Adventure of the week: Searching for gold in the Flat Tops |

Adventure of the week: Searching for gold in the Flat Tops

Stop along the Flat Tops byway to camp below the stars and golden aspens. There's also a chance you'll get a visit from a bull moose.
Scott Franz

If you go

To start this drive, take Colorado Highway 131 south to Yampa, turning right at the north end of town and following a sign adorned with a Columbine flower marking the start of the byway. Continue on Routt County Road 17 until you hit Routt County Road 132, again marked with the Columbine flower.

The scenic byway lasts for 82 miles from Yampa to Meeker, so you can travel the entire route or only a small part of it.

Camping is available at dispersed sites in the National Forest along the route. There are also campsites with facilities at Trappers Lake, a short 10-mile detour off the byway about halfway between Yampa and Meeker.

— I finally had my camera all dialed in to take the perfect photo of my tent glowing under the stars and golden aspens on Dunkley Pass last Saturday night when I heard something large moving in the bushes behind me around 9 p.m.

I quickly turned around and scanned the willows with my headlamp.

About 30 feet in front of me was a large black blob inching closer and closer.

A pair of eyes glowed in the darkness.

I quickly backed up, my headlamp still not powerful enough to help me identify the large creature that was sneaking up on me.

Shaking, I hopped in my Nissan Xterra and turned on the headlights in the direction of the animal.

Staring back at me was a monster bull moose with the largest antlers I’ve ever seen.

For a good 30 seconds, we just stared at each other.

It was silent except for the crackle of my nearby campfire.

A minute later, the moose slowly took off, sparing me and my box of Cheez-Its from any trouble.

I drove the Flat Tops byway searching for fall colors and solitude. The late night encounter with the moose was an awesome, and terrifying, bonus.

That’s part of the magic of the scenic route that traverses two mountain passes southwest of Steamboat Springs.

I’ve driven the byway three times now, but each fall trip is never the same.

The last time I did it I found myself stuck in the middle of a herd of sheep.

This time, Bullwinkle surprised me at my campsite.

Drivers who make the trek between Yampa and Meeker this weekend should be treated to panoramic vistas of orange and gold aspens.

Don’t turn around at Dunkley Pass. The color gets even more intense on Ripple Creek Pass.

About 41 miles from Meeker, a turnoff takes you to Trappers Lake.

There are several places to camp along the way.

My favorite spots are the dispersed sites on the way up Dunkley Pass.

Just make sure you keep your dogs close and on leash at the campsite.

The moose like the area too.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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