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Roads (Slightly) Less Traveled

Whenever possible, my husband and I get off the interstates and travel two-lane highways, byways, backroads, tracks and trails. Life is just so much more interesting along two-lane roads. We find they provide more photo opportunities, as well as getting our minds and hearts closer to the creation that's all around. We have to slow down a little, view more fully - and even at that, we all too often fly past without really "seeing" what is there.

Photo of Weston Pass Road in Colorado with Mount Massive in the distance
Weston Pass Road with Mount Massive in Colorado

I suspect, for me, this love for, and fascination with, back roads comes from my early childhood. Some of my earliest memories include riding along while mom and dad explored the narrow, winding mountain roads of western Montana. Other memories are of riding with dad in his big truck while he hauled cherries, or apples, or fenceposts (I actually don't really remember what specific things the truck carried the times I got to ride along, but I do remember these were some of the loads dad transported). Years later, I found a song by Richard Thompson titled "She Never Could Resist a Winding Road" (there's an online video of

Photo of a winding section of road at Hawk's Nest above the Delaware River, New York
Winding road at Hawk's Nest above the Delaware River, New York

him singing it with Joan Baez when she turned 75 a few years ago). The song is about a lady who couldn't seem to stay in one place, so although that part isn't exactly me, the line "too many things she wants to see, the whole world, that's all" fits exactly. The wonderful thing is having a husband who loves these explorations just as much.

Photo of a section of Coastal Drive near Klamath, California
Coastal Drive near Klamath, California

Some roads we've traveled were uncommonly memorable; others so forgettable that, even when I go back and look at photos I took at the time, I can't remember much about the drive.

Some were so overgrown with vegetation that we couldn't see the surrounding scenery; others have given us breathtaking views that we talk about frequently. One of the densely vegetated roads was this one - Coastal Drive - that follows the bluff above the Pacific Ocean near Klamath, California. It's found within the boundaries of the Redwood National and State Parks complex. Although we did the drive a number of years ago, I remember the red alder trees (on the left in the photo) that grew so thickly on the ocean side that we couldn't even catch glimpses of the water, and how green everything was.

A favorite drive was when we found this intersection in the middle of nowhere a year ago. It's

Photo of autumn colors along Cebolla Creek and County Road 50 in Hinsdale County, Colorado
View along Cebolla Creek and County Road 50 in Hinsdale County, Colorado

located in Hinsdale County, Colorado, along Cebolla Creek. The intersection itself is called Cathedral, although there didn't seem to be a building within a mile. Hinsdale County has the smallest population density in Colorado, with less than 3/4 of a person per square mile (which gave me a funny visual of what the ranchers out here look like!), so we were overpopulating this particular scene with our presence.

Photo of a gravel road and Pikes Peak just outside Woodland Park, Colorado
Pikes Peak view just outside Woodland Park

Some roads are picturesque without being remote. This gravel road just outside Woodland Park actually leads to dozens of houses and lots of side roads hidden in the trees. Other roads lead to unique and intriguing finds, such as Apishapa Arch on a stretch of the Highway of Legends Scenic Byway, which is cut through a volcanic dike on the slope of West Spanish Peak near Aguilar, Colorado. These dikes are found all over the area, and the easiest way to build the road was to tunnel through right here rather than try to find a way around.

Photo of the arch cut through a volcanic dike to allow a road to traverse the mountain slope, Colorado
Apishapa Arch

I've also gotten photos of really interesting examples of engineering that is needed to make some highways traversable. Two examples are on Interstate 70, which is a tremendously busy freeway any time of year (and a departure from our preference for roads less traveled) because of the number of tourists and other travelers, and because it's a major freight route. My favorite of the two is where the freeway was cut through the San Rafael Reef. The massive size of the Reef is indicated in the photo below showing a Dodge Ram 4x4 pulling a horse trailer. The Reef is about 75 miles long and was inaccessible by paved roads prior to the I-70 construction; this roadcut was considered part of one of the most significant highway construction feats of its time.

Photo showing how Interstate 70 cuts  through the San Rafael Reef in Utah
Interstate 70 cuts through the San Rafael Reef in Utah

Another stretch of I-70 that required unusual design and engineering is the stretch through Glenwood Canyon in Colorado as seen in the photo below. This was the last section to be completed due to the narrow canyon with high walls, the Colorado River, and the railroad running along the south side of the river. The over-under design of certain portions of this stretch are unusual, and some of the curves are tighter than normal interstate standards. This span of I-70 has had a number of problems in recent years, including 2020's Grizzly Creek fire that closed the highway for nearly two weeks and 2021's rock falls and mudslides that required closures off and on for several months.

Photo showing a section of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon in Colorado
Interstate 70 passes through Glenwood Canyon, Colorado

I have to admit I've developed a bit of an "attitude" toward people who've lived in Colorado all their lives, and are maybe "peak-bagging" (trying to climb all 58 of the 14'ers in the state), but who have never checked out the state's 26 scenic byways unless they happen to lead to a peak or peaks to be climbed. In fact, 13 of Colorado's Scenic and Historic Byways are federally designated as America's Byways, more than any other state. We've driven all or significant portions of 15 of them, plus very short sections of three more. One of my projects is to drive significant lengths of all 26.

Photo of the Devil's Stairsteps formation along the Highway of Legends Scenic Byway
Highway of Legends Scenic Byway

Some byways are pretty close to home for us. For example, the Highway of Legends is one of our favorites; we've driven the main section at least four times, but haven't ever finished the spur that leads to Aguilar. This photo is of one of the most eye-catching volcanic dike formations found there - called the Devil's Stairsteps, or Stairway to Heaven. Another we've driven several times is the Frontier Pathways byway between Florence and Silver Cliff, and its spur through Rye. One memorable trip was during the drive pictured below, where we literally followed a series of hailstorms all the way home from our lunch in Silver Cliff.

Photo of section of highway and dramatic clouds along the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway in Colorado
Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway with dramatic clouds and storm light

Then, what about those people who never get off the freeways because they 'have to get someplace'? They miss out on so many pretty sights and fun experiences because they're in too big a hurry to reach a destination. Checking out the side roads can be wonderful. For example, you must literally get off the highway and follow a gravel road for more than 20 miles to reach this magnificent vista near a fork of the Cimarron River in Colorado.

Photo of eroded cliffs on High Mesa near Cimarron, Colorado
High Mesa near Cimarron, Colorado

Other times, it pays to just get out of the vehicle and walk. There are thousands of trails and paths leading to cool locations and sights. I do have to admit, though, that I didn't walk terribly far along this trail because the day we were there it was unusually hot - well over 90 degrees.

Photo of trail at Twin Lakes, Colorado, with Rinker Peak in the background
Trail at Twin Lakes

The view shows one of the trails near Twin Lakes at the base of the Top of the Rockies byway with Rinker Peak in the background. One section of this byway crosses Independence Pass, arguably one of the "must-see" places in Colorado.

Sometimes, the conditions of the day just don't lend themselves to taking photos of the realism of the road or highway. Then it's time to get creative and artistic. We visited

Blur image of a back road in Wisconsin on a rainy day
Motion blur image of a back road in Wisconsin on a rainy day

Wisconsin several years ago and it seemed like the sky was always gray, or it rained. So, as we drove along this back road in the rain, I reset my shutter speed to blur the image and got this impressionist view of the fall colors and road. I'm afraid I have no idea where we were in the state, but it turned out to be one of the photos from the trip that I remember most.

I discovered with this post that I have oodles of photos featuring places we've driven to or through, but not the roads themselves; I guess a project for the next year should be to include more the roads, trails and paths we follow.

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