August 12 & 13 – Casper, WY to Antonito, CO

With a total distance of over 550 miles (as the Honda rolls) between Casper, Wyoming, and Antonito, Colorado, I knew it would take two days to make the trip. I also knew that I wanted to ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad – which is why I was headed for Antonito to begin with. I also knew that I had to be home by Sunday, August 16, so it was getting to be crunch time.

I left Casper Wednesday morning and motored south through some gorgeous country. I didn’t see anything in particular that was any more amazing than any other spot, but eventually my body began yelling at me to feed it, so I picked a wide spot in the road (literally – there was a paved area on one side of the road that I sped past and turned around to come back to), parked, opened up my camp chair, and had lunch.

Lunch break!

Lunch break!

After I finished eating and repacking, I motored southward again. (I say “southward” because, like all the Western states, there aren’t that many “big” roads around, and so you go where they are. Sometimes I was going south; sometimes west; even east and north a couple of times.) I found this marker while still in Wyoming; while I don’t *think* the tracks are actually part of the Overland Trail, it was nice to pretend. Had I (a) had time and (b) been in a four-wheeler, I would have explored the tracks to see what was there. Maybe next time.


The stone’s inscription doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but I wasn’t in charge of the wording.

But I didn’t and I wasn’t, so I continued motoring southward and shortly found myself in Colorado!

YAY Colorado!

YAY Colorado!

I also found out that Wyoming is apparently west of wherever you’re coming from:

Goodbye, Wyoming! Are you *really* west of Colorado? ;-)

Goodbye, Wyoming! Are you *really* west of Colorado? šŸ˜‰

And I noticed that the topography was changing, too, as I traveled south … ward.



I stayed in Kremmling, CO, Wednesday night and continued south (by this time it *was* almost all south, because that’s the way the Rocky Mountain valleys go) on Thursday. I found I-70 at Silverthorne (and decided I wouldn’t mind living there) and took it through one of the most gorgeous mountain passes I have seen in a long time! It was so beautiful that I risked life and limb to get some photos while riding at 70 mph (but don’t tell anyone!).


The scenery followed me down CO 91, over the Fremont Pass (at 11,318 feet above sea level) and down to Leadville.


The Climax Mine is right at the summit of theĀ pass, as was the town of Climax before the mine swallowed it up. There’s an outdoor display about the town, the mine, and its product (molybdenum) across the road from the mine.


The mine has a long history, which is still being made. The company has been very active in its reclamation and restoration work (which they tout) even reclaiming a tailings pond to the point where it’s now stocked with trout and is a recreation destination in the area. One of their proudest achievements is “the highest-altitude compost pile in the world.”

Climax Mine timeline

Climax Mine timeline

Top of the World Compost!

Top of the World Compost!

As I descended into Leadville, I learned that the valley I was in holds the headwaters of the Arkansas River. Of course, it’s not very *big* there, but nonetheless… šŸ˜‰

I motored south out of Leadville down CO 91 and eventually found US 24 which led me to US 285 and then CO 17. By that time I was out of the Rockies and into a wide, flat valley. I found this sign, which struck a chord with me – in all the times I’ve crossed the 38th Parallel in the US, this is the *only* place I’ve seen anything like this.

Korean War commemorative sign.

Korean War commemorative sign.

My next stop was the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. I had seen the sign for this park last year, when I drove north through Antonito on my way to Denver and points east, but didn’t have time then to visit. I *made* the time this year, and it was well worth it.

I’m sure you’re familiar with how dust will collect in little swirls in your house, where the various conflicting air currents all meet and play havoc with your cleaning rituals. Well, imagine the same thing on a miles-wide scale, and you have the Great Sand Dunes. Basically, the wind picks up sand and dust from ancient lake- and seabeds in the valley to the west of the Dunes, and when itĀ hits the mountains to the east, it’s forced to slow down and drop its load of sand and dust. Sometimes, too, the wind will blow *from* the east, piling up the sand even more.


The Dunes are *HUGE*. The first shot, below, shows little specks at the bottom, and some littler ones up on / in them. Those are people (I zoomed in for the second photo)!

Big sand dunes with teeny-tiny people

Big sand dunes with teeny-tiny people

Toldja they were people!

Toldja they were people!

Interestingly enough, although the Dunes are classified as a wilderness, you can go anywhere you want on them (assuming proper preparation, like sturdy shoes and lots of water). You just have to do it on foot. There’s a stream at the bottom which is busy moving sand away from the mountains and back to the center of the valley for the wind to pick up again; lots of people go there to build sand castles and have other water-and-sand-related fun.

Fun at the "beach"!

Fun at the “beach”!

The sand itself is really interesting, too – almost all the other “beach sand” I’ve seen is primarily one color, having come mainly from one kind of rock. Here, though, the mountains surrounding the area were created by volcanic activity and by crustal uplifting, causing many different kinds of rock to become exposed and eroded into sand. So the sand, too, is multicolored. As always, a photo is a poor substitute for the real thing, but here’s a closeup of the dune sand.

Unique sand

Unique sand

I don’t know whether you normally click on these thumbnails or not (the actual photos can be quite large on your screen), but I highly recommend you click on this one to see the individual grains. They’re beautiful!

As usual, I ran out of time before I ran out of views, and it looked like rain was moving in (again), so I left the park and rode on to Antonito. I managed to avoid whatever rain there was, but not by much – it sprinkled on me, but didn’t really get me wet, for which I was grateful. The motel I picked to stay at was literally next door to the Cumbres & Toltec, so I knew I wouldn’t have trouble getting to the train on time in the morning. Here’s a little preview of the coming attraction:


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