I don't mind a little autumn traffic on my leaf safari. There's no hurry up here on CO Highway 7, a.k.a. the Peak to Peak Scenic and Historic Byway, which snakes 55 miles along the Continental Divide. In fact, if I could, I'd take each curve in slow motion, especially the ones that carry me through yellow, sun-spotted tunnels to yet another panoramic view.
Stopped cars ahead mean one of two things: foliage or fauna. At this spot north of Nederland, and at this time of year, I win either way, I think, pulling over and reaching for my camera. I jog around the bend and it is immediately obvious why everyone has stopped.
Lakes of loud yellow are pooled across the evergreen landscape. Each patch of Aspen trees is actually a single organism, connected by a massive root network, so when it's time to change leaf color, they do it en masse and in unison. It's part of what distinguishes high-elevation Colorado foliage — boisterously, singularly yellow — from the pastel rainbows of New England.
This road is one of the more obvious places to view fall leaves, accessible from Denver and much of the Front Range. As I take my photographs, I rub elbows with a motley crowd of tourists, bikers, families, and cyclists, all traveling the Peak to Peak, all of us with brash gold reflected in our lenses.
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Peak to Peak Highway
Our journey on the peak to peak highway began in Blackhawk, a surreal town which makes you feel as if you are part of a Wild Wild West movie with its western architecture. The town was lined with casinos from large exuberant resorts to tiny storefronts with shiny lights where you can try your luck as well. We had breakfast sandwiches at a quiet café and began our drive up route 119 to Estes Park. For more information about the route, head to the Colorado Office of Transportation website.
The drive is sensory overload for those who love nature. We were tempted to stop several times to take photos as the views almost look as if they come from a painting. We had to remind ourselves that a. we were just on a day trip and b. the views will be more epic once we get to the Rocky Mountains. That being said, there was one interesting stop: Nederland, Colorado with its eccentric vibe and supermarket to pack some goodies for a hike. On your way to Estes Park entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, make time to stop and take some inspired photos!