On the Road - Cruising Highway 70
Back Country Roads and Interstate Highways
Saturday, March 22, 2008
When Jedediah Smith made his way over South Pass in 1824, having rediscovered what would become a major route over the Continental Divide. Without the intention or desire to do so, he was paving the way for the route my family would take over the Rockies in the summer of 1951. Just eight years after Smith’s discovery the first caravan composed of 110 men and 20 wagons made its way over the pass, providing a more central route for emigrants heading west and in the process creating might might have been Colorado’s first backcountry road. More than a half million would use the pass over the next forty years until the transcontinental railroad would provide a much easier way to cross.
I’ve spent the night in Green River, Utah, a stone’s throw off Interstate 70 and am on my way to Denver via the small mining town of Leadville. What would have taken the wagon trains several weeks will take me less than a half day on Highway 70, assuming I don’t make any side trips.
By Ray Ford
I’d rather be off on the smaller side roads making my way here and there but there really isn’t a wealth of roads out here in the desert: it’s either Highway 70 or another major route way north or south. After stopping by Sego Canyon near Thompson Springs to spend a few moments reflecting on the rock art there, I retrace my route a few miles, and head down into the Moab area.
It’s hard not to spend a bit of time here. Both Arches and Canyonlands are spectacular national parks and even an hour or two spent here is worth it. This is especially a nice to time visit.There are few visitors and the winter sun sits low in the sky, making the lighting particularly nice. The walls of Park Avenue in Arches seem to glow. From Moab I make my way up the Colorado River road to Highway 70 again, set the cruise control to 70 mph, and grind up the miles.
By Ray Ford
The cruise is an easy one, the drive along the deserts and plains of the western slopes of the Rockies a bit monotonous. This isn’t dramatic country, more a wide expanse of scrubby desert plants, occasional sandstone outcroppings that provide a moment of glamour and long, straight pieces of highway that seem to take forever to cross - forever, of course measured in far different time than the pioneers might have used.
About noon I cross into Colorado, move past the farming town of Fruita, skirt Grand Junction and head on to Glenwood Springs, gateway to the Rockies. What were sunny skies have given way to a silver glow. It is getting cold and there are a few wisps of icy snow blowing my way. I’m still in short pants but that may change soon. I stop in town to check out the springs, which is actually what looks like a huge swimming pool filled with what I assume is soothing warm water.
By Ray Ford
The source is a natural spring located nearby. Incredibly, 3,500,000 gallons of water percolate through fractures in the bedrock formation and into the Leadville aquifer each day at a temperature of 122Â° F. and into the pools at a more comfortable 104 Â° F. The rate isn’t too steep - $13.00 for the day but a bit more than I’d rather pay for the short time I’d stay. Another time.
Glenwood Springs is also famous for being the point where skiers cut off Interstate 70 to head up to the Aspen ski areas. On another time when winter snow hasn’t closed Independence Pass to travel, I’d head this way up to Leadville but today there is no other choice but to continue along the interstate.
The highway east of Glenwood Springs follows a particularly scenic route, following the Colorado River up through a narrow canyon that proved somewhat difficult for engineers when they planned the construction of the interstate along it in the 1970s. The sixteen mile long canyon consists of almost sheer cliff rising on either side of the river, with barely enough room for a hiking path let alone a full-sized freeway. Environmentalists were especially concerned about the damage that might be done to the canyon. Despite suits by the Sierra Club and Coloroado Open Space Council to prevent it construction, eventually this section of Interstate 70 was started in 1984 and completed in 1992.