Unquestionably the most fascinating day trip from Trinidad is the appropriately named Scenic Highway of Legends, which runs some 80 miles west, north, and then northeast, mostly on Colo. 12, from Trinidad to Walsenburg.
Traveling west about 7 miles from Trinidad, past Trinidad Lake State Park, the first site of special note is Cokedale, just north of the highway. The best existing example of a coal camp in Colorado, Cokedale was founded in 1907 by the American Smelting and Refining Co. as a self-contained company town, and by 1909 was a thriving community of 1,500. When the mine closed in 1947, residents were offered the company-owned homes at $100 per room and $50 per lot. Some stayed, incorporating in 1948, and in 1984 Cokedale was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of today's 125 or so residents are descendants of those miners, or retired miners themselves. As you drive in, you'll see some of the 350 coke ovens, used to convert coal to hotter-burning coke, for which the town was named. Walking through the community, you'll see the icehouse, schoolhouse, mining office, Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary Church, Gottlieb Mercantile Company, and other buildings, including a boardinghouse where bachelors could get room and board for $25 a month.
Proceeding west, you'll pass several old coal towns, including Segundo, Weston, and Vigil, and two coal mines -- the Golden Eagle, where underground mining is still done, and New Elk Mine, now a processing plant -- before entering Stonewall Valley, 33 miles west of Trinidad. Named for a striking rock formation -- a vertical bed of lithified sandstone -- Stonewall is both the site of a small timber industry and the location of many vacation homes.
From Stonewall, Colo. 12 turns north past Monument Lake, part of Trinidad's water-supply system, named for a rock formation in the middle of the lake that some say resembles two American Indian chiefs. Several miles past Monument Lake is North Lake, a state wildlife area and home to rainbow, cutthroat, kokanee, and brown trout.
The highway continues north across 9,941-foot Cucharas Pass. Overlooking the pass are the Spanish Peaks, eroded remnants of a 20-million-year-old volcano. The native Arapaho believed them to be the home of the gods, and they served as guideposts to early travelers. Legends persist about the existence of a treasure of gold in this area, but none has been found. Several miles north of Cucharas Pass is Cucharas River Recreation Area, home of Blue Lake, named for its spectacular color.
Numerous geologic features become prominent as the road descends toward Walsenburg. Among them are the Devil's Stairsteps, one of a series of erosion-resistant igneous dikes that radiate out like spokes from the Spanish Peaks; Dakota Wall, a layer of pressed sandstone thrust vertically from the earth; and Goemmer Butte, sometimes called "Sore Thumb Butte," a volcanic plug rising 500 feet from the valley floor. At this point, about 65 miles from Trinidad, is the foothills village of La Veta (pop. about 900), founded in 1862 by Col. John M. Francisco, who reportedly said after seeing the pretty valley, "This is paradise enough for me."
Continuing east, Colo. 12 joins U.S. 160, which goes by Lathrop State Park (tel. 719/738-2376; www.parks.state.co.us), the state's oldest state park, with two lakes for boating (no rentals), swimming, and fishing (rainbow trout, channel catfish, tiger muskie, bass, walleye, bluegill, and crappie). There's also a 3-mile paved trail around the lake for hikers and bikers, plus the 2-mile Hogback Trail, a self-guided nature hike (free brochures available at the visitor center). Also available at the visitor center are lists of birds sighted in Lathrop and the wildflowers found here, with descriptions and blooming times noted. In winter, there's cross-country skiing, ice skating, and ice fishing. There are 103 campsites, about 40 with electric hookups, plus showers and a dump station. Camping costs $14 to $18 per night, and reservations are available for an extra charge of $8 by calling tel. 800/678-2267 or through the state park website . The park's day-use fee is $6 per vehicle, which is also added to camping fees. Located at the park but managed independently is the 9-hole Walsenburg Golf Course (tel. 719/738-2730; www.thewgc.com), with a fee of $15 for 9 holes and $20 to $21 for 18 holes.
From the park it's about 2 miles to Walsenburg on U.S. 160, and then just under 40 miles south down I-25 to return to Trinidad.