People have often asked us, what was the most memorable place we’ve visited over the past 3½ years. It’s a difficult question as we’ve seen so many beautiful, spectacular and interesting places. However, today’s drive through Bighorn Sheep Canyon was clearly in our top-5 for incredible scenery!
We left Colorado Springs and opted to avoid the Interstate (I-25) and go “cross country”. The first leg we took was west of Fort Carson which sits just east of the Front Range with its many sandstone outcroppings
where Debbie spotted the first of several horse statues,
as well as old farm buildings and equipment.
Route 115 proved better than we’d expected and had very little traffic.
Turning west on US-50 the landscape changed and we now had mountains rising on our right and left.
Suddenly, to our left (south), we noticed a large complex of masonry buildings in much better condition that most of what we’d seen since leaving Colorado Springs.
Then, it hit me, we were in Florence and the buildings we were wondering about were part of the “Super Max” facility which houses the inmates in the federal prison system who are deemed the most dangerous and in need of the tightest control, including Ramzi Yousef (mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing), Terry Nichols (1995 Oklahoma City bombing), Ted Kaczynski (Unibomber), Zacarias Moussaoui (September 11, 2001 attacks), Eric Rudolph (Atlanta Olympic bomber), Robert Hanson and Aldrich Ames (for selling secrets to the Russians), leaders of violent gangs, inmates who are high escape risks and prisoners who have murdered other inmates and/or correctional officials in other prisons. These inmates are kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for at least the first year and sometimes indefinitely.
Driving west we next found ourselves in Caῆon, a really nice community with all of the big box stores anyone could wish for, whose last government facility was the Colorado Territorial Prison, unfortunately, however, time did not allow us to take a public tour.
After bypassing Royal Gorge (currently closed due to the extensive damage to the Royal Gorge Park, and minimal damage to the bridge resulting from a June 11, 2013 forest fire which torched 3,218 acres in and around the Park) which is ten miles long, with a width of 50 feet at its base, a few hundred feet at its rim and a depth of 1,350 feet with a suspension bridge, one of the highest bridges in the world and the highest in the United States at 955 feet above the Arkansas River. The bridge is 1,260 feet long and 18 feet wide with a main span of 938 feet and a wooden walkway with 1,292 planks. It is suspended from two 150 foot towers.
We entered Bighorn Sheep Canyon … although we will admit up front that we did not see any bighorn sheep. Nevertheless, it was an exhilarating drive.
Along the way there were some old, abandoned relics.
The narrow canyon eventually began to widen
and we exited into a wide plain which jutted up against another range to the west.
Turning south on US-285 in Poncha Springs, we climbed to 9,010’ before again descending and branching onto Colorado 17, one of the straightest roads we’ve driven on in several years,
not to mention one of the most tiring as your eyes get tired looking ahead a mile or so when the pavement disappears into a mirage which never gets any closer.
The landscape on either side is mostly range land which extends to the mountains to both the east and the west, punctuated by
and occasionally, more long-distance bikers.
Just north of Mosca, we took a left and headed east across a flat and featureless plain..
Slowly, looming to the northeast we spotted a patch of light tan
Tucked up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains … the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado.
After checking in at out campground, we took some time to take in the vistas of the Dunes
And surrounding mountains where a rainstorm was brewing.
That evening, we spotted a herd of 12 elk
and 3 antelope.
As the sun began to set, it tinted the mountains behind our campground with a golden hue.
Just before dark, a western scrub jay paid us a visit.