Heading out of Denver on Interstate 70, it takes a while to feel like you’ve truly left the urban sprawl behind. But there’s no doubt that you’ve escaped the modern world, and returned to the wild west, by the time you reach Idaho Springs, Colorado.
One of Idaho Springs’ biggest tourist attractions is easy to spot from Interstate 70. The Argo Gold Mine and Mill offers tours, and the opportunity to pan for gold. The mill was built at the entrance of the Argo Tunnel, a 4+ mile-long drainage and access tunnel that drained water from all the major gold mines between Idaho Springs and Central City.
In town, some funky-retro motels (along with their neon-incandescent signs) remain. This one dates back to before I-70, when the main road through the mountains was US 6 and 40. Nowadays, Idaho Springs feels a bit squeezed by the presence of the interstate.
Oh My God! Road
These days, it’s fairly easy to get to the gambling towns (and former gold mining towns) of Central City and Black Hawk. You can take the fairly-new Central City Parkway from I-70, or US 6 and Colo. 119 for a slightly longer route. But if you really want a challenge, you can take the backroad that begins in Idaho Springs. It’s signed as the “scenic route”, and officially called Virginia Canyon Road, but it’s more commonly known by a name that promises adventure, “Oh My God! Road”.
OMG Road gets its name from its quick climb uphill, oftentimes on a “shelf” on the edge of a mountain. Numerous curves and switchbacks lift you up above Idaho Springs quickly. There are quite a few spots like this one, where you can look back at where you’ve been (that’s I-70 at the bottom of the valley).
It’s debatable whether OMG Road deserves its emphatic name. Yes, it’s dirt, and yes, it does take you past some guardrail-free drop-offs. But it’s far from being the narrowest or scariest road I’ve ever traveled. Only those with a severe fear of heights would be uncomfortable here.
As you climb, you’ll spot some ruins of old mining operations. This old structure is the most noticeable, right at the edge of the road.
After only a couple of miles, you’re well above Idaho Springs. Other mountains, which were hidden when you were lower, now appear. That might be Squaw Mountain in the distance — an 11,500-foot peak.
Zooming in, you’ll get one last look at Interstate 70, before heading on to Central City. You can almost make out the huge traffic jam heading eastbound, which I would have been in, if I had driven back to one of the “easier” routes to Central City. Yes, OMG Road was the right choice.
Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive up OMG! Road, through Central City, and on to Nederland: