Another of our favorite 3-hour tours from my home in Nederland, Colorado, is the 4x4 route over Kingston Peak pass. This one is a bit of a doozy in places -- some of the more difficult terrain we have explored in our area. Well, save one stretch of trail we did years ago in Jenny Creek that took us about 45 minutes to move about 3 feet forward -- our 4Runner, Trusty Trudy, was precariously balanced on only two wheels -- one front wheel and one back. As we inched forward, literally inch by inch with me spotting continually and Erik getting out to survey and strategize every few inches, I also had to hang off the outside of the opened driver's-side door with all my weight to ensure Trudy didn't tip over on her passenger side. It was clear from various forms of evidence that previous travelers had spent a long time trying to get past this spot, as well.
The first time we attempted Kingston Peak with Trudy, we were turned back by one boulder on a steep skree slope we dubbed "the refrigerator." Later that summer we made a second attempt and met with success. Then we traded her in for a new ("new" 1999) 4Runner named Chewbacca. Chewie is a beast on this terrain with higher clearance than Trudy and a mean grunt in low-4. We love him. And I'm now updating this post to mention our newest addition to the family, Pinzy, our 1973 Pinzgauer, for whom the refrigerator is but any ol' rock to navigate.
So by now we have crossed this terrain in early, mid- and late summer. We've done it every year since the first one with Trudy, probably more than once each year. As you may have read in the Gamble Gulch post, most of these trails originated as old mining roads in the latter l800s and early 1900s ... people were crossing them in wagons with mining equipment! (!!) So I present to you a little photo tour through the seasons. If you are thinking of trying this route yourself -- from Mammoth Gulch Road over Kingston Peak to Fall River Road -- know that I'm not understating the requirement of a high-clearance vehicle with low-4 gearing.
The wildflowers along the lower part of this route (upper Mammoth Gulch) are spectacular. The season begins with a sea of yellow dotted with clumps of our state flower, the blue columbine.
Next, the red spikes of Indian paintbrush, purple clumps of harebells and 20 other kinds of flowers take over the landscape, and these can last most of the wildflower season.
We love collecting wild raspberries from this area. I'll keep it a little secret precisely where we go ... there are many side roads. :) The character below is Chewie.
Excellent views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness are to be found up here. I think this is Arapahoe Peak.
Our first attempt with Trudy ... you can see her hood just peeking up over the horizon of the trail and Erik walking back toward her after we left her temporarily to see if there were any other show-stopping obstacles ahead.
It seems so trivial now, as we've done it so many times! Also it has migrated a bit closer to the side of the trail. This pic is from our second attempt with Trudy ... success and the reward of copious wildflowers, particularly harebells, which I absolutely love. As you can see, we were traveling at our usual time of late in the day.
On the left side the first photo below you can just pick out the road switchbacking up the hillside. Once you get over the top, you feel like you're on top of the world.
A satisfying destination point from which you could turn around and go back the way you came, or continue on like we do in a loop, is the Rock House, where people bring rocks from wherever they're from and place them. Many people, including us, place memorial rocks. There's a mailbox with a register you can sign your name to.
These are the memorial rocks we made for our dear friend, John Major Jenkins, and my dad, Jerry Sinor, who would have loved this place. I also made one for my lost kitty, Tabitha.
This spot also provides a marvelous view of Loch Lomond below. Many pikas run around the rocks at the Rock House, making it a lovely place to hang out for awhile and enjoy the landscape.
I've never been to Scotland, but I envision its highlands somehow like this, maybe just because of the low, heavy mist so iconic to Scotland. I suppose, then, it is no coincidence that there is also a Loch Lomond in Scotland! The red and gold grasses of the pass in autumn are lovely, especially on a misty day with diffused light.
On this day we got out to hike a little ways to see the mountain lakes below (my friend is a marvelously accomplished photographer and was very keen to walk about with his camera). You can just spy him and Erik as little black pixels off on the upper right-hand side of the photo below. It started raining quite substantially and I stopped to try to get some pics of my beloved harebells without kneeling in the soaked grass, as my feet and head were already soggy. Sort of got a pic ... In standing up I banged my shin on a rock and between that pain and being wet and cold, I didn't forge on to see the lakes. That will be a gift for me another time.
Once you start descending the other side down toward Fall River Road, you are treated to a Seussian forest of wind-sculpted bristlecone pine trees. They are quite amazing trees, found just at tree line and able to grandly withstand incredibly harsh weather ... particularly wind. Can you guess which direction the wind blows? :-) haha. Some day I would spend more time exploring this little forest that marks the beginning of treeline. Such fantastical shapes and colors in the trunks.
After crossing the pass above timberline, the route drops into Fall River Road under St. Mary's Glacier near(ish) Idaho Springs. (these days, we call it more of a glacier-ette)
The forest service closes an access gate to the pass during the winter. It's very unpredictable when it will open each summer. Some years it's been late June, some not until August. But it's become an annual pilgrimage for us. Hope you enjoyed a little virtual ride along.
Check out the excellent photography of my friend, Garett Gabriel, much of it taken in Colorado in the Nederland area.