Have you ever wondered what the West looked like back when it was really, truly wild? Have you dared to imagine trekking through the Rockies without a flashlight, matches, or even a map? Feed your imagination with a dose of tangible history on your visit to the Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway, where you’ll discover the lives and legacies of several of Colorado’s first explorers and trappers.
Before you begin your 103-mile trip along this exciting byway, stop in the town of Pueblo at the byway’s northeastern end and brush up your knowledge of the area at the El Pueblo Museum. Browse a series of magnificent displays that highlight the numerous cultures that have inhabited this area, from Native American tribes to Spaniards, and that tell of El Pueblo's early days as an adobe trading post. For a large-scale look at Pueblo's history, cruise through the Union Avenue Historic District and admire stone carvings created by Italian stonemasons as you drift past historic buildings. Before you leave the city, check out the Historic Arkansas River Walk and tour the diverse neighborhoods created by six generations of steel workers before the industry collapsed in the 1980s.
As you leave Pueblo and continue west on Highway 96, take a moment to visit Rock Canyon Ranch a few miles outside of town and see the Historic Goodnight Barn, which was part of the 2,000-mile Goodnight-Loving Cattle Trail headquarters in the late 1800s. Continue west on the byway and revel in the remarkable scenery of open plains and limestone bluffs as you pass Pikes Peak and the Wet Mountains. After about 20 miles, you’ll reach the Jackson Hill Stage Stop. From the early 1870s to the emergence of the automobile in the early 1900s, this outpost was a source of supplies and fresh horses for local miners and stagecoach travelers on their way out west. Although the station still stands, it is on private property, so be sure to view it from the road. About a mile from the station, take a look at the Wetmore and Hardscabble Settlements, which were founded in the same era by French traders and fur trappers and later inhabited by American farmers. Explore the remains of these 150-year-old settlements, and learn the stirring history of frontier heroes like Kit Carson and Maurice LeDuc, founder of the “Buzzard’s Roost,” a fort used to trade with nearby Native American tribes.
About 10 miles farther west, the byway forks at McKenzie Junction, giving you the option to continue west toward the byway's western gateway at the towns of Silvercliff and Westcliffe, or curve southeast toward Colorado City. While in Westcliffe, make the All Aboard Westcliffe Interpretive Center your first stop. Here, trained guides will explain the history of mining and ranching in relation to the railroad as it developed starting in the late 1800s and continued into the 20th century. Pick up a printed tour guide and tour nearby sites such as the Beckwith Ranch, the former site of one of the biggest cattle operations in Colorado, and discover the history of the Beckwith brothers, Elton and Edwin, and their impact on Colorado as we know it today. Head a few miles south from Westcliffe and stop at the ghost town of Rosita, founded in 1875. In its prime, this small silver-mining town held about 1,000 people and more than 400 buildings, including the largest brewery in the state. Several of these buildings have survived to the present day, offering a glimpse at the remnants of the once-thriving community. While it retains the title of “ghost town,” Rosita is not entirely deserted. Stop at the Letter Drop Inn and Restaurant in Historic Rosita for a hot meal and a story about the town’s glory days and explorers, such as Lt. Zebulon Montgomery Pike and his travels through Wet Mountain Valley in 1807.
Return to McKenzie Junction and travel about 10 miles south on the byway to visit the Augusta-Keating area. Admire the work of Scandinavian master builder Al Mingus at the 1908 Mingus Homestead, which lies about a mile from the highway along with other historic buildings from the area's settlement in 1876.
Follow the byway two miles south and you’ll encounter a structure that’s completely unique to this part of the country: a castle! A testament to the efforts of a single man, Bishop Castle was built single-handedly by Jim Bishop, a medieval enthusiast who has spent the last 40 years designing and constructing the fortress. More than 1,000 tons of rock compose the walls of this magnificent structure, all of which Bishop painstakingly hauled to the building site from the nearby San Isabel National Forest. Above the main entrance, a large stainless-steel dragon’s head sits at the peak of the keep, its open mouth spewing smoke from a wood fire in the building below. Spend a few hours exploring the iron walkways high above the floor on the inside of the castle, or climb to the top of the tower and see the surrounding landscape from the rotating metal dome Bishop installed in 2005. Continue southeast from Bishop Castle and spend a few minutes admiring the San Isabel National Forest. As you gaze across Lake Isabel's placid water, take a moment to remember the Civilian Conservation Corps, who built Lake Isabel Dam in 1936.
Follow the byway out of the San Isabel National Forest as it curves east toward Colorado City. Just after you leave the forest, you'll pass the town of Rye, a historic community founded in 1870 as a logging and sawmill town. The byway ends at the Cuerno Verde Rest Area and Information Center. While you rest from the road, take a moment to learn about this legendary Comanche Chief, who was named "Greenhorn" by the Spanish for his green-tinted headdress with a single bison horn. In 1779, the Spanish Governor Juan Bautista de Anza led an expedition to track down and kill Cuerno Verde. Today a mountain, a creek, a valley, and the information center are all named for that historic Comanche Chief.
A thrilling expedition from start to finish, the Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway reveals the mysteries of Colorado’s fascinating history. Bring your imagination along as you explore fierce Native American battles, the ghosts of old mining towns, and enchanting castles on your journey into the historic and modern American West.
- Copyright © 2001 Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway.
- Copyright © August 2006 Neil Li.
- Copyright © 2008 Chris Markuson.
- Public domain. Photo by Sally Pearce
- Copyright © April 2005 Terry Mathews.