Scenic Byway in Colorado
View toward Grays Peak and Torreys Peak from near the top of the Mount Blue Sky Scenic Byway

My husband and I have so far traversed all or part of about half of these byways, and I'll share a little of what we've found along them over several upcoming posts. For now, I think I'll start with a byway that's an easy day trip from our home - Mount Blue Sky Scenic Byway.

Photo of a pine seedling and wildflowers at the Dos Chappell Nature Center on Mount Blue Sky, Colorado
Dos Chappell Nature Center

Originally known as Mount Evans Scenic Byway, named because it climbs Mount Evans just west of Denver, this byway and the mountain were renamed in 2023. The previous name was after a territorial governor who became infamous for setting in motion the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864. The new name, Mount Blue Sky, reflects the name the Arapahoe people called themselves, Blue Sky People. Mount Blue Sky is one of the many "14ers" in Colorado and is home to a large herd of mountain goats that are one of the main reasons to come here. It's one of the shortest byways in the state -- only about 50 miles -- but to traverse its entirety can take at least half a day. There are many places to stop, take a walk and see the sights. However, it ended up not being one of our favorite byways and we skipped a few stops simply because it's so close to Denver and is therefore extremely crowded, especially when the mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) kids are little and at their cutest stage.


Photo of two baby mountain goats playing on a boulder
Pushmi-Pullyu - mountain goat kids playing

This byway has the distinction of being the highest paved road in the US, topping out at 14,130 feet, only a short distance below the 14,264-foot mountain summit; from near Denver, it climbs more than 9,000 feet through five climate zones. The weather conditions, rugged terrain and altitude made building the road in the 1920's a real adventure and a portion of it ended up being built by hand -- it was too hard to get heavy equipment up the mountain. I also saw that one reference recommended to 'bring warm clothing and sunscreen.' True! The wind can be frigid near the top, but the sun is intense. You can easily come away with both sunburn and windburn.


One of the several stops to make while on the trek up the byway is the Dos Chappell Nature Center which has walking trails through several groves of the Rocky Mountain bristlecone pines (Pinus aristata). This species of bristlecone isn't nearly as long-lived as the species found in California and Nevada (Pinus longaeva) but is still impressive, with many found to be 700 to 1700 years old. The main reason these trees don't live as long is that, ironically, conditions are too good for them! They tend to succumb to root rot caused by getting too much water.

Photo of bristlecone pines (Pinus aristata) on a slope of Mount Blue Sky in Colorado
Bristlecone pines (Pinus aristata)

The tree in the foreground of the photo at the right looks mostly dead, but a close-up view of its branches reveals that many still have living needles. The tree seen in the photo below is a great example showing

Photo of a bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata) leaning over a trail in Colorado
Bristlecone pine over a trail




how the prevailing winds have an effect on the growth and shape of individual trees.


Another high-altitude plant with an intriguing biology is the alpine spring beauty (Claytonia megarhiza), a small, low-growing succulent with an enormous taproot. The flowering rosette seen on the surface may be only about six inches across and no more than two or three inches tall, but the root under it may be about three inches across at the top, tapering down to a point until it reaches

Photo of alpine spring beauty (Claytonia megarhiza) in bloom on a high mountain slope
Alpine spring beauty in bloom

about six feet underground. These plants are generally found above 10,000 feet on scree or in rock crevices. And because it's in the same family as miner's lettuce, the flowers, leaves and root are all edible, either cooked or raw, although the root should be peeled.


Traveling this byway in late June, as we did, can mean that the wildflowers are blooming, providing maximum color on the slopes and crevices of the mountain, while patches of snow remain. The most common colors in the photos I took were purple, yellow and white. Distances are deceptive as well; the elevation drop in the photo below, from the roadside to the part of the valley near the trees is several hundred feet. I have another view of this same area showing some hikers down below, but they're tiny and only discernible by their bright clothes.

Photo of a view across a valley and unnamed ridge from the Mount Blue Sky Scenic Byway in Colorado, USA
View across a valley and an unnamed ridge from the Mount Blue Sky Scenic Byway

The opening image, showing Grays and Torreys peaks from very close to the upper terminus of the byway, provides a glimpse of the Continental Divide that follows the high points of those two mountains -- the only 14ers that actually straddle it; in fact, Grays Peak is the highest point on the Continental Divide. If you hike up the last bit from the parking lot at the top of the road to the observation point, you can see most of Colorado and as far south as the Sangre de Cristo mountains in New Mexico. The observation point was once The Crest House, the highest restaurant in the world when it was first built in 1941; it existed until 1979, when a propane fire destroyed the building.

Photo of a mountain goat resting on a high point with blue sky behind it
A mountain goat rests on a high point of Mount Blue Sky in Colorado

Also at the top are the ruins of the historic High Altitude Lab, built in 1935 and once used to research cosmic rays, and the Meyer-Womble Observatory, used by students from the University of Denver. Sadly, the observatory is being decommissioned is slated for destruction. I wasn't able to find any information about its current state. If someone visits this byway this summer, I hope you'll let me know.


I'm glad to share this glimpse into just one of Colorado's scenic byways and look forward to sharing more of them in future posts. You can also enjoy reviewing the rest of my website for art photography for your home, office or commercial space. If you have questions about any of my images, please reach out to me at denise@denisedethlefsen.com And don't forget that if you're not yet a subscriber, to "Sign Up to Stay Connected" on my Home page!

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