Our summer vacation road trip that originated in Maine, had brought us to Leadville, Colorado. My twelve and thirteen-year-old daughters dozed in the backseat of the car while my mom and I chatted in the front. Leadville was only about a thirty minute drive from beautiful Buena Vista. I had been sad to leave Mount Princeton behind, but the mountains all along the west side of highway 285 were simply breathtaking. With another of Colorado’s famous 360 sunny days per year, the sunshine was abundant under a clear, blue sky. The Collegiate Peak Range is one of the most rugged and picturesque areas in the state and we were right in the middle of it all. The highway began climbing sharply before long, and the trees and greenery began thinning out. The tops of the mountains no longer seemed so far away from us.
Leadville is one of the highest towns in the continental United States. Nestled near the Twin Lakes of Colorado, at a lofty 10,152 feet above sea level, Leadville has the look and feel of an old West mining town. Even in the middle of June, the weather at mid day was a breezy sixty degrees. We put on our newly acquired “Colorado” sweatshirts and parked the car at the bottom of the main street through town. We browsed in and out of antique shops which were quaintly set in historic buildings from the 19th century. We felt the altitude as we walked, huffing and puffing as though we had all been running a race. In spite of the bright sunshine, it was chilly and unforgiving. Leadville is not for the faint of heart. After only an hour or so, we were tired and ready for a break. Back near our parked car, we found an old fashioned ice cream parlor and we sat down to enjoy the sweetness.
Although I have visited Leadville many times in my life, I have never been there in the winter time. Somehow in all my years growing up and living in Colorado, summertime was the only reasonable time to visit Leadville. Intellectually (and logically) I understand why, but I am also intrigued by the idea of spending a winter there. After having lived in Maine for many years, I wonder just how bad the winters could actually be. After all, in spite of the cold, the sunshine will still be there for 360 days, which is far more light than we get back in New England.
Being in Leadville has always felt, to me, like a trip back through time, to a simpler lifestyle. Simpler, not that it’s easier, but that life is more clear cut. Perhaps I have always secretly wanted to live in Leadville. Either way, I have always been a bit sad when it is time to drive away from town, and I was no less sad on this day. We finished our ice cream, got back into the car and headed north.
We set out on Route 24 north, a winding, mountain road that would ultimately take us back down to a more civilized altitude, to Interstate 70, and ultimately, to Vail. Having ridden with my parents on that stretch of Route 24 as a child, I had never driven it myself. Most of the way was a narrow, winding road that hugged the side of the mountains and dropped off into oblivion on the other side. I drove slowly and carefully, aware that one wrong move could send us sailing to the rocks hundreds of feet below the highway. Yet, in spite of the frightening drive, the view was more than a slice of heaven. It was late afternoon now, and although we still had several hours of daylight left, the sun sets early in the deep mountain valleys of Colorado. Sharp rays of light were shooting through the pine trees on one side of the valley, illuminating the dark red rocks on the opposite side. It was a colorful extravaganza for the eyes.
We soon came out of our heavenly valley and came suddenly upon Interstate 70, fast moving traffic, and the realization that we were back in the real world. Vail was only about 20 miles to the east, and the next stop on our Colorado road trip. We were looking forward to checking into our hotel, having a swim in the pool, and enjoying a fabulous dinner.