Posts From The Road: Highway Of Legends

La Veta, Colo: La Veta, Colo. sits in the Cuchara Valley at the foothills of the Spanish Peaks. The Highway of Legends National Scenic Byway passes through La Veta before climbing in elevation toward Cuchara Pass. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

Cuchara, Colo.: The village of Cuchara, Colo. today is home to several bars and restaurants as well as cabins and lodges for visitors. Cuchara is located at 8,600 feet in the pine and aspen forest. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

By GARY WARREN
Photographer
Formerly of Los Alamos

Located in southern Colorado near the New Mexico border is the Highway of Legends which was designated as a National Scenic Byway in February 2021 by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The 82-mile scenic drive runs from Walsenburg, Colo. on the north end to Trinidad, Colo. on the southern end.

The Highway of Legends is a “road less traveled” by most visitors to Colorado but this scenic byway offers a beautiful, historic, and scenic detour for travelers on Interstate 25 in southern Colorado. The road takes travelers through the San Isabel National Forest featuring stunning mountains valleys and passes as it winds its way around the Spanish Peaks.

The Spanish Peaks are easy to spot landmarks in this part of the state as they rise to almost 14,000 feet in elevation. The Highway of Legends National Scenic Byway traces the steps of the nomadic Native Americans who lived in the area, the Spanish who settled here, anglos who moved into the region in the 1800s, and the influx of many nationalities in the late 1800s when coal mines and railroad became major sources of income around the Spanish Peaks.

Traveling from Walsenburg, travelers go west on U.S. 160 for about 11 miles and exit onto State Highway 12 at La Veta, Colo. La Veta was settled in the mid-1800s and became a trading center during the pioneer days. There are several historic buildings in town that remain from that period of the town’s past. Today, the small village is home to an active artists community as well as farming and ranching which is still prevalent in the region.

When leaving La Veta, travelers begin to gain elevation on the Highway of Legends leading to the tiny village of Cuchara and across Cuchara Pass at 9,995 feet in elevation. The Highway of Legends descends from Cuchara Pass toward the beautiful Purgatoire River Valley as it continues to circle around the Spanish Peaks. Before arriving at the southern end of the byway in Trinidad, Colo., travelers pass through several small communities including Spanish settlements of Vigil and Cordova as well as mining camps and towns including Segundo and Cokedale. 

Travelers complete the 82-mile Highway of Legends National Scenic Byway at Trinidad, Colo. which is also the largest of any of the towns along the byway. Trinidad features a historic downtown district with brick streets and many buildings and houses which feature Victorian architecture. 

Another section of roadway is now included in the Highway of Legends which begins near Cuchara, Colo. and runs eastward to Aguilar, Colo. near Interstate 25. We have not traveled this section of the scenic byway and will not as this section of the road is closed during winter months. I do hope to travel this section of the byway as it passes over Cordova Pass on the western Spanish Peak at an elevation of 11,260 feet in elevation.

The Highway of Legends National Scenic Byway is a great weekend getaway trip for Coloradans as well as those residing in northern New Mexico. This area is overlooked by travelers as they journey to other more well-known destinations but the Highway of Legends and the many small towns along its route is a beautiful drive in this region of southern Colorado.

Editor’s note: Longtime Los Alamos photographer Gary Warren and his wife Marilyn are traveling around the country, and he shares his photographs, which appear in the “Posts from the Road” series published in the Sunday edition of the Los Alamos Daily Post. 

Fall Color: This stand of aspen trees in the San Isabel National Forest shows off stunning fall colors of yellow, orange, and red. The Highway of Legends offers visitors some outstanding fall color for a period of time every fall. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

Spanish Peaks Region: The foothills around the Spanish Peaks consists of national forest land as well as privately owned property and several unique small villages and communities along the Highway of Legends route. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

Mountain Meadow: A mountain meadow is surrounded by fall color of aspens and cottonwood trees along the Highway of Legends in southern Colorado. As the elevation drops visitors will begin to see more farming and ranching activity. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

Purgatoire River: The Purgatoire River is the centerpiece of the beautiful Purgatoire River Valley. This valley was settled by Native Americans, Spanish, and pioneering Anglos through the ages. It was when coal mining began in the late 1800s and the arrival of the railroad that the area started attracting workers from across the country and internationally. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

Spanish Peaks: The Spanish Peaks have been the draw to this region of Colorado forever. These two peaks rise from the valleys and plains to an elevation of almost 14,000 feet making them the most prominent landmarks around. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

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