Although I would normally avoid anything with the name “Phantom” in it, numerous Google searches assured me that there was nothing otherworldly to be found here, not even a legend. So off to the Canyon to celebrate my 25th birthday. Now that’s spooky.
With no coverage and half a plan as to how to find the rest of the party we’d be camping with, out we went.
There were three reasons for choosing this road that connects Florence with Cripple Creek, namely, two tunnels (the first of which we were already arriving at) and one bridge. Mind you, this road is a one-lane, unpaved, winding road. In any other weather, I would not want to be driving here.
Three other roads are part of the Gold Belt Scenic Byway: Shelf Road, an old stagecoach road which connects Cañon City with Cripple Creek and is very popular for climbing; High Park Road, a two-lane paved road that runs from Cañon City up into the mountain gold mines; and Teller County Road One, which goes from Cripple Creek north to Florissant and past Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
The jagged rocks changed with each blind turn, sometimes softer, often harsher.
Both tunnels were interesting enough as we went, but far more impressive when looking back.
There’s a small pull-off just before the iconic steel bridge where we stopped to admire the view. A few informational signs are propped up on the railing, something I’d come to expect in some capacity or other from any place we visit in the US.
The old steel bright against the evergreens.
About 2 hours and 20-something of the 30 miles later, we finally came to the rest stop that closest matched the vague reference we had agreed upon as a meeting place.
The views were quite nice here as well. Had it not been for some pesky ants that insisted on climbing up my poor mother’s legs no sooner had she stepped onto the gravelly road, we would have likely camped out here, on a small flat just above the restroom and a few picnic tables. Convenient for middle-of-the-night needs.
We still hadn’t reunited with our party, so we resorted to pinning a bright blue note on the side of a sign, in hopes that they would drive by soon.
Another hour later of driving back and forth between miles 18 and 20 (after finally spotting the black SUV and three bikes we’d been looking for), we’d almost given up on finding a place where to set up camp for the night. Suspecting there might be enough space behind the trees, we pulled into a very small patch of dirt I had seen earlier, just big enough for both cars to fit at an awkward angle.
I guess my intuition doesn’t suck as much as I thought, because Mother and the Dr. came back in a few minutes, confirming there was more than enough space to comfortably unpack all our mess.
The entirety of the area was made up of a few clearings, connected by a barely-trodden path.
First was the largest, an uneven spot complete with a makeshift (and very much illegal) fireplace, which would have come in handy had it not been for the fire ban in place.
A little further up.
A little bit more.
Round the corner.
Through the trees.
And into the next clearing. It might not look like much, but it was flat, sheltered, and easily fit 3 or 4 tents.
Random bursts of color distracted me from the endless green and grey.
A short scramble up some rocks provided a view of the tops of trees and parts of the canyon…
… As well as down into our picnic area, which we set up next to the fire pit.
Chips, warm queso, soda, and assorted veggies were passed around from chair to blanket. Cold pizza washed down with chocolate milk never tasted so good.
As night fell, I started panicking about our sleeping arrangements. It was the first time I’d ever camped dispersedly, as well as having a tent all to myself. Safe to say I felt extremely exposed, vulnerable, and quite frankly, terrified.
One look into the night sky and my fears were calmed, the stars reminding me why I had agreed to this in the first place.
Had it not been for a short episode of sleep paralysis, it would have been a fairly uneventful night.
The morning, however, was kind, probably sensing my fragile millennial self in its midst. The sun barely shone through the trees. Slowly, the chirping birds and rustling trees brought me to. As far as omens go, this felt like a great one.
Phantom Canyon Road is located about an hour outside of Colorado Springs. Drive South on 115, turn right on Route 50, and again to the right when you see the random Phantom Canyon Road sign. Best from March to November.
If you do choose to camp somewhere along the Canyon, don’t be like us and leave early in the morning so you have enough time to find a spot. Otherwise, just give yourself about 3-4 hours to properly explore this wonderful road.