Monday, September 26, 2016

Independence Pass

Sorry for the slow updates on the wild west trip but this leg of the adventure needed to be told via pictures. I had about 2,000 pictures to go through. I know, that's a ridiculous amount but I had two cameras and my phone to go through. As much as I'd rather be shooting film I was ever so grateful for digital cameras for this trip. After we left Glenwood Springs, CO we headed southeast towards South Fork, CO.  Amber was feeling adventurous and decided to take Colorado State Highway 82.  When she suggested it I thought, sure whatever, a highway is a highway, right? NO! I'm glad she thought of it and glad we did it so I don't ever have to do it again. I've been on mountain roads before but this one was, we'll just say exhilarating. From nowhere to go but down to snow on the ground, it was quite the ride.
I was the passenger on this scenic highway and I was too busy looking at what was in front of me to notice that it was a long way down and no shoulder. Amber quickly pointed out by shouting, OH MY GOD DON'T LOOK DOWN. Well of course that's exactly what I did. I had no idea we had been driving up a mountain. From this picture you can see we're up higher than the trees and the utility poles.
The mountains don't seem so tall when you're practically on top of one. This highway took us through some small scenic towns and the destination of Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne, Aspen.  Unfortunately we didn't find Mary Swanson or Samsonite but we did see a ridiculous amount of private jets. Way to leave your carbon footprint all over Colorado you private jet owning a-holes.
Right about the time this picture was taken I thought, this isn't so bad. We're pretty high up but it could be worse, we could be all the way up there. Then I noticed some cars way up there. I pointed up and said, look at those cars up there, surely we're not going up there are we? Yes, that's exactly where we were going.
Zooming in and cropping to help illustrate just how far and high up that tiny two lane highway was. Highway 82 crosses the Continental Divide at Independence Pass. The Great Divide, or the Continental Divide, is where the continent is divided by mountains and water. It begins in Alaska, goes through Canada, back through the US, down to Mexico and eventually ends in Nicaragua. I've crossed this in Mexico on what used to be the Mexican Federal Highway 40 (Carratera Interoceánica) a two lane undivided road that used to take 8 hours from Durango to Mazatlan, now it's been updated and only takes 3 hours. If I had to say which was better or worse I can't really say since I never driven through them, I was the passenger in both instances, but I can only imagine I'd have white knuckles for weeks.

That little line towards the bottom fourth of the picture is the road where we were when I took the previous photo. Independence Pass is in between Aspen and Twin Lakes. The elevation is 12,095 feet. It's the highest elevation of paved highway in the state of Colorado. There are gates that close off this portion of the highway during the winter. That's something I was seriously concerned about.  We normally drive through snow like nothing but where I live there are shoulders along the road for you to pull over if you need to. Forget about getting a flat tire on this highway or running out of gas, or having any kind of swerve room for slick road conditions. There's nowhere to go, it's either down or drive into the the mountain.
 You can see here, this itty bitty guard rail may not have seemed like much but it clearly served its purpose. I didn't want to mention to Amber how beat up the guard rail was as I didn't want to scare her and end up testing the full strength of it. When I later said something she said she did notice but didn't want to say anything either.
Again, the mountains don't seem so tall when you're on top of them. The clouds didn't seem so far away either.
I was excited to see snow. Not sure why, but yay! When we saw the snow we realised how far up we actually were. It also made sense that we were actually kinda cold while up there. It was close to a 15 degree temperature difference from when we started.
Once we went through the snow and said goodbye to Independence Pass we thought the insanity was over. Not even close! You can see the road in the lower right corner.  Up and down and around the mountain we kept going.
At the point when I took this picture I said, surely this is the end, that road down there is where we'll end up and we'll be "on the ground" again.
As we went around the corner and looked up, that line going through the side of the mountain is where we were. We were literally driving on the side of a mountain. This section of the highway was different from the rest. You could smell the water running through the rocks and when traffic slowed way down you could hear and sometimes see it it.  At this point I thought, what kind of crazy person would choose to drive through here? Mother Nature is still cutting her way down through this mountain, at any moment a big chunk of this mountain could decide to sled down itself.  Looking at it again from this picture it seems like no big deal.
From here we can see the water that was trickling down the side of the mountain.
Finally we made it to the end.  All along the highway there were people pulled over, where they could, to go swimming, tubing and whatever else there was available to do in the middle of nowhere. Every now and then we could see cabins/homes. We couldn't believe that someone would choose to live there and have to drive that highway to go into town to get stuff. As much as I'd love to be a hermit and live on a deserted island I'm still realistic in that I know I have to get toothpaste and potato chips from the store.
Up next, South Fork, CO, the Shady Burro and a grocery store that closed before it was dark. Seriously, are there vampires in South Fork?