Monday, May 15, 2017

On the Road: Amarillo, TX, to Cripple Creek, CO

I've traveled through Colorado several times over the years, but Donna has only cut across the southwest corner of the state, to my knowledge. So our trip today was, for the most part, new and exciting. I had been over most of the roads we covered today, but it had been a number of years ago, so it was good to see the country again.

The normal route people take from Amarillo to the Colorado Springs area is to cross to Raton, NM, hit Interstate 25, and then head north. Donna and I opted, though, to head due north from Amarillo to cross the High Plains across the Oklahoma Panhandle and through southeastern Colorado.

428 miles from Amarillo to Cripple Creek

We began the day by taking Loop 335 around Amarillo to the north, where we picked up US 87/287, the same US 87 than runs through San Angelo. About 20 miles north of Amarillo, we crossed the Canadian River, then continued on through a series of smaller towns such as Dumas, Cactus, and Stratford before crossing into the narrow Oklahoma Panhandle. At Dumas, US 87 turned west, so now we followed US 287.

The highway so far is good, 4 lanes all the way from Amarillo to Stratford. From Amarillo to just north of the Canidian River, the land rolls gently, but north of the Canadian the land becomes flatter, occasionally dipping into creeks to break the monotony. At the Oklahoma line, the road surface changes, becoming a bit bumpier, but there are numerous passing lanes available. The speed drops to 65, and it would remain at 65 all the way to Colorado Springs.
Much of the land north of the Canadian River is as flat as a billiard table.
At Boise City, OK, we stop for gas at Loves, the continue north on US 287. At the Colorado line, the
highway surface improves, but it is still 2 lanes and 65 mph. We stop for a break at Lamar, the cross the Arkansas River and continue north. So far this morning, it has been a very pleasant drive, with very little traffic on this early Sunday morning, which is also Mothers' Day. But at Lamar, traffic picks up, especially truck traffic.

Sometimes there are swells to the land, especially along creeks. 
And sometimes, a piece of the earth just juts upwards out of nowhere. This is Twin Buttes, northeast of Springfield, Colorado.
At Kit Carson, we follow US 287 northwest a few miles before turning due west on Highway 94. We were now heading straight for Colorado Springs and the Rocky Mountains. We eagerly looked for the snowcapped mountains on the western horizon. This is a rather desolate highway, with no services for 70 miles. We meet very little traffic. But we do begin to spot Pike's Peak in the distance, and watch over the miles at it looms closer and closer.

Pikes Peak, while we are still 40 or 50 miles east of Colorado Springs.
We pick up US 24 on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs and follow it straight through town. We then began heading into the mountains. For hours, we had traveled along straight roads on flat, treeless land; now we were weaving northwest through scenic tree covered hills, heading up and up. At Woodland Park, we turned sharply to the southwest for a few miles before heading south on Highway 67 for the final 20 miles into Cripple Creek, elevation 9,494 feet.

The final 14 miles or so is slow, with normal speeds of 30 or so. As a flatlander, I'm very cautious driving on the ledges, but the natives seem impatient with me. I pull off frequently to allow the speed demons to race around the curves. Finally, we cross a pass and can see the village of Cripple Creek nestled in its valley. Our journey is over.

As an afterthought, I just want to mention the wildlife we saw along the roads. We spotted antelopes in numerous places, from near the Texas/OK border all the way to just east of Colorado Springs. And somewhere in southern Colorado, we spotted 2 very healthy looking coyotes along the road planning a bit of mischief.

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