Typically, I don’t find driving on the edge of cliffs that fun, but my cabin fever was getting to me and I really needed to spend time with my husband outside of our daily pandemic grind. We packed up the 4Runner and headed out for a five-hour ride to Lake City for our Engineer Pass adventure.
A little backstory: Engineer Pass is the northern part of the Alpine Loop scenic byway with Cinnamon Pass as the southern part. It’s considered a rugged trail for off-road vehicles and only open from June to November. This route was originally built by Otto Meers, the developer of the Million Dollar Highway. When it was suggested that we take this trip, “scenic byway” was the only piece that I really heard, which is exactly how my husband learned to sell these rides to me. See, he’s an avid backpacker, hiker, off-roading rock crawler guy, while I’m a yoga addict who loves nature and appreciates it by chilling on the beach or lying in a hammock with a good book and a latte. However, it was time to hit the road and get out in the woods together to connect, ground and refresh our spirits!
It was a gorgeous, sunny Colorado day — perfect for windows down and fresh air on our faces. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was open to seeing where the day would take us. After a final stop to fill the tank in Woodland Park, we followed the signs to Engineer Pass and ended up on a dirt road with a flowing river on one side and a rock wall on the other. It was so serene and relaxing driving along the river amidst the San Juans, listening to the sounds of water splashing and birds singing. There were others on the road — a mix of SUVs, trucks and ATVs — but it wasn’t congested with traffic and people. Honestly, I felt like it was only us for the majority of the ride and that’s exactly what we wanted from our day trip.
After an hour or so of enjoying the riverside drive, we started our ascent. The views were epic with surprises at every turn. There were lush green meadows with bright yellow and purple plants scattered throughout. Waterfalls were seemingly everywhere, cascading down a shale staircase in between a forest of trees. As we rounded one corner, there was a serene stream gently flowing down some small boulders nestled in a field of bright green grass and fuchsia wildflowers. We were smiling and laughing together as we pointed out another new thing to be amazed by at each winding turn.
As we neared the top of Engineer Pass, sitting at 12,800 feet in elevation, we started seeing remnants of past snowfall in little clumps around the mountain. Yes, it was July and there was still snow. Oh, Colorado! Once we reached the top, it was a photo opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. Not only can you take a selfie with your love to reminisce about later, but you can also catch sweeping views of two fourteeners, Uncompaghre and Wetterhorn. Pretty magical!
After soaking up the stunning views while hugging and inhaling that fresh mountain air together, we starting our descent. I’ll admit that we did not traverse this like most people, so our descent was the majority’s ascent. Either way, it’s a two-car road if you pull in your mirrors and get super cozy to pass each other. There’s a sheer drop on the passenger side for a good 30 minutes, but the view is great when focusing straight ahead. Once you get to the bottom of that section, you’re on a trail enveloped with trees, bumping along, slowly winding in and out of areas where deer cross your path and a myriad of other animals are surely watching you from afar. It’s calming and grounding, everything we hoped to get out of a trip in the Colorado mountains. After a while, the Million Dollar Highway appeared across the way letting us know that we were only an hour or so from popping out into Ouray for an iced dirty chai and snack at Mouse’s Chocolates and Coffee. Then we drove down Main Street marveling at the view of Box Canyon, a place we hiked many years ago, and headed home. It truly was an amazing trip and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting a gorgeous drive off the beaten path to reconnect with nature and spend time together in a present and mindful way.
Tiffany Lord is a private yoga coach, founder of Love + Asana and resident instructor for the International Headache Center. Her passion is helping people reconnect to their bodies for more strength, flexibility and confidence with a personalized approach to movement and mindfulness. She truly believes whether you feel “out of shape” from persistent pain, past injuries or a stressful life change, you can feel better and live the life you want with yoga. Learn more about her custom virtual yoga programs at loveandasana.com.