It was July 4th in Denver, Colorado and our kind friend Ross was playing tour guide and driver. Leaving the 92°F city streets behind us, he explained that we could literally drive to the top of a mountain. Denver, already the “mile-high city” at 5,280 feet looks out on a vista of peaks including 14,265 foot Mount Evans.
Apparently constructed in something of a tourism war between Denver and neighbouring Colorado Springs, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway is a grand American convenience — a smooth paved road that loops its way up to just a few feet below the mountain’s peak.
From visiting Denver’s Botanic Gardens we knew already that Mount Evans was home to some beautiful alpine plants and the bulk of the area’s Bristlecone Pines which are fascinatingly gnarled ancient trees.
We spent quite a while bending down to examine hundreds of plants which were tucked between boulders and holding fast to the dry sparse soil. The temperature had already significantly cooled from the throes of summer in the city. We marvelled at how easily our heads reeled and our breath got short with minimal exertion at the increased elevation.
It was the next shift that surprised us even more. The trees fell back in a clear line to reveal only a thin covering of scrub growth over tumbled boulders and the first glimpses of snowy drifts ran along ridges above us.
The dense forests left behind, the road lead to a plateau and a line of other visitors parked in a ribbon along the shoulder as we all left our cars to walk out and gape at Summit Lake, a shallow and glassy arc spilling out underneath thousand foot peaks.
Standing in t-shirts, arms wrapped around ourselves braced against the shock of 54° winds, was truly surreal. There are few places where you can experience such a rapid physical and environmental shift.
On our way back down from the mountain, well back into the Independence Day swelter, we were stopped dead in that finest American tradition, a traffic jam. We spent the next couple of hours dreaming of what we would eat and drink should we ever move from the blazing road — the chilled mountain lake nearly forgotten. When the cars finally moved again, we saw that we had been marooned on the highway by a flipped truck, its cargo of bright red apples swept to the edges of the road. Weary we shrugged and headed back towards the city.