Park County dresses up for fall
PARK COUNTY – This year promises to be one of the best in recent times for photographers and folks who love to take a drive and enjoy the fall colors. Park County boasts particularly breathtaking scenes right now at Hoosier Pass down through Fairplay and out Highway 285 toward Jefferson. Placer ValleyPlacer Valley offers glowing golds and intense oranges that slow traffic as drivers top Hoosier Pass and descend toward Alma. For those who would like to pack the kids and friends in the car for a day’s driving, here are some particularly fine routes to take in the next few days. Take Highway 9 south out of Breckenridge over Hoosier Pass to near the bottom of the pass and turn right on Park County Road 4 in Placer Valley as it turns back north.
Follow along the Middle Fork of the South Platte River as the gravel road climbs the valley wall and curves around Montgomery Reservoir. There is a small parking area on the north side of the reservoir for passenger cars and a few pullouts to park higher clearance vehicles as the road climbs toward Magnolia Mill. The aspens are in full color, and the photo opportunities abound of the sparkling reservoir, the craggy cliffs, the mill and the water fall, intensified by the dark greens of the pines, aspen gold and the occasional red of a bush oak. Mosquito Pass RoadA few miles south of Placer Valley and Alma on Highway 9 drivers can spot the sign for County Road 12 or Mosquito Pass Road. Turn right and pass the few abandoned buildings that once were a part of Alma Junction. While many find a trip to the top of the historic pass daunting, there are still impressive views of abandoned mines and both flora and fauna along the drive up, before it takes a high-clearance vehicle to continue. The drive passes the dramatic views of Adventure Placer, and within a few miles, the road goes through the area where charming Park City was once a thriving mining town. There are remnants of the mining life still visible from the roadways.
Don’t venture far from the road, as most of the land along the way is private property. Be sure to look for mines still clinging to nearly sheer cliff edges, and try to imagine what it would be like to live and work at those heights. At the far end of the rising valley, the remains of the London Mill nestle along the creek. Temperatures have already reached below freezing on many nights, and the cold has triggered the change of colors for your viewing pleasure.Tarryall ReservoirFor those who would like to make a day of it, a bit of a longer drive is in order. Continue to follow Highway 9 south to Highway 285 in Fairplay and turn left. As the topography opens up into rangeland, the views change, but the red sandstone accents the golds and greens of the foliage. Follow Highway 285 to the town of Jefferson and turn right at the mercantile store at the sign pointing the way to the Tarryall Reservoir. The reservoir is nearly dry as the Department of Wildlife works to restore the dam, but the drive on the 42-mile Tarryall Road is well worth the trip.
The pavement is not in the best shape, so slower speeds are advised, but the views merit slower travel and closer attention anyway. The road meanders along old wagon trails from the open range of the upper area past ranches that have been in the same family for generations. Again, don’t venture far from the car or from the many pull-offs and designated foot trails. While the folks along the Tarryall don’t mind sharing the views, they don’t take kindly to trespassers, and while the abandoned log ranch houses might look fun to explore, wild critters might object to being disturbed as they nap inside. It’s best to stay away and just take photos. As the road continues southward, the topography changes from the wide open ranges to outcroppings of giant, smooth boulders and smaller ranching spreads that still have their water rights. This is a fine time to spot a rancher mowing his hayfields, the remnants of what was once a major haymaking industry in Park County before much of the water rights were sold to the large metropolitan areas of the Front Range. At the southernmost end of the Tarryall, the road passes some of the area scarred by the Hayman Fire of 2001. While the burned skeletons of once-majestic trees still pierce the sky, the ground below displays a cover of newly sprouted aspens, which hold promise of future woodlands.
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