The "Purple Mountain Majesty" of Colorado in Flames

Published: June 27th 2012
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I thought my next blog promised to David and Merry Jo about the glories of traveling around Colorado would inspire fellow TBers to visit.

However, three days after returning from the wedding, fire broke out in Waldo Canyon, located between our home in Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. It quickly got out of control. In three days it has grown to cover almost 5000 acres and has closed down US 24, the only direct route between the two cities. Firefighting resources were quickly brought in from all over Western United States, as the fire was declared the top priority in the country. The fire is now within four miles of Woodland Park, but was being managed by the firefighters. However, late this afternoon a thunderstorm (more of a windstorm) blew the fires from Rampart Range down the slopes to the western suburbs of Colorado Spring, with the first homes going up in flames. The latest news is that Interstate 25 Southbound has been closed. We are becoming concerned...with Linda and Tamara making a list of things to pack in our three cars, all of which are fueled just in case.

Yesterday I decided to try the alternative routes to Colorado Springs. The suggested roads are a two hour detour north to the outskirts of Denver before turning south on I-25, and a two and a half hour detour west and south through Canyon City before turning north on I-25. I decided to take some dirt forest roads. I was able to reach the Springs in 70 minutes, but the road conditions were terrible even for an four wheel drive vehicle. I returned on an old stage coach road that used to link the Springs with the gold fields near Cripple Creek. The conditions were just as bad, but this was two hours of bad. I could just picture outlaws robbing stagecoaches along this route. Fortunately, I don't have to drive this route every day, but many people have to do so for their jobs. Most are either moving to be with friends in the city where they work, or not showing up for work. In this later case, most don't get paid, so the fire is causing an economic hardship for many people. However, with the closure of I25, some of these routes are now closed. I'm starting to feel boxed in.

I have posted pictures to give
The firestorm on Rampart RangeThe firestorm on Rampart RangeThe firestorm on Rampart Range

Courtesy of Fox 21 News
you an appreciation of the problem.

Despite this little perturbation, Colorado is a beautiful state to visit...other than the eastern half which is high plains as I have described in my previous blog. The western half is composed of several mountain ranges, strating with the Front Range, then the Continental Divide, etc. We have 54 mountains that peak at over 14,000 feet (4267m). Many Coloradans have a goal to climb all 54 peaks...including several of my friends who have accomplished this goal. Fortunately for me, it is relatively easy to climb to the top of nearby Pikes Peak (14,110 ft or 4300m) as there is a road and cog railway built to the top in the late 1800s. The trick is to drive within 100 meters of the top and them climb the rest of the way. There are those who would accuse me of cheating, stating that I should start at the base in Manitou Springs; to which I respond that they should start at the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. So Colorado has magnificent geography, epitomized by Rocky Mountain National Park, in the northern part of the state. But there are many close seconds such as
Waldo Canyon Fire with close air supportWaldo Canyon Fire with close air supportWaldo Canyon Fire with close air support

Courtesy of Colorado Springs Gazette
Great Sand Dunes National Park up against the Sangres de Christo Mountains on the southern end.

If palentology is your thing, you can visit Dinosaur National Monument in the northwestern corner of the state where you can see fossils of major dinosaurs still in the bedrock. Or you can visit Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, just 20 miles west of Pikes Peak and Woodland Park, where a lava flow millions of years ago covered a lake, fossilizing everything in the lake including the fossilized trunks of ancient redwood trees. Just outside the park, for $10 you can rent tools and access to find your own fossils...mostly insects and plants.

Then there are the archeological parks of the early inhabitants of North America, best represented by Mesa Verde National Park in the southwestern corner of the state. He the Anastazi Indians, ancestors of the Peublo Indians, were forced off the top of the mesa to live in cliff dwellings. The whole Four Corners Area is dotted with the remnants of this civilization.

One of my favorites are the ghost towns from the late 1800's when gold was discovered and then after the mines removed all the gold, were
Fire above the Garden of the GodsFire above the Garden of the GodsFire above the Garden of the Gods

Courtesy of Dean Radice
then abondoned. Today many of these ghost towns have been revived as gambling towns, just as they were a hundred or more years ago, but nothing like Las Vegas. Our closest is Cripple Creek, about 26 miles southwest of Woodland Park. I've lost a few dollars there, but mostly spent my time rebuilding four homes from 1890 for Habitat for Humanity. Many of these towns also have restored railroads such as the Georgetown Loop an hour west of Denver, or the Durango-Silverton Railroad near Mesa Verde.

The cities are not to be missed, Denver being the largest, as the only centers of culture within a 600 mile radius. Most towns have microbreweries, so this can be a good reason to pause in your travels and meet some of the friendliest people in America.

As for itineraries that include Colorado, I blogged Linda's and my first trip together out West in 1982 in Home leave to the Western United States which is a great itinerary if you want to see the Best of the West in three weeks.

Then we had kids, so our next trip wasn't until 1990 when they were 1, 3, and 5; blogged at Home leave to the Western United States.

In 1994, the year
Fire descending upon Colorado SpringsFire descending upon Colorado SpringsFire descending upon Colorado Springs

A thunderstorm blew over Woodland Park, which is on the other side of the Rampart Range, resulting in the fire leaving the heights into thetown. Photo courtesy of Glen Roberts
before we moved back to the States from Belgium be spend another home leave out west, flying into and out of Denver; blogged at Home leave in the Western US.

In 1998, we drove from Virginia to California and back, passing through Colorado in both directions. Not a bad way to see a lot of the States...blogged at Summer Vacation - Cross Continental Road Trip.

Now we live here! So David and Merri Jo, when you visit us in early August, I recommend the National Park route...Las Vegas, Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon (North Rim), Monument Valley, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes (perhaps a detour to Taos), and then to Woodland Park before heading across the "Fruited Plans."

Additional photos below
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27th June 2012

Great blog Bob
On my drive home yesterday I was planning to send you an email to check and see how close the fires are to your home. The blog certainly answers that question. I hope they are able to control them soon. Love the train photos.
27th June 2012

Pre-evacuation Order Received.
Although we are only supposed to get prepared for a mandatory evacuation, Linda and Tamara are packing the cars now and want to leave to stay with a friend in Denver. Given the rapid change of events in Colorado Springs last evening, I can understand their concern. But I don't want to evacuate until told to do so. Not sure what we are going to do.
27th June 2012

Pre-evacuation Order
We packed the cars. but decided not to go anywhere until we receive the mandatory evacuation order. Woodland Park is mysteriously quiet with most of the businesses closed as people hunker down. Hopefully, people will return to their normal routine tomorrow. As for the storm that blew through, the Springs is experiencing high winds, but thus far not the conflagration that they experienced yesterday.
30th June 2012

Front page in OZ...Colorado Springs at the mercy of a firestorm...coming from Sydney & our home backing onto National Park...we understand the danger of bushfires...hope you remain safe.
30th June 2012

Thanks for your concern
The fire is pretty much under control so, although the smoke in the air is pretty bad and the pre-evacuation notice is still in force, Linda and I are going to the class reunion in Winter Park today.
30th June 2012

Thanks for Sharing
We arrived safely back in the US and have been following the fires in CO. We lived in San Diego from 2002 (Pete) and 2003(me) until we moved to China in Aug 2009 and lived through MANY fires seasons. We always lived close to the beach so we weren't in fire areas but one year Pete was evacuated from his home that was 3/4 mile from the Pacific Ocean. The fire has come down a canyon after some strong winds blew it towards the coast. Fires are quite scary as they can move very fast depending on the winds. Stay safe and we will be praying for those who are affected.
2nd July 2012

Thank you for sharing your own experinces in San Diego with wildfires. We survived this one. They lifted the evacuation notices and reopened US24 yesterday. The fires are still burning and generating a lot of smoke, but the Forest Service has it under control for now. What amazing firefighters! Thanks, too, for your prayers.
11th July 2012

hope things have gotten under control
Just saw your blog as we now have wi-fi on the boat - sorry to hear about the fires - hope they have gotten under control - I'll have to now go to get the news as we have been out of contact. By the way - luckily we saw very little trash on our whole Atlantic crossing - only a couple of plastic bottles in 19 1/2 days and 2,550 miles which we were really happy about.
11th July 2012

Now that the fire is out...
we have heavy rains and mud/ash slides which close the road until the highway department can clear a path through. Thus far it hasn't affected us. That's great that you didn't see much trash...or is it called flotsam and jetsam (sp?). That reminds me; I saw a funny highway sign in China which said something along the lines of "Do not throw flotsam from the car."
25th July 2012

I'm so glad to see your blogs on Colorado. It is such a beautiful place (minus the wild fire) reminded me of BC actually. You have inspired me to return!

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