Reaching Climax

Johnson Tunnel, Camp Dick, and other things along the road

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From Salida we traveled north on 285, gaining a spectacular view of the Collegiate Peaks to our west (Mt. Princeton, Mt. Yale, Mt. Harvard).  Once on highway 24 we stopped for breakfast at Jan’s Family Restaurant in Buena Vista, a lovely dining place with amazing food (the omelet must have been made with a dozen eggs, and the Huevos Rancheros was a giant plate size spectacle slathered with refried beans and green chili sauce).

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Once in Leadville, highway 91 took us to Frisco and I70 via Climax, Colorado, also known as Freemont Pass, at 11,318 feet. On the way down we passed through the Johnson Tunnel and then found our way to Frisco and I70 was its usual catastrophe of high speed vehicles and bad drivers, but once we got off at Highway 6 the route turned frantically scenic.

The route into Estes Park involves highway 119 to Nederland, then highway 72 for 23 miles and finally highway 7 into the city. There seems to be four ways to travel this path. First and least popular, hitchhiking. We saw a father and two young children trying to catch a ride going south. Folks, you know, in movies this activity never turns out well, either for the hiker or the. . .picker-upper.

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Bicycling seems to be quite popular, though I can’t imagine it is very relaxing. There are more hills and twists and turns than candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential ticket, and the cyclists we saw seemed to be in genuine (not imagined) pain, spinning their tires in the lowest possible gear and moving up a 7% grade at about 5 feet per minute.

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Motorcycles (or choppers, baby) were also prevalent. Here’s a tip: don’t flip off the roving packs of cyclists you see on the road—they’ll follow you for miles.

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Cars were by far the vehicle of choice, and from your car you can see plenty of scenery on the way and occasional turn outs, but don’t expect to see a gas station or any semblance of civilization once you’re past Nederland. There is Camp Dick, just south of Estes Park; recreation.gov will give you more information about this seminal camping institution.