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The landscape of Colorado is probably one of the fascinating things to experience about the state. The various elevations and depressions in the form of highlands and lowlands are not just pleasing to the eye but just like almost anything in nature, very functional. And we are particular about the continental divide in this instance; a continental divide being a natural phenomenon is observable in all continents.
The word observable here encompasses both the obvious, such as mountains and other highlands, and a slight impression on the topography of a place. But what is it dividing? That is the question.
The world’s continents are surrounded by oceans and seas, given that the earth is over seventy percent water.
These large water bodies serve as nature’s drainage basins, for what? Precipitations have accumulated on different parts of the land area over a particular period (weather).
These accumulated precipitations can be in an endorheic state, meaning that they are in holding basins. They retain whatever comes into them and do not flow into external water bodies.
Examples of these endorheic accumulations are lakes, sinkholes, swamps, and ponds, and they achieve the same goals that continental divides achieve by evaporation.
Continental Divide: A Definition
The Continental divide is a prearrangement on the landmass that breaks the flow of precipitation at its crises into a divide that progresses in different directions and empties into a drainage center often of monumental scale. It can be further described as an elevated ground that acts as nature’s drainage system tool.
Colorado’s Continental Divide
Here in Colorado, the Continental Divide (also known as the Great Divide) is a succession of mountain ridges with it beginning from the Cape of Prince area in Alaska; it runs through Canada at its west side, enters the U.S., passing through New Mexico, our state Colorado, Wyoming, then trails the border of Idaho and Montana, cuts into Montana becoming a part of the Rockies and brings it journey to an end as it joins up with the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains of Mexico. A lengthy trip, you would say, but remember that the continental divide, with emphasis on the continental, can travel through an entire continent and, in this case, North America. The divide has separated the drainage basins’ flow into those that empties its content into the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. Although for clarification sake, the receiving basins also include the Caribbean Sea, the Arctic Ocean, Hudson Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico, at different points on the stretch of the divide, are various external water bodies receiving the run-off of the drainage basin, not all flows directly to enormous oceans.
Is the Continental divide the only hydrological divide in the Americas?
No, there are other divides in the Americas, such as Laurentian, St. Lawrence, Artic, and the Eastern Divide. And not just here in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Antarctica.
What is so special about Colorado’s Continental Divide?
Colorado, one of the fifty states that makes up the United States of America, has a topography that features an assortment of mountains, mesas, deserts, canyons, and has vast plains. All these are at an elevation above 3280 ft, and no other U.S. state sits on such high elevation. Colorado is the only state that occupies a high altitude like that, and also, some of its thousands of mountains peak at over 6560 ft. With the topography of Colorado, where the lowlands here are high grounds compared to other states in the U.S., anyone would deduce that the continental divide here would be at an elevation, and this deduction will be correct. However, we have established that there other divides around; the Continental Divide popular because it follows the topography of high mountain peaks of the Rocky Mountains and even continues its progression on high grounds by connecting with the Andes as it nears completion in South America. Due to its run-in with the Rockies in Colorado, the continental divide is most prominent because of its high elevation compared to the other hydrological divisions.
The Continental Divide Trails in Colorado State
The Continental Divide Trails are separated into different sections for you to plan your hike properly, cycle, or drive whether you are going for a full or partial trip. Here are some wonderful ones;
Mount Zirkel Wilderness
This section is one of the main sections of the trail; it is located in a part of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest north of Colorado. This section covers 36 miles on the Divide, starting from Northlake and ends at an elevation of 10,180ft on Buffalo Pass.
This section is challenging; it is exposed to the elements, some parts are rugged. The Front Range section houses some of the fifty-eight 14,000ft mountains, so, yeah, it is not cheap; If you are looking for a challenging one in this section, check out the Devil’s Thumb Loop, a granite summit at 12,000ft overlooking the lake; oh you will most certainly not be disappointed. Located along the Rocky Mountain National Park boundaries and the Indian Peaks Wilderness, it boasts the highest point of the Continental Divide (Grays Peak) at some 14,270ft.
This section goes through Silverthorne town; although the route here is not well maintained, it continues to the Copper Mountain Village. There are scenic routes that recently connected, and one can follow while keeping a tab on the Divide’s course. Other portions of this section are found in Vasquez Peak, Eagles Nest areas, and Ptarmigan Peak.
Rabbit Ears Range
This section is north of Colorado, although unique in that it is made of primarily volcanic rocks. Notwithstanding, it is a part of the Continental Divide Gateway Community Program; starting at Steamboat Springs, it stretches about 15 miles.
San Juan Mountains
It is excellent for hiking in the backcountry, and the views are amazing, especially at the Weminuche Wilderness. The snow may limit access from October to June, but at other times these rugged and beautiful routes are in working order; the areas between Spring Creek Pass and Stony Pass have little traffic.
Some of the mountains with the highest peaks, including Mount Elbert, are found in central Colorado. The section has both slices of forest and one of its popular hiking spots near Leadville, along the trail at Twin Lakes. In addition, there are other portions such as; the Holy Cross, the wilderness area of Collegiate Peaks, Mount Massive, and a relocation close to the Divide south of Cottonwood Pass.
A less trafficked section of the Continental Divide Trail that is vehicle accessible. Located between Gunnison and Saguache towns, if you are making plans to use this 22 mile Summit Trail know that following Lujan Creek while ascending, you come across Windy Peak and end at Marshall Pass; the entirety of this trip follows the Continental Divide Trail to its conclusion.
South San Juan Mountains
The most challenging section of the Continental Divide Trail includes steep slopes, cliffs, and high peaks. Starting at Pagosa Springs, it goes for another 42 miles, 25 of which you will spend hiking a loop on the Knife Edge, and after this section, you arrive at the Colorado/New Mexico border and Wolf Creek Pass.
Trail Ridge Road
This paved road is one of the longest in the U.S. it is between Estes Park and Grand Lake, has its highest point at Milner Pass, crossing the Continental Divide at 10,759ft.
It crosses the Continental Divide at 11,312ft, and it is south of the Sawatch Mountain Range. And on Monarch Crest Scenic Tramway, you can have a view of the Divide at over 12,000ft. Here they accept your packages if you decide to go for a complete trip of the Divide.
At 12,095ft, this pass connects Leadville and Aspen, open except for the winter season. Also, on the Aspen side, there is a ghost town for your adventurous side.
Wolf Creek Pass
Throughout the year, the pass may be tough to pass, especially during winter. When you stand on the Lobo Overlook topping off at 11,760ft, you will see the Divide in all its glory. Here, the divide crosses the pass in southwestern Colorado (San Juan Mountains).
The Pass is twisted and risky during winter, although it is still drivable and often left open and crosses the Continental Divide at 11,900ft.
The Sawatch Range section contains the relocated Cottonwood Pass, with parking spaces for cars; it meets Continental Divide at 12,119ft making vehicles cross the divide at the highest point.
Visiting the Continental Divide (Great Divide) in Colorado
The Continental Divide has become an attraction due to its peculiarities and draws tourists, adventurers, and fitness enthusiasts to Colorado every year. Most challenge themselves to hike or ride the entire length of the Continental Divide’s scenic trail, which goes on about 1,190.66 km in Colorado alone.
Planning is necessary for any trip you are embarking on; the same goes for the Continental Divide due to the different scenarios that play out at specific points of the Divide. The Continental Divide varies in elevation from 4,000 ft to something over 13,000 ft above sea level; this alone requires proper planning concerning clothes, oxygen limitations, air pressure, and many other factors induced by the existing altitude one comes upon. Apart from the elevations, there are travel regulations one needs to be mindful of since some of the courses crisscross a selection of lands belonging to private individuals and other lands with unrestricted access.
Note the following;
- Camping Permits: It is mandatory to get a wilderness permit to stay overnight since your hike could take days.
- Hunting and Fishing: for as many who are thinking of hunting at the park, hunting is prohibited in the garden; you cannot bring in any arms or weapons to the park. Fishing requires a license from Colorado State.
- Camp Fires: they have provided metal grate at designated campsites, only there are campfires allowed.
- Pets: in the Rocky Mountain National Park, pets are allowed on roads and must be under physical control. But when it comes to the backcountry regions and all trails, pets are prohibited.
- Water: there are many drainage basins in the park; water drawn from these sources must be boiled and adequately treated before usage. Safety first should be everyone’s default on this trip.
- Clothes: bring proper clothes; the Continental Divide scenic trail is not a place for haphazard dressing, especially if you will be there for hours not to talk of days. Because of the cold at night, the sun during the day, the wind, and unpredictable weather.