Funny the twists and turns my days make… I had fully planned to take Big Dog for a short hike followed by a road trip up Highway 67 to see if the bighorns were still there this morning. However on my way through Victor I glanced down towards the south and thought, “Hey, it looks like the trees are changing down there too! I wonder what the road is like?”. I’ve been wanting to explore Phantom Canyon Road along the Gold Belt Tour series of day trips since the day I first saw it on the map! Surprisingly the road is listed on the “Dangerous Roads” website, but I didn’t think it was that bad… although it could be in bad weather! So… I turned the old Dodge south and headed down the dirt road toward the canyon. After a couple of miles I was thinking it really wasn’t too bad. The last time I even attempted that route, the ice and snow of the Colorado winter had made a complete mess of it. Now it was a little rough but not a brain rattling washboard like Rampart Range Road the other day… So I just kept going 🙂
According to my brief study of the road’s history, the road actually began as a narrow gauge railroad bed providing access to the gold fields of Cripple Creek and Victor. The name of the canyon is also steeped in history as well according to the website Colorado.com, which attributes to a ghostly inmate who was executed at the Colorado State Penitentiary in the 1880’s. I saw no ghosts on my trek through the haunted canyon 🙂
The northern part of the canyon really isn’t too much of a canyon. Just a nice dirt mountain road past a lot of golden aspen leaves with a nice view of the Sangre de Cristo range in the background. Stopped a few times for pictures of the mountains and even the road winding it’s way back into the trees while making my way ever further south. Soon I was way too far down the 30 mile road to consider turning back and I’m glad I didn’t! The canyon is magnificent, beautiful high walls along the sides between really pretty aspen groves and meadows.
There are a couple of places where the road gets slightly dicey, pieces of it somewhat washed out and other places are quite narrow due to rock walls on both sides. No big deal today, but I could see where it would be a pain in the butt on a busy weekend day, especially during leaf season. It is possible somebody would have to back up if two cars met in just the wrong place. There were even a couple of one lane tunnels through the rock that I tried to get shots of with my phone but the bright light at the other end of the tunnel coupled with the dark canyon turned out to be an unrecognizable photographic disaster! Oh well… And there was a very cool old wooden bridge that I really liked but was on it before I realized it and so I didn’t get a shot of that either. Come to think of it, a canyon in general is quite difficult to get pictures of. The high walls look very impressive to the three dimensional capabilities of the human eye, but not so much to a two dimensional camera view. So mostly I just cruised along in second gear, enjoying the tight turns, the dense forest, cool rock formations and high cliffs along the sides.
I did get one shot of the road behind along the canyon wall with my phone camera, but as far as capturing the canyon as I saw it with my eyes, it was pretty much a photographic bust. Even the shot I did get is much less impressive than the view that my mind was enjoying! You can kind of make out the path along the cliff that the road is taking but it seemed much steeper when I was driving! I would have liked to have stopped and gotten out and spent a little time in the dense forest, but didn’t have all day… I mainly just wanted to drive the road so I could check the bucket list box in the sky 🙂 Actually I’m much more of a high peaks person than I am a canyon person anyway… I like to get up where I can see! I was also surprised that I didn’t see any wildlife at all on the entire trip… I don’t know maybe deer and elk aren’t big fans of canyons either?
I have to confess, by the time I was about two thirds of the way through, I was just wishing that I was all the way through. Finally with about five miles remaining, the road widened out and the bumps relented allowing me to finish quickly in the 30-40 mph range, followed by some black top road where full speed was possible and I was in Canyon City in no time.
Pondered going on through to Salida to see the Sangres, but as I thought about that I realized I had actually been to Salida before and don’t really remember the Sangres being all that impressive from right beside them. So I opted for the Highway 9 and High Park Drive turnoff for a quick trip back to Cripple Creek. I had read somewhere that there are supposed to be great views of the Sangre range from High Park but I didn’t see it. I’ll go visit the Sangre de Cristo range when that is all that I have planned for the day. Maybe in the winter when the peaks have snow and aren’t just big brown rocks!
These pictures and more are now for sale on my website as wall art, including glossy metal and acrylic sheets, wrapped canvas and traditional framing and matting. You can also purchase a good variety of cool household items and gift items such as phone chargers and hard cases, t-shirts, beach and yoga mats, shower curtains, greeting cards and much more!