Leading southwestward from Metro Denver, U.S. 285 climbs through Turkey Creek Canyon and then undulates across the foothills. After descending Crow Hill, this scenic roadway begins a westward run along the North Fork of the South Platte River; the imposing wall of the Platte River Mountains forms the south edge of the Valley while the Mt. Evans massif and Continental Divide loom to the north. Forty six miles from the edge of Denver, the highway crosses Kenosha Pass (elevation 10,000 feet) and drops into South Park; the pass, which represents the western end of the North Fork Valley, connects the Platte River Mountains with the Continental Divide.
Several trailheads along U.S. 285 provide access to the Platte River Mountains and three Forest Roads lead to campgrounds, jeep trails and hiking paths into the Mt. Evans Wilderness or onto the Continental Divide. One of these Forest Routes, the Guanella Pass Road, heads northward from Grant, crosses Guanella Pass (11,669 feet) and then descends to Georgetown, on I-70; this road is especially popular with birders since the Pass is one of the best spots in North America to find white-tailed ptarmigan.
Sunny, mild weather made my visit to the Valley especially pleasant today. Though the birding was average (dominated by ravens, Steller's jays and mountain chickadees), I did spot some bighorn sheep near Grant, found a few dippers along the North Fork and saw a large herd of elk in South Park. The view from Kenosha Pass was spectacular, with the snow-capped peaks of the Mosquito Range rising west of the broad grassland; to the southwest, a few of the rugged Sawatch Mountains completed the scene, poking into the clear, blue sky.