Westcliffe is 117 miles from where I live. To get there I took I-25 south from Denver through Colorado Springs, then Highway 115 past Fort Carson, on to Penrose and into Florence, then south through – the adjacent Silver Cliff and finally Westcliffe. The roads were clear, temperatures were moderate. It was an easy drive.
Along the way I noticed Pikes Peak was looking great, so I stopped to take a shot. I got pretty excited seeing it, as that meant the mountains in Westcliffe would also have a nice scattering of snow. We are still early enough in the spring to enjoy majestic views.
I had been down in this area before. There are hot springs near Penrose I had frequented, and Colorado Springs was the first major city I ever spent any time in when I first visited Colorado in 1977. But the drive into Florence was illuminating. I passed the Florence Correctional Complex, a system of 4 prisons that includes the Administrative Maximum Facility (or Supermax) that holds the most dangerous prisoners in the Federal system. It’s most famous for holding prisoners such as Terry Nichols and Ted Kaczynski (AKA the Unabomber). In all the years I have lived in Colorado I had never seen the installation. I took a quick glance and drove on.
About 5 miles out you start to see the Sangre De Cristos, and they are simply breathtaking. I want to visit again in the fall, and I will attach a video camera to the car when I do and record the drive. It was incredibly impressive.
And when the road terminates in Westcliffe, you get to see this incredible vista of the Sangre de Cristos, pictured at the top of this post. It is incredibly dramatic and amazing.
Westcliffe is the County seat for Custer County. It’s Main Street is fun to visit, with coffee shops, a bakery, and restaurants. Two places of note are the Smokey Jack Observatory where visitors can reserve time to enjoy the night skies with guided instruction, and the Jones Theater (pictured below) home of the Westcliffe Center for the Performing Arts. Westcliffe is also home to the San Isabel Land Protection Trust, which works to protect and preserve land from unrestricted development. Their work is part of the reason this part of Colorado is so pristine.
After lunch at Chappy’s Bar and Grill I drove north out of town on Highway 69, which runs parallel to the Sangre de Cristos. As you might imagine it is a spectacular drive. At one point I pulled off the highway and captured this view looking south.On the other side of these mountains lie the Great Sand Dunes National Park and the San Luis Valley, home to numerous hot springs that and w
Highway 69 terminates at U.S. highway 50, where you can travel east through Cañon City and Penrose back to Colorado Springs. I stopped for a bit in Cañon City. To quote from Wikipedia, the town “is known for its many public parks, fossil discoveries, Skyline Drive, The Royal Gorge railroad, the Royal Gorge, and extensive natural hiking paths.” It is also home to most of Colorado’s prisons, hosting 7 correctional facilities in and around surrounding Fremont County. I walked the Main Street to grab some pictures of the trees that were in full bloom.
All in all a pretty wonderful day trip. I came away wanting more. I have never done much astro photography and now I know where I can go to get started. The pristine environment of the Sangre de Cristos will continue to draw my interest. Just an amazing part of the great state of Colorado.