Slightly more than 20 miles west of Salida on U.S. 50 is the Continental Divide, dividing the country’s rivers that flow to the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
At 12,000 feet above sea level, however, hiking to the top would challenge most people. Luckily there’s a tram that carries riders to the top of the Divide, where they can enjoy unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains. The tram is at the top of Monarch Pass at the Monarch Crest Scenic Tramway and Gift Shop.
“The best part of the tram is people who physically can’t be in this altitude, it gives them the ability to see the mountains at their best,” owner/manager Edie Schoenfeld said. “You can see forever up there on a clear day.”
The base of the tram, and the gift shop, are at 11,312 feet above sea level, and the tram carries riders roughly another 700 feet in the air to an observation deck.
“I meet people from all over the world,” Jim Littrell, Schoenfeld’s father, said. “It’s a fantasy to them; nobody ever complains.”
Visitors can see 14,000-foot peaks like Antero, Shavano and Tabeguache from the top of the tram, as well as the Monarch Mountain ski and snowboard area and a slew of 13,000-foot peaks.
Seeing fall colors isn’t necessarily one of the tram’s specialties.
“We’re above the aspen,” Littrell said. “You can see them, but it’s nothing like being right in them.”
At 10,800 square feet, the Monarch Crest gift shop is also the biggest in south central Colorado.
In addition to gifts, souvenirs and apparel, the gift shop has a restaurant, a museum detailing some of the local history and a wildlife room filled with moose and elk and deer.
“Our specialties are homemade fudge and homemade ice cream,” Schoenfeld said.
Weather typically dictates when the tram closes for the season since the area averages 350 inches of snow per year, but it’s scheduled to stay open until Sept. 16. Until then, the tram is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.