Colorado State Highway 12, known as the Highway of Legends, recently was designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation as a National Scenic Byway, or ‘American Byway’ as part of the National Scenic Byway Program.
Joining the Highway of Legends, an 82-mile route through Huerfano and Las Animas counties, as the state’s newest American Byway is Silver Thread, a 117-mile route through Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mineral and Rio Grande counties.
“These new designations are a tribute to this great state and characterize the breadth of its beautiful landscapes, history and culture,” said Shoshana Lew, Colorado Department of Transportation executive director on Thursday, Feb. 18. “In addition to providing new and exciting adventures for travelers, our scenic and historic byways help protect these much-valued areas of Colorado.”
The National Scenic Byway Program includes 184 designated byways in 48 states. The routes highlight America’s “history, natural beauty and landmarks – and provide an economic boost to surrounding areas.” With the new designations, Colorado has more national scenic byways than any other state.
With the new designations, Colorado now has 13 American Byways.
The state says the Scenic Highway of Legends features, “the Spanish Peaks where gold-seeking conquistadors and Comanche, Pueblo and Tarahumara Indians once traveled.”
The state’s byways are an important asset for economic development, with an economic impact of nearly $4.8 billion over a six-year period, according to the CDOT news release. The Highway of Legends provided nearly $180 million in economic benefit and the Silver Thread more than $67 million.
“What a remarkable nod to our state’s timeless beauty and a well-deserved recognition for the efforts of Colorado citizens to share it with everyone,” said Nathan Boyless, chairman of Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways Commission, in the release. “The open road beckons, scenic travels!”
The Highway of Legends offers “dramatic settings that have inspired tall tales among Native American nomads, Spanish explorers, and Anglo and Hispanic settlers for hundreds of years. From the impenetrable heights of the Sangre de Cristos and Spanish Peaks to the ominous red rock abutments of the Dakota Wall and the Devil’s Stairsteps, this land is truly larger than life.”
There is also an extension to this byway that stretches from the town of Aguilar on I-25 west over the 11,248-foot Cordova Pass, reconnecting to Colorado Highway 12 at Cuchara Pass. The 35-mile extension follows Huerfano/Las Animas County Road No. 46 through the San Isabel National Forest.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in total, announced 49 similar new designations to the America’s Byways collection including 15 All-American Roads and 34 National Scenic Byways in 28 states.
“Through their many unique qualities, each of these new additions to the National Scenic Byways program helps America’s roads tell our national story,” said FHWA Executive Director Tom Everett. “These special routes offer travelers exciting new opportunities to explore the nation, from coast to coast or close to home.”
The “Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019,” enacted in 2019, required the U.S. Transportation Secretary to solicit nominations for designation of All-American Roads and National Scenic Byways, resulting in 63 nominations. Each application was reviewed by subject-matter experts on historic preservation, design, cultural resources, and visual impacts, tourism and economic development, highway safety, federal lands, and Native American history and culture. The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Commerce also provided input.
“Scenic roads have always been popular with travelers, and support a wide array of area businesses too,” Everett added. “Whether hotels, eateries or gas stations, Scenic Byways and All-American Roads support the nation’s small business community and are economic drivers for entire regions.”
The historic Highway of Legends links the southern Colorado towns of Trinidad, La Veta, Walsenburg and Aguilar.
—For more detailed scenic byway maps and great vacation getaway ideas go to the Colorado Vacation Directory at https://www.coloradodirectory.com/maps/legends.html