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Leadville and Independence Pass

Leadville is the highest incorporated town in North America sitting at 10,152 feet. Like many Colorado towns, this one was originally a mining town. We have driven through this small 1.1 square mile area on almost all of our Colorado trips, but I never got a picture. We usually drove right through, discussing the history. Leadville was once the 2nd most populated town after Denver. It is also home to the Leadville 100 Ultramarathon. If you’ve ever read Born to Run, you will recall Christopher McDougall’s vivid details. This year, I finally got a few pictures. What I love the most is topping the big hill and seeing these snow caps as far as I can see.

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Just before we got to Leadville, we had one of those stop-and-turn-around moments. We found a peak, a lake, and ice. This time, I didn’t have to ask. He did a giant U-turn in the middle of Highway 24 so I could get this picture.

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Another favorite place for us is the Independence Pass. I first saw this on our first trip in 2009, and I got some memorable pictures including one of me standing in snow still wearing my racing clothes (shorts). This year, I was more appropriately dressed for really cold temperatures and of course, more snow.

But what exactly is a pass? They refer to the high points that cross a mountain ridge. Many of the passes in Colorado cross the Continental Divide, which is the system of peaks that divide the country. The rivers and streams on the West side of the Divide run to the Pacific Ocean. The rivers on the East side flow to the Atlantic. So what is so special about Independence? It is the highest paved crossing of Divide in US, at 12,095 feet. And, it is a crucial route to Aspen. When the pass is closed in the winter, it basically cuts off Aspen from the east side.

As we were leaving out of Leadville, Stephen told me to be on the lookout for “twin lakes” for the Highway 82 turn off to Independence. Long story short, I was trying to look for something on my phone, Stephen was talking on the phone, and we both missed the turn off. We both huffed and snipped at each other for about 2 minutes and then came to the quick realization that we were on vacation and not on any time schedule. It is at this point that I might have said “well, if we had Gertrude (rude GPS lady), we wouldn’t have this problem”. I had shoved her in the console the minute we arrived at the hotel the first night. This is the only time I mentioned her name after that. But even without her guidance, we arrived at the Pass.

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After we reached the pass, it was all downhill for a while. The road leading into Aspen is one of the most narrow roads in Colorado. In some places, it is one lane. If 2 vehicles meet, it is up to them to figure out who goes first.

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Finally, after a full day of driving, we pull into our first campsite, Maroon Bells, Aspen!

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