Monthly Archives: June 2013

7 Must-See Sites on the West Elk Loop

Sometimes stunning, other times serene, the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway is the ultimate tour of Colorado’s Western Slope. From Paonia’s bursting peaches to the massive aspen grove on Kebler Pass, this slice of Colorado makes me wonder why I live in the Front Range at all. Here are seven places on the West Elk Loop where you should spend at least an hour or two.

Crested Butte

Crested Butte

Some affectionately refer to our state as “Condorado,” based on observations of massive developed ski towns like Vail and Beaver Creek. Crested Butte retained its alpine soul, and remains one of the prettiest mountain towns in the state.

Kebler Pass

Drive through Colorado’s largest aspen grove on Kebler Pass, the unpaved road between Crested Butte and the Paonia Reservoir. Stop frequently and soak up the experience of being 10,000 feet high and inside of a single living organism.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

You’ve heard of the Grand Canyon. The Black Canyon might just be the most stunning stone crevasse you’ve never heard of. Deep and dramatic, this marbled canyon could swallow the Empire State Building whole. Drink in the steep, dark cliffs; watch golden eagles ride up thermals or even hike the river-carved bottom of this lesser-known national park.

Curecanti National Recreation Area

In Colorado, every lake is special. That makes the 96 miles of shoreline around Blue Mesa Reservoir, the biggest in this triad of man-made lakes, especially impressive. Boaters, fishers and beach types, take note.


Sculpture garden

A sculpture garden on a river, picturesque antique buildings and colorful coke ovens define this quick stop. Stop in the Redstone Manor for a dose of the history of this Historic District.


Farms dot this pastoral and progressive town, which prides itself on its lack of stoplights. Paonia is an especially pleasing stop during peach- and cherry season.


Marble Mountain

Image: Alan Levine/Flickr

Ever wonder where the marble for the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier came from? Even if you never asked that question, the answer is Marble, Colorado. At the end of what looks like a dirt road to nowhere, you’ll find this sleepy town and its Yule marble quarry. Flanked by Fourteeners, this photogenic quarry features an old mill, a museum and 10,000+-pound marble chunks stacked high. Explore by foot and absorb the adventurous feeling of being here.



You can find detailed, mile-by-mile information about this byway and 11 more in the Backroads and Byways of Colorado—Second Edition. This spankin’ new edition features color photos, maps at every byway and extensive updated listings.

Thank You, Tattered Cover

I was honored to be able to speak at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver last week. Here’s a really blurry mobile picture of the talk. Bottom line, the Tattered Cover is one of America’s most regal bookstores, with a spacious events hall that has hosted everyone from Buckminster Fuller to Barack Obama, and it was a real treat to be up there sharing my Colorado experiences with readers.


I can’t tell you how happy it made me when audience members approached me afterwards to share their enthusiasm for the state and all it has to offer. For the first time, I experienced the magic that catalyzes between an author, her material and a receptive audience. A writer’s work is, after all, a living creation. Our words exist to be heard. In the right conditions, the author not only delivers words, but transports her audience to a new place and time.

I think the Tattered Cover realizes the sacred nature of this transmission. From the well-worn signing desk in the events hall to the careful stewardship of each reading event, our grand dame of Colorado bookstores continually sets the foundation for writers and readers to bond.

I am humbled to have experienced the Tattered Cover in this way. I come out of it with a new appreciation and reverence for readers, and a deepened love affair with the bookstore.

Thank you for attending, and thank you for reading.

Top of the Rockies Byway: Wild West Meets Aspen Utopia



OSCAR WILDE, wearing finery and diamonds, lectures a group of rough-and-tumble miners on The Practical Application of the Principles of the Aesthetic Theory to Exterior and Interior House Decoration, With Observations upon Dress and Personal Ornaments.

OSCAR WILDE (uncomfortably)

The artist is not dependent on the visible and the tangible. He has his visions and his dreams to feed on. But the workman must see lovely forms as he goes to his work in the morning and returns at eventide. 



STAGEHANDS (offended by WILDE’S dapper appearance)

 He’s a wuss! Let’s see how much he can drink!


STAGEHANDS are rolling around under a bar table, deleriously drunk as Wilde looms over them, downing yet another drink.


That’s a true story. (As described much more eloquently by the Guardian’s Sam Jordison.)

Jordison describes Leadville as being “enjoyably, though worryingly, ‘authentic.'” The Wild West hasn’t completely disappeared from this former mining boomtown. At 10,200 feet, it’s America’s second-highest town and, aptly, a main attraction of the Top of the Rockies byway.


Image: CDOT

The Top of the Rockies blends exquisite high-mountain scenery with ghost towns and mining outposts straight out of a Hollywood western. From the Lover’s Leap steel-arched bridge to the colorful mining ghost town of Gilman to the towering Black Cloud Mine near Leadville, history is alive on this byway.


There’s plenty of hiking, mountain biking, fishing and riding along the way. Also be sure to check out Camp Hale, where the famous 10th Mountain Division trained.  Built in 1942 for the war effort, Camp Hale trained an infantry of skiers, ice climbers and mountain specialists to fight for the US in Italy. Now decommissioned, it later served as a training ground for a group of Tibetans recruited by the CIA for Cold War purposes.

Camp Hale

After winding over the stunning Independence Pass, you get a taste of the most chi-chi town in the intermountain West.

Aspen is what happens when you transform a mining ghost town into a “utopian community for the mind and body.” By “you,” I mean Chicago business tycoon Walter Paepcke and master skier Friedl Pfeifer; by “transform,” I mean facelift the town into a celebrated hub for skiers and people who own Lear jets.


Aspen is the gold Rolex to Leadville’s rough-hewn nugget. Even on a budget, though, it’s worth the trip. The Maroon Bells, delicious eats and summer festivals–and yes, people watching–make Aspen a must-see.

To learn more about the Top of the Rockies byway, including where to eat, best places to stay and which ghost towns to check out, crack open a copy of the Backroads and Byways of Colorado, Second Edition.