Southeastern Colorado’s Highway of Legends

Scenic Byway 12

Unusual geologic formations, breathtaking vistas, and a rich history are showcased on The Highway of Legends in Southeastern Colorado.

Highway of Legends in Southeastern Colorado

The 70-mile Scenic Byway 12 is easy to navigate and winds through some of the state’s most unique geological formations, peaceful landscapes, and idyllic small towns. Pastoral valley meadows are encircled by towering mountain ranges still capped with snow in late summer.

Highway of Legends in Southeastern Colorado

Scenic Highway 12 loops west of Trinidad then north through Stonewall, Cuchara, and La Veta before ending at Walsenburg. The Culebra, Sangre de Cristo, and Spanish Peaks Ranges in the Los Carlos Ranger District of the San Isabel National Forest provide a constant backdrop of majestic mountains. 

Highway of Legends in Southeastern Colorado

Spanish Peaks Wilderness and SWA and Cuchara River Recreation Area and Pass provide access to camp, fish, and hunt.  

Highway of Legends in Southeastern Colorado

The Spanish Peaks Wilderness

Photo by Footwarrior

Twin Peaks

Prominent landmarks along the eastern front of the Southern Rockies are the twin peaks of Los Cumbres Espanolos (Spanish Peaks). Known by the Ute and Comanche American Indian tribes as Wahatoya (“the breasts of the earth”) the peaks are where the rain gods create life-sustaining clouds and rain. 

Radial Dikes

Published on Sep 2, 2017 by Don Atwood

Great dikes radiate out of the mountains resembling spokes of a wheel.These were created when molten rock intruding layers of sedimentary rock pressed up and out spreading through radial cracks like wheel spokes. Erosion later revealed the dikes.

Towering up to 200 feet high and 17 miles long, nearly 400 separate dikes have been identified by geologists. 

Highway of Legends in Southeastern Colorado

Camping and Hiking

Highway of Legends in Southeastern Colorado

Spanish Peaks Wilderness was established in 2000, encompassing almost 20,000 acres of steep, rough backcountry with little water and few trails. That also means fewer people within the Wilderness boundaries and more vying for campsites.

Highway of Legends in Southeastern Colorado

There are four designated campgrounds and nine trails in Spanish Peak Wilderness Area. All of the camps took reservations and were packed even during the week in late July. Folks lined chairs next to each other fishing both Bear and Blue Lakes.

Highway of Legends in Southeastern Colorado

Close to Heaven and Down to Earth Country Lifestyle

While a true wilderness getaway in public land may be difficult, a day trip through the scenic byway is worth it. 

Highway of Legends in Southeastern Colorado

Most of the land in this area is privately owned and reflects rural lifestyle at its best. Small towns flow with music, art, and festivals creating a relaxed country lifestyle with family-friendly charm. 

Highway of Legends in Southeastern Colorado

Large ranches with green, flower-filled meadows provide ample habitat for herds to graze creating an idyllic landscape and life where people are connected to each other, the land, and Nature’s cycles.

Highway of Legends in Southeastern Colorado

Scenic Byway 12: Utah’s First ‘All American Road’

Utah’s 124-mile All American Scenic Byway 12 captured my heart with intense drama, diversity, and landscapes unfolding with stunning perfection across south-central Utah.

give yourself plenty of time

This All American Road has 11 amazing national or state forests, parks, monuments, and recreation areas. You won’t want to miss any! Each is a destination in its own right, so give yourself ample time.

Spanning from Bryce Canyon to Escalante and then Boulder, the diverse landscape includes lush ponderosa pine and aspen forests opening to sliprock canyons and then stunning mountain meadows full of flowers.

Desolate shale badlands and rugged limestone canyons filled with eroding rock formations and spirals of hoo-doos seem to keep watch over this infinite, quiet beauty. Breathtaking is an understatement.

Landscape of american pioneers

Scenic 12 crosses the Trail of The Ancients Scenic Byway where  maps spiral beyond time in a land that has shaped resilient, tenacious people. The range spans Paleolithic societies to ancestral Pueblo’s, then on to nomadic Navajo, Apache, and Ute tribes and finally followed by white settlers.

Limited water,  rugged topography, and powerful winds carve astonishing vistas in the landscape.  It also carves an enduring faith and deep appreciation for life in the people of this region .

Vistas spanning hundreds of miles and eons of time offer a rare silence broken occasionally by the faint drone of airplanes. Sunrise and sunset delight the senses while expansive dark skies starscapes reveal glimpses of the universe beyond our galaxy.

how to get there

Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points.

The southwestern gateway is from U.S. HW 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch.

The northeastern gateway is from HW 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.

There are nine communities along the route. There’s quite an expanse between towns so be sure to keep an eye on your gas guage.

All American status

How does a road become an All American? These elite scenic byways are a portal to Nature’s stunning creations.

All American Roads offer inspiring vistas of natural, historic, recreational, archeological, and cultural significance.

I am transformed by each All American Road I meet.

A single lifetime is not nearly enough.

Beartooth Pass ‘All American’ Scenic Highway

Continents crashed 75 million years ago forcing granite rock thousands of feet into the air. Fast forward through a few glacial sculpting periods to today’s Beartooth Range in Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana with hundreds of alpine lakes, steep headwalls, horns, cirque, and hanging valleys.

35-55 million years later neighboring volcanoes massively erupted spewing over 4,000 feet of ash and lava.

Millenniums of wind and water erosion in the soft volcanic rock created the Absaroka Range with steep slopes and stunning shapes amid long valleys.

Combined these ranges create one of America’s most stunning visual masterpieces with infinite breathtaking vistas.

That is if you have any breath left after driving the thrilling twists and turns with steep drop offs on Chief Joseph Scenic Drive and the Beartooth Pass!

The epic Beartooth Scenic Byway is one of the highest highways and in the country. With elevations at 10,000 feet the Beartooth is a top ranked engineering marvel and builder’s art.

Imagine this – it was actually constructed on time and in budget from 1931 to 1936!

There are three national forests in the region expanding access through forest service roads, trails, campgrounds and boondocking sites.

The Custer and Gallatin are on the Montana side and the Shoshone National Forest is in Wyoming.

Be sure to take the Clay Butte Fire Lookout station gravel road turn off of Beartooth Byway for a spectacular 360-degree view of the ranges and valleys. I might actually work in an enclosed office if it looked like this one!

While there, step back in time and experience how firefighters used the lookouts to fight fires in earlier days. Tools, maps, charts, and displays share the historical fire stories of these mountains.  National Fire Service volunteers teach visitors about everything from fires to the oceans that once covered the region.

You can sure see the smoke in my story photos. I hoped to hold off on this blog until I could get clear photos of Beartooth Pass but I’ve never been to Montana when the skies were clear.

I’ve learned that folks in the West talk about  five seasons, the four we all know and Fire Season. Last year was a brutal record breaking fire season in Montana. So far in 2018 over 55,000 acres have burned  in Montana and half of the counties are under air quality alerts.

That’s far better than last year’s million acre fire season.

Experiencing the clear, big skies of Montana is still on my list. I’ve barely scratched the surface! Friends suggest rainy season in April and May. Winter is good but it’s a bit chilly with no heater.  Rocky is a nice little heater but not that good!

What’s your advice about prime time in Montana? It’s an amazing state I could spend a lifetime exploring!