Trinidad was the first town we stayed in after entering Colorado. A glimpse of the nice buildings and structures in downtown gave us a good impression of the town. While doing laundry at Trinidad Lake State Park in the evening, a flyer displayed on the wall of the bathroom grabbed my attention. It showed regional attractions along the Highway of Legends/Highway 12. It connects Trinidad Lake State Park and Lathrop State Park winding through part of Rocky Mountains. The highway runs like a ribbon connecting small towns in the alpine valleys. Unique geological features punctuate the highway. We only had one day to explore this area. So we set up our itinerary including adventure of Highway of Legends and tour of Trinidad History Museum.
Amid the cold air in the early morning, we hopped on Highway of Legends and headed to the Rockies. The high quality coking coals from west Trinidad made coal mining a major industry in the 19th century. Coal mines and related historical sites dotted along the road. Cokedale has a structure that resembles ancient Roman ruins. They were coke ovens that transformed coal into coke. Our truck zoomed by it and I only had a glimpse of it.
The Purgatoire River meanders in the valley along the highway. Cattle grazed on the ranches. Layers of coal exposed on the hillside by the road. Huge piles of coal were on the ground at New Elk Mine. Two neighboring adobe houses with a front that shaped like stairsteps tucked in the alpine valley. At an elevation of about 8,000 feet, nestled deep in the mountains, the charming small town – Stonewall, came in sight as a dreamy land. The Dakota formations rise abruptly from the ground. They are tall and thin stone walls. Mists enveloped the top of snow dusted forests. Horses were strolling by the forest whacking their long tails. Nice looking cabins and restaurants lined by the road. It was a pity that we didn’t stop by. After Stonewall, the road turned north and we traveled at the back of Spanish Peaks.
Blue alpine lakes dot along the highway. We stopped at North Lake. It was still cloudy and cold. A little sunshine shone on the face of the stone wall on the hill. There were some switchbacks on the road to the Cuchara Pass. It started to clear up on our way to the pass. The sky was blue when we reached the 9,995 feet high Cuchara Pass. Snow mountains peeked through a grove of bare trees. Cuchara is a peaceful little town near the pass. I wonder how life is like living above clouds.
The road turns toward east after the town of Cuchara. A group of stonewalls looked like steps appeared by the road. They were named as Devil’s Stairsteps. These are the stone dikes near the magnificent Spanish Peaks. Over 400 stone dikes radiate from Spanish Peaks. After a short drive, another interesting stone dike showed up by the road. The ragged edge of the stone dike and stacked weathered stones looked like a jigsaw puzzle. We had a better view of Spanish Peaks from here. Light white clouds floated mindlessly in front of the majestic snow coated peaks.
Another geological feature lies nearby. Goemmer’s Butte, an odd shaped volcanic plug sit awkwardly on a hill. A peaceful scenery with the snow covered Spanish Peaks as the background unfolded in front of us. A herd of cattle scattered around the big ranch in front of the butte. Some cattle lay recumbent comfortably on the brown prairie looking at us. Distant snow capped mountains peaked above the rolling hills.
The highway becomes nice and flat after La Veta, an artistic town with a beautiful view. We stopped at Lathrop State Park, the first state park in Colorado. There are two lakes in the park. The view of Spanish Peaks and snow capped mountains in the distance were impressive. The scenic byway ends at Walsenburg, a “city built of coal.” It was the production center of coking at one time. Taking Highway 25 South, we were heading back to Trinidad. A dozen pronghorn antelopes grazing on the short grass by the road cheered us.
We had Chinese food for lunch at Wonderful House restaurant in Trinidad. Then we took a guided tour at Trinidad History Museum. The museum has a nice paved yard filled with red bricks and pavers with printed words “Trinidad.” Some bricks had raised print. They were manufactured with local clays. Baca House is a two story adobe house, a home for pioneer and city founder – Dolores Baca and his wife Felipe Baca and their children. Furniture in Baca House demonstrated the lifestyle back in the 1800s. Bloom mansion is a beautiful three-story house in Second Empire style. It was the home for former banker and cattle baron Frank Bloom. It was not furnished due to the water leakage problem. The mansion is used as a community gathering parlor for arts and history events. Selected big and old photographs adorned the wallpapered walls. Some local artist’s artworks were also on display.
Walking on the raised print of Tirnidad red pavers, a leisurely walk along the charming downtown among the brisk wind was still pleasant. Architectures in different styles indicate the influence of a mixed culture. A corner shop looked like an Edward Hopper’s painting with its rich reddish brown, dark green, and black colors. A statue of standing black horse and a huge twin spout pottery were set in front of the corner shop. White blossoms glowed on the street trees. Next to the statue of coal miners’ memorial is a huge bird cage with a scared bird. It is the coal miner’s canary. Miners took canary birds down to mines to alarm them when potential disaster happened.
Trinidad is one of the top scenic towns in beautiful Colorado. Sitting at the base of Fisher’s Peak, it is a major city sitting on Highway 25 and Highway of Legends. It is also on the historical Santa Fe Trail. Fisher’s Peak has a shape of flat stairsteps. The sign of Trinidad Lake State Park resembles its shape. The view from the south shore of the park was breathtaking. Looking across the blue water of the lake and the low hills, snow capped Rockies shone like jewels on the crown on the western horizon. Our one-day tour of Trinidad captured the best of the town.