Highway 160 runs from the high mesa territory of southwestern Colorado due east all the way to the Great Plains near Pueblo. In between the two end points, this road winds its way through the Colorado Rocky Mountains, which offer the majestic views that this state is famous for. Taking an autumn season scenic drive on Highway 160 through Southern Colorado creates a unique opportunity to view mountain landscapes that have just been dusted with the first snow of winter!
The first snow usually arrives in the mountains of southern Colorado a little bit later than in the heart of the Rockies upstate. The first snow in the southern region usually yields a light coating and it may not stick around for long. The exception is the high elevations, where it will remain icy cold till summer arrives in the following year. Light and shadow also play a part in the scheme of things, because the shady side of the slopes will have longer lasting snow. The light and shadow effect from an early season snow coating does reveal many geological details of these mountains that are difficult to notice on a dry warm day.
Viewing the light snow frosted mountains definitely has a way of easing tension. The snow dusted mountains look as peaceful as can be and most of the wildlife is quietly adjusting to the new conditions, so the silence can be deafening. The feeling is difficult to describe, but the experience is like stepping into a brand new world!
Driving on Highway 160 when the temperatures are below freezing does present a few challenges, especially early in the day. The snow may not stick to the road, but the ice sure will. On the shady side of each slope, patches of ice will remain on the road till almost noon or until the salt spreader trucks have passed through. Driving on ice while on a steep downhill grade does have a way of causing the adrenaline to reach a record high threshold! Stepping on the brakes or tapping the gas pedal will cause the car to slide into a spin, so coasting downhill in a lower gear is the only choice. Since there are few guard rails along the mountain roads, any loss of traction is enough to scare the wits out of those who drive a little bit too fast. Taking it slow and easy in the ice patch areas on the shady side of the slopes is the best way to safely negotiate the challenging drive through these mountains.
There are relatively few places to safely pull off the side of the road to take pictures, so most of the drive along Highway 160 will be for your eyes only. There are several historic towns and mountain lodges along the way that offer plenty to do. Durango is the gateway to adventure in the San Juan Mountains and this city is a unique cultural center of its own. Just east of Durango, the signs for antique shops and trading posts can be seen for the next 50 miles. There are also plenty of cozy little bed & breakfast lodges that cater to outdoorsmen of all kinds.
Pagosa Springs is a famous Highway 160 resort area that features natural hot springs with alpine forest views. If spending the day lounging in a natural hot spring pool sounds like the ultimate way to relax, then Pagosa Springs is a good choice for lodging options. For those who partake in good old "Mother Nature," the relaxation mode can be further enhanced by shopping in the legal Colorado cannabis shops, which are located in nearly every town along Highway 160. The good old days of enjoying a pleasant buzz while lazing in a natural hot springs spa in the chilly mountain air have returned as a viable vacation option in modern times!
The first light snow of the season in southern Colorado does create dramatic landscapes to view. It is as if the light snow dusting brings new life to the barren trees and brush that have turned brown after summer. Just a little bit of movement is enough to knock the snow off of tree branches and the flakes catch the bright sunlight like little sparkling stars drifting in the air. The contrast changes from gloomy gray to bright white and the air seems to be crisper too. Standing by a mountain stream, the view of the snow dusted surroundings looks like a sweet inviting dream. The serene environmental conditions after the first snow will definitely rejuvenate a weary soul.
Catching views of the first light snow in the mountains along Highway 160 certainly is inspirational and the window of opportunity to view this event is small. After the first snow, it will not be long before the entire region is heavily draped with the white stuff and the slopes are open at the Wolf Creek Ski Area. The weather changes quickly in this picturesque region, so be sure to catch that first snowflake while you can!
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