The vast expanse that is the Arkansas River Valley is also notably cozy. On the south end, you have the town of Salida. In the middle, you have Buena Vista. At Buena Vista, highway 24 splits northbound towards Leadville, Minturn and I-70, while U.S. 285 heads south to Salida, Alamosa, and ultimately through New Mexico and Texas. North of Buena Vista, U.S. 24 and the valley climbs in elevation towards Leadville.
The descent into the mighty Laramie River Valley conjures images of the first explorers descending upon the untamed, wild Rocky Mountain valleys. Via Deadman Road (County Road 86), the descent is relatively sudden, and soon after several switchbacks backdropped by the towering Medicine Bows, a great expanse of valley is revealed through the trees. This is an area seen by few. Certainly, the experience is reminiscent of the descent from Kenosha Pass into South Park on U.S. 285, except several orders of magnitude less trafficked.
Pingree Park Road, or County Road 63E, is a well-maintained gravel road which travels due south from Highway 14 to the northern flank of the Mummy Range. The valley in which the road follows was originally explored by the Arapaho, Mountain Ute, and Cheyenne Native Americans. Development in the valley took place in the mid-1860s, when George Pingree traveled up the South Fork of the Poudre River in search of trees to log for railroad ties for the transcontinental railroad. In 1868, Pingree established a tie camp in the valley now known as Pingree Park. The ties were floated down the Poudre River to Laporte, where they were then taken via wagon to Tie Siding, Wyoming. In the fall of 1870, the demand for railroad ties had been filled and Pingree’s camp closed. Today, the valley offers an abundance of recreational activities, and is the site of Colorado State University’s Mountain Campus.
It’s hard to describe what kind of experience the White Rim was. If you’ve ever been to Moab, or any part of the Desert Southwest, you might think you understand: red rocks, towering sandstone monoliths rising above you, canyons… But you don’t quite know the desert southwest until you’ve spent time on the White Rim (and I mean meaningful time, not just passing through to Potash Canyon or popping in to see Musselman Arch).
The start of White Rim trail, traveling clockwise, has you not far from the Island in the Sky visitor center. Across the road from the visitor center is an overlook, that gives you the first glimpse of the White Rim trail, meandering its way into the distance. On a clear day, the La Sal mountains make for an impressive backdrop, paired with the thousand-foot drop off from the top of the Island in the Sky mesa to the White Rim sandstone layer, the geologic layer that the road runs on its entire route until the very western end. The White Rim Road is a 71.2 mile road that was built in the 1950s by the Atomic Energy Commission, as a uranium prospecting road. It follows roughly along the base of the Island in the Sky mesa.
The White Rim Road, despite being fully within Canyonlands National Park, is lightly trafficked. No more than 50 vehicle permits are issued daily (which, most of the time, are all issued by 8am), and there are a limited amount of campsites which are often booked as early as four months in advance. Backcountry camping and wood-based fires are prohibited on the White Rim, so you must use a designated campsite. There is very little to burn on the White Rim, so most of the time having a camp fire isn’t even an option.