Go West, young man: the Great Divide

Fall color from Pagosa Springs, Colorado (Photo by Tyler Penland)

If you are familiar with CW McCall, you have likely heard his song “Wolf Creek Pass.” In the song, he talks about a truck driver losing his breaks on the highway and crashing into the side of a feed store in downtown Pagosa Springs, Colorado. On my recent trip out West with my dad, we didn’t see the feed store on our way out of town, but we did see the Continental Divide at the top of Wolf Creek Pass.

As an aside, the town of Pagosa Springs is absolutely beautiful. We drove through and only stopped briefly for gas, but the setting was unmatched in any other town we passed through. It is surrounded on all sides by beautiful mountains and has a distinct western feel.

Before leaving Farmington, New Mexico, we had to make a quick stop to see the beautiful Animas River. The leaves were just beginning to change in Berg Park and footprints of the local wildlife dotted the shoreline.

The Animas River from Berg Park, Farmington, New Mexico (Photo by Tyler Penland)

We then made a quick stop at the Aztec Ruins National Monument just outside town. This small national monument contains the ruins of a Pueblo Great House. The small visitor center was fascinating and contained plentiful information about the many different peoples that used to inhabit the region.

The ruins of a Pueblo Great House at Aztec Ruins National Monument (Photo by Tyler Penland)

After leaving here, we took the bumpy roads out of New Mexico (nothing wrong with the pavement, just poorly graded) back into “Colorful Colorado,” as the signs say.

We drove through Pagosa Springs a bit before sunset and for the next hour, we would see some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

Words can’t really explain how absolutely beautiful Colorado is during the fall. The cottonwoods and aspens turn a beautiful gold color that glows in the late-day sunlight. Having grown up in the Southeast, I am used to seeing the trees turn a multitude of colors, but having always dreamed of seeing aspens, it was truly incredible.

A hawk in flight near Pagosa Springs, Colorado (Photo by Tyler Penland)

On the drive up, we did get a chance to see a hawk out hunting for mice or rabbits. I got this shot of it in flight from a field just outside Pagosa Springs.

As we continued up the road, we got one of the grandest vistas I have ever seen. In the photo below, you can see Highway 160 as it winds up the hill toward its top elevation, just below 11,000 feet.

The view from Highway 160 looking back towards Pagosa Springs, Colorado (Photo by Tyler Penland)

The top of Highway 160 comes at Wolf Creek Pass, the spot CW McCall wrote the song about. Here the highway crosses the Continental Divide. This wasn’t our first time crossing it, we had done so on our way west out of Denver, but there we had done so inside a tunnel.

Here on our way over 160, there is a large sign marking this neat spot. The Continental Divide is where the nation’s water supply is divided. To the east, water flows toward the Atlantic or Gulf Coast, and to the west, it flows into the Pacific. Here on top of Wolf Creek Pass, the elevation of this imaginary line is 10,857 feet above sea level.

My dad and me at Wolf Creek Pass on the Great Divide. (Photo by Tyler Penland)

A small trail runs into the fields near the gap and it was here where I caught the sunset for the day.

Sunset at Wolf Pass (Photo by Tyler Penland)

Hiking at this elevation certainly takes a toll on you. I noticed how much quicker I got out of breath, even doing just this short hike. I’m used to doing long hikes above 6,000 feet in western North Carolina, but that didn’t quite prepare me for going above 10,000.

My dad admiring the view from Wolf Creek Pass. (Photo by Tyler Penland)

On our way back down from Wolf Creek Pass toward the town of Alamosa, we had our next encounter with the local wildlife. A handful of mule deer were hanging out on the side of the highway. They didn’t seem at all bothered when I played tourist and pulled over on the side of the highway to get photos of them.

A mule deer munching on grass on the side of Highway 160. (Photo by Tyler Penland)

We’d spend the night at a hotel in Alamosa, finally getting a good night’s rest ahead of crossing the number one item off my travel bucket list…..

READ MORE ABOUT IT “Go West, Young Man” series

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