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Colorado aspen loop; dry or weekend driving tour follows old stage and train routes.

The flanks of Colorado's Pikes Peak now blaze with gold. Aspen leaves usually start to turn in September, continuing into October for a week or two--if Mother Nature doesn't whip up any windstorms or snow flurries.

Here, we suggest a driving tour that takes you past stands of quaking aspen set off by spruce and pine. Much of our loop follows old stage and train routes built in the mid- to late 1800s as links between Colorado Springs and the gold mining town of Cripple Creek (named after a cow that tried unsuccessfully - to jump across the stream).

Denverites can make this a day trip, or stretch it over a weekend, perhaps hiking or horseback riding through the forest on a crisp fall day, then touring the town on another.

If you miss the gold on the hills, take heart -there's plenty of gold in them. The area surrounding Cripple Creek looks like a playground for giant gophers: dozens of mines and exploratory holes dot the slopes. (Most of the mines are closed and should be avoided for safety reasons. One mine not currently extracting gold is open daily for tours.)

Around Pikes Peak's southeast side

Our route begins on the south edge of Colorado Springs. Some stretches are on graded dirt (highest pass 10,000 feet). All should be negotiable by passenger car, but call the Forest Service at (719) 636-1602 for road conditions. Leaf-watcher traffic can get heavy on sunny weekends.

The Pike National Forest map ($2) shows roads and trails. Stop by or write to the Forest Service office, 601 S. Weber St., Colorado Springs 80903; it's open 7:30 to 4:30 weekdays.

From Interstate 25, take exit 138 and head west 2 miles to the Broadmoor Hotel. Turn right onto Lake Circle, bear left on Mesa Avenue, then left onto Park Avenue. At the stop sign, turn right onto El Pomar Road, then right onto Old Stage Road.

In about 7 miles, you merge with Gold Camp Road. From here, you wind some 20 miles through Pike National Forest (keep your camera bandy for terrific vistas), then come to a junction with an unmarked road. Bear right on this road and continue about 2 miles to another junction; bear left to State 67 (just ahead). Turn left to Cripple Creek, spread out below you. Heading back, take State 67 north 19 miles to the town of Divide and the junction with US. 24. 1-25 is 30 miles southeast (right).

Three more ways to see the aspen

For an off-the-beaten-track look at fall color, join a free tour in a four-wheeldrive. The 45-minute drives, offered by the Two-mile High Club, run continuously from 9 to 5 the last two weekends of September and the first weekend of October, weather and fail color-permitting. For details, call 689-2519.

A 2-hour horseback ride, offered by Mount Pisgah Guest Ranch, leads to a tent camp for a night among the aspen ($75 a person). Or join day rides, cookouts, and wagon tours. For prices, write to the ranch, Box 621, Cripple Creek 80813, or call 689-2700. From the west end of Bennett Avenue in Cripple Creek, ,follow signs 1 mile north to Mount Pisgah.

Want to stretch your legs? Aspen line the first mile of Horsethief Park Trail; it traverses a shoulder of Pikes Peak. Park at the trailhead, at the tunnel's west end, 10 miles north of town on State 67.

What to do in Cripple Creek: At the east end of Bennett Avenue, the handsome museum-a former train depot-displays thousands of items, most from the region's boom time at the turn of the centu ry. It's open noon to 4 weekends; admission is $2.25, 50 cents ages 7 through 12. Real miners lead you, by elevator, a thousand feet down the Mollie Kathleen Mine, 1 1/2 miles north of town on State 67.

Forty-minute tours through the mine, which extracted ore from 1892 to 1961, leave frequently 9 to 5 daily through October. Cost is $6, $3 ages 11 and under.

For lodgings in Cripple Creek and sleepy Victor (5 miles southeast on State 67), write to the chamber, Box 650, Cripple Creek 80813, or call 689-2307.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1989
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