Copyright © 2002 Henrietta W. Hay
Crossing the Rockies
September 20, 2002
Getting across the Rockies has always been a major challenge, whether by
horseback or beemer.
A lot of the solutions to that challenge took place in my lifetime.
When my family moved from Rocky Ford to Englewood in 1919, there were
two choices if you wanted to travel from Denver to the Western slope by
car. Both routes were dirt roads, of course, and we tried them both in
the old Hudson. You could go through Leadville, and up to Wolcott. Or
you could go to Pueblo and over Monarch Pass. Either was a one or two
There was one shortcut that we took once which didn't save any time, but
was a lot more exciting. From Leadville we went straight west and
through the Carleton Tunnel. The tunnel was cut through over 9000 feet
of almost solid granite in 1890 by a group of promoters hoping to sell
it to the Colorado Midland Railway. After the railroad failed, it was
taken over by the state highway department. Cars could go through it
westbound in the morning and eastbound in the afternoon for $1.00 a
car. That was my first venture into an automobile tunnel. It was good
training for the Eisenhower many, many decades later. As we emerged
from the tunnel we were surrounded by thousands of sheep, calmly
chewing grass. You don't find that when you come out of the Eisenhower
today. It took a long time to ease through them and finally make it to
In the early 1930's came the first real shortcut through the mountains
from Denver. I remember the dedication ceremony when they opened
Loveland Pass -- a miraculous highway. It cut many miles off the trip,
but you didn't zip over it, and it was often closed in winter. it
still was pretty much an all day trip.
And then in 1973 the Eisenhower Tunnel was cut through the mountain,
taking hours off the trip, and turning Loveland Pass into a scenic
My regular jaunts across the mountains began in 1945, the year we moved
to Grand Junction.
Heading west out of Denver, the garage and greasy spoon that are now
resting on the bottom of Dillon Reservoir were a welcome break for old
cars and the young appetites before starting up the pass.
From the bottom of Loveland Pass to Glenwood Springs there were
mountains and a lot of dirt roads and not much else. Somewhere along
the way they changed the name of Black Gore Pass to Vail Pass, changed
the route and paved it. This caused a major political hassle, but my
memory has lost the details.
Then one day on an empty hillside on the south side of the road, a
lonely restaurant and gas station appeared. It grew very rapidly into
a town called Vail. Need I go on? And the people came - and came.
Dick Lamm, a state Representative at that time, tried to slow down the
rapid growth when he fought bringing the 1976 Winter Olympics to Denver
because of he cost and the probable damage to our mountain terrain.
Lamm, who would go on to serve three terms as the state's governor, put
the games on the 1972 ballot with the damning phrase: "These are rich
men's games paid for by poor men's taxes." It may have slowed the
growth, but it didn't stop it.
Glenwood Canyon started as a two rut road in 1899, was paved by WPA
labor in 1938 and then in 1992 the sweeping four lane highway was
opened. My only complaint with the new highway is that it eliminated my
favorite turnout where I used to stop and have a cup of coffee from my
thermos and listen to the river rush by.
So now you can drive from here to Denver in under four hours -- well,
usually. On a Sunday afternoon during ski season the dirt road has
changed to gridlock.