I venture out before sunrise to follow the Bighorn Sheep Canyon from Cañon City, CO to Salida. This 60-mile winding drive is known for its wildlife viewing including bighorn sheep, elk, raptors, and rafters. The Arkansas River provides ample habitat for the 1000’s of rafters who take on the Class III rapids.
Great Ball of Fire
In the opposite lane, I see cars start pulling over to the side of the road. I think maybe they see a herd of elk or something. Finally, I turn around to a witness a ball of fire of a sunrise. I’m enjoying the warm golden light falling on the mountains in front of me not thinking to look behind me to see where that light was coming from.
Highway 50 winds through the canyon following along the Arkansas River. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad line on the other side. All 3 running parallel to each other.
Every turn presents a new view and I’m constantly seeking a pull off to get out of the car and snap pictures. Fortunately, there are plenty of pull-offs. The mountains are sheer at times and giving the curvey nature of the road I can only half scan the rocky slopes for bighorn.
One thing is a given, bighorn sheep don’t congregate near the pull-offs. Luckily the early morning brings light traffic and I can stop in less than opportune locations to snap quick photos.
The bighorn are few and far between for whatever reason today. However, I see there’s an elk feeding area at the base of Collegiate Peaks and Mount Antero. Though it’s more of a winter feeding area I decide to go check it out anyway.
Yes, we have no Bananas
I exit the canyon and proceed through to the small town of Salida, Colorado. At only 2.5 square miles, it is a small community that takes its name from the Spanish word for exit. It is where you exit from the Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Clever, huh?
It is known as the “Heart of the Rockies” and is flanked by majestic 14,000-foot snow-capped peaks. Surprisingly, the town enjoys a temperate climate that earns it the nickname as the Banana Belt, though I never see any banana trees.
Founded in 1880 as a mining and railroad concern the town is now a few square blocks of charming little shops, cafes with an abundance of rafting, kayaking, and bike outfitters. Local ordinances are in place to preserve the historic look and feel of buildings so visiting is a bit of a step back in time.
Heading north from Salida on Hwy 285 towards Nathrop is the elk feeding ground at the base of the Collegiate and Mt. Antero Peaks. The collegiate is a range of (3)14r’s. (Mountains over 14,000 feet tall.)
Again, not a lot going on as far as tremendous wildlife viewing. But the drive and views alone are worth the price of admission.
Returning home, the once deserted pull-offs and serene bubbling waters give way to a flurry of outfitters’ vans, fishermen, and sightseers. I pretty much keep my eyes on the road and unable to scan the mountainside for wildlife.
My only regret of today’s visit was not checking out the Royal Gorge. I see signs for it but opt not to go. Only later to I see what I missed.