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A Speeding Ticket That Landed Me A Nice Visit To North Park

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

WALDEN — My eyes went directly from the flashing lights in my rear view mirror to my speedometer. The number there wasn’t good, and when the sheriff asked me if I knew how fast I was going, I was loath to repeat it.

“Uh…faster than I should have been?”

“Yes, and why were you going that speed?”

The truth wasn’t much of an excuse. The stretch of Colorado 14 between Steamboat and Walden was straight, dry and empty that February day. If there was a reason I was speeding past the 65 mph speed limit, it was to get home to Fort Collins in time to see what the celebrities were wearing to the Oscars that night. Something told me the sheriff wasn’t a big red carpet fan, so I just kept my mouth shut. But I regretted my decision when I discovered my lead foot was going to cost me four points on my license.

But my decision to contest the ticket put me back on one of the most scenic drives in Colorado — and that decision I don’t regret in the least. The Cache La Poudre River is one of only three designated National Heritage Areas in the state. That means its cascading waters, the dramatic cliffs that frame it and the plants and animals that thrive on its banks are well preserved.

Although I had driven the same amount of time to go up to Arapahoe Basin the day before, the two journeys couldn’t have been more different. Interstate 25 was stop-and-go after an accident, and I-70 was a parking lot following a car fire in the Eisenhower Tunnel.

The only traffic I encountered on the ride up the Poudre Canyon was two female bighorn sheep and their calves crossing the road. Listening to the spring runoff crashing into the rocks and the birds’ spring songs, I was reminded that road trips can be pleasurable and relaxing, especially when they are made on roads less traveled. The state’s tourism department had this in mind when they created the new Colorado Field Guide, which has suggested itineraries to the state’s quieter spots. Walden shows up on the Small-Town Treasures in Northwestern Colorado trip.

The scenery doesn’t stop when you exit the Poudre Canyon. The Continental Divide, Rabbit Ears Range and Medicine Bow Mountains surround North Park’s 8,000-foot-high interior plain. “A beautiful circular valley, walled in all around with snowy mountains” is how pathfinder John Charles Fremont described it in 1844. You don’t need a court order to go to Walden, but the historic Jackson County Courthouse is worth checking out nonetheless.

Built in 1913, its stone-columned façade stands out as the most historically important building in the region. The interior is as it was a century ago. Walking across the wood floorboards, you can hear the echoes of long-ago cowboy boots headed for their day in court. You can learn stories from Jackson County’s early days at the North Park Pioneer Museum, just across the small parking lot from the courthouse. While the clerk looked for my ticket, I read about today’s Walden in the Jackson County Star newspaper. On the front page, the mayor had written a first-person column explaining, apologetically, why gas rates were going up.

The issue the week before showed moose wandering through town like they own the place. There are between 800 and 900 moose in Jackson County, earning Walden the title of “Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado.” While stopping by the Moose Creek Café for a cup of coffee, I mentioned to the waitress I was in town for a court date. “Really?” asked the woman in line behind me. “There was nothing on the docket for today.” She was right; my ticket hadn’t come through the system yet so the case was dismissed. But how did she….“I know because I’m the judge,” she said, as if reading the question on my face.

I assured her I had learned my lesson and wouldn’t be speeding on the way home — I wouldn’t want to miss all there is to see on the road less traveled.

**This story originally published in the Denver Post, May, 23,2017

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