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Scenic byway stops short of best scenes

Janet Urquhart

The Top of the Rockies National Scenic Byway takes motoring gawkers, shutterbugs and the inexplicably nonchalant through some of the most extraordinary scenery in Colorado.Oddly, it ends at Twin Lakes, before westbound motorists venture past what are arguably some of the most stunning vistas offered by any highway in Colorado. The winding, white-knuckle drive over 12,095-foot Independence Pass between Twin Lakes and Aspen has been left off the scenic byway map.”There’s this nice little sign right at Twin Lakes: End Scenic Byway,” said Randy Ready, Aspen’s assistant city manager.The Aspen City Council and Pitkin County commissioners may be ready to do something about the omission. At a joint meeting today, elected officials will be asked if they’d like to pursue inclusion of the pass in the Top of the Rockies byway.Twenty years ago, local officials apparently weren’t interested. The state Legislature designated the pass as a “scenic highway” in 1975, long before Colorado had a scenic byways program. When the Top of the Rockies byway was first proposed in the mid-1980s, the state Byways Commission asked its proponent – Lake County – if neighboring Pitkin County was interested in having the byway extend over the pass to Aspen, Ready said. Local officials apparently concluded the potential increase in tourist traffic was undesirable, he said.”Whether this designation would really have that effect, I don’t know,” he said.Nonetheless, the pass was passed over when the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway was established. Later, it also gained national recognition for its “extraordinary scenic beauty and importance in history.” It is one of six byways in Colorado that is among 53 national scenic byways.Currently, the Top of the Rockies scenic drive starts at Twin Lakes on one end and Minturn or Copper Mountain on the other. Motorists can travel over Fremont Pass between Copper and Leadville on Highway 91, between Minturn and Leadville over Tennessee Pass on Highway 24, and take in the section between Leadville and Twin Lakes on highways 24 and 82.Clearly, plenty of motorists make the drive over Independence Pass from Twin Lakes during the summer and fall, regardless of its scenic byway status or lack thereof. The pass is closed during the winter months.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com