Tuesday, August 11, 2009

From "life elevated" in Utah to the highest of high in Colorado

Utah is life elevated, but Colorado is where the highest paved sections of the entire U.S. are — Alaska included.
While Utah's highest paved road is Bald Mountain Pass, along the Mirror Lake highway (U-150), tops out at 10,715 feet, the freeway, Yes I-70 in central Colorado is at 11, 158 feet above level — more than 400 feet higher.
That Bald Mountain section is only open in the summer, while I-70 strives to remain open year-round.
And that's not the highest of the high in Colorado either.
As much or more so than Pikes Peak, the Mount Evans Highway is a must drive road in Colorado. It is the highest paved road in the U.S. period.
Its paved parking lot sits at 14,130 feet above sea level, or 20 feet higher than Pikes Peak. And, if you are willing to hike another 500 yard (and another 134 feet upward), you can climb to the actual summit of the Mount Evans at 14,264 feet above seal level.
Colorado has 2 easy options to ascend 14er summits without any or any significant hiking.
Pikes Peak is of course the other one, with a cog railroad taking visitors up there. And. there is also the famous dirt (and some paved) road that also goes to the top of Pikes too.
Personally, I've done them both and prefer Mount Evans for several reasons _ Mount Evans is higher, offers tons more solitude and is located where there is a superior mountain panorama of Colorado in view.
Mount Evans is by far the nation's highest elevation road and regular passenger cars can traverse it handily. The $10 fee required to travel the road is well worth it.
As I walked down about 5 miles from the top of the Mount Evans road, while my wife drove down, it was a kick to look at my GPS and see when I reached an elevation of 13,528 feet — the equivalent of Utah's tallest summit, Kings Peak. That level was down on the paved road more than a mile in the switchbacks.
You can also hike Colorado's highest peak, Mount Elbert, with an effort that is far less than for most other significant 14,000-foot summits, like California's Mount Whitney or Washington's Mount Rainier.
Mount Elbert (14,433 feet above sea level) is a strenuous 9-mile hike that climbs 4,550 feet. (Compare that to the 21.4-mile Mount Whitney distance or the 14-mile Mount Rainier distance, that also requires climbing equipment.)
I've hiked to the summit of Mount Elbert and it is easier than Whitney, Kings and even easier than Utah's Lone Peak or Timpanogos Peak — I guess unless that extra elevation really causes you breathing problems.
Colorado is a thrill of a place for high altitude. Leadville, elevation 10,152 feet, is one of America's highest elevation city (A couple of other Colorado towns, including Ala, are technically a little higher).
Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado claims its own U.S. superlative — the highest elevation THROUGH (continuous) paved road in the nation, with the Trail Ridge Road at 12,183 feet above sea level.
All in all, Colorado has 14 paved through road passes that exceed the elevation of Utah's Mirror Lake Highway. Colorado has 23 total paved road passes on through highways that top out over 10,000 feet.
Now, the eastern one-third of Colorado is a sloping plane into Kansas and it should be noted that even though Colorado has much higher mountains and passes than Utah, the Beehive State does technically surpass Colorado in one key elevation domain — Utah has mountains in every county and section of the state. Utah has no plains and is actually HIGHER than Colorado in average elevation for the highest points in every county.
Both states are great for their outdoor opportunities.

PHOTO DETAILS: Top photo is one of the Eisenhower Tunnels, along I-70, Elevation 11, 158 above sea level.
Middle photo: The snaking route of the Mount Evans Highway as it is above 13,500 feet above sea level.
Lower photo is: The parking lot at the end of the Mount Evans Highway is 14,130 feet above sea level, as seen from the 14,264 foot actual Mount Evans summit.

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