Colorado: I-70

Monday, May 13th

Up early this morning to find our little motel had filled overnight. Many out-of-state plates, a UHaul and some cross country truckers. A shout out to the Super 8 motel in Georgetown, CO btw. Inexpensive, clean, quiet, comfortable and the manager couldn’t have been nicer. That place is a find.

We got a pretty early start, did a quick driving tour of Georgetown (old silver mining site and railroad depot), had a superb breakfast at The Whistlestop Diner, then headed out for a hike. We backtracked a few miles to the town of Empire, CO, parked our car and headed up the service road on the North side of town. Two hours later we’d covered about three miles and gained about sixteen hundred feet in altitude, capping out at just over ten thousand feet. That was a first. I’d been feeling the thin air since yesterday and I was huffing and puffing from step three. About a half an hour from the top, Bill began to get a little lightheaded and he finally slowed down a bit. Thank God. We ran in to snow toward the top and kept at it until it got knee deep before we finally surrendered and turned aound. It then took us only about an hour to get back to the car. A great walk, although my knees are really pissed at me right now.

With our daily exercise out of the way, we headed West on I-70 aimed at Grand Junction, CO. And let me say right here for all time that if that isn’t the most spectacular, jaw dropping two hundred miles of highway anywhere, I’d like to see it’s equal. Seriously. First we climbed for an hour into the attic of the Rockies, maxing out somewhere around 11,000 feet. Everything at that altitude was snow covered and at least one of the ski areas in that sweet spot was still operating I think. Every turn of the road brought another, impossibly stunning vista. Turn after turn. We crossed the Continental Divide (and hit the highest point of the drive) inside the Eisenhower tunnel, which is just another casually phenomenal engineering triumph along the way. Then began a steady descent, portions of which got pretty steep. We passed lots of trucks carefully engine-braking downhill and several overheated and stopped on the slopes Eastbound. A tip of the hat to cross-country truckers here. Their’s has to be one of the most gut wrenching, sweaty palm jobs out there. And most of them are really, really good at it. All Bill and I could think about that line of work was, no thanks. I’d rather defuse bombs.

At about the 100 mile mark we crossed the Colorado river and not long after that stumbled into Glenwood Canyon. I say stumbled because neither of us knew it was coming and neither of us was prepared for how utterly breathtaking it is. Miles of sheer rock bluffs towering over the river and reflecting the most amazing shades of red. As with the Badlands, we very quickly ran out of superlatives with which to voice our amazement to each other. I was reduced to “Holy Shit” after about five minutes, which I repeated a few hundred times. I know that’s terrible and that I lack imagination but that’s all I had. In fact, that’s all I have now, hours later.

At the risk of giving offense to all the other can’t-beat-this things we’ve seen on this trip, and there are dozens, Glenwood Canyon on I-70 has to be pretty close to the top. I read where it was one of the most expensive sections highway ever constructed in the U.S. I don’t know what that translated to in dollars per mile and I don’t care. Worth every penny. But it makes me nervous about going to the Grand Canyon now. I’m afraid my head might explode.

We followed the Colorado River down the Western Slope to the Grand Valley into Grand Junction. That part was superfluously beautiful also ( to steal a phrase from my sister, Jean) but at that point I was maxed out on awesome. Time for some dinner and a beer.

Some notes on today: The I-70 tunnels are a marvel; what a bold solution. Feeling much better typing this at forty-six hundred feet than hiking at ten thousand. We need to get some religion about sunscreen and hydration going forward (Bill, pay attention). Our rental car needs an oil change. We anticipated this but now the moral dilemma surrounds whether we should pony up for it or drive it into the ground. I’ll sleep on that. And, no, we didn’t clean the car out today. Looks like a frat house basement on Sunday morning. Ew.

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4 thoughts on “Colorado: I-70

  1. thanks again for the beautiful mental images I have swirling in my head – I am particularly fond of the stretch just before and after the tunnel. Sometime if you and Bill do this again, you should head up the Berthoud Pass towards Winter Park – it’s an amazing two-lane ride

  2. Language doesn’t cut it for that scenery: that’s why there are Symphonies.
    On Hydration: VERY CRITICAL. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE THIRSTY – THAT’S TOO LATE. Just get a case of 2 liter water bottles, and keep drinking – it will get dryer and dryer until you get to the LA Basin.
    One of the highways in that vicinity is called the “Million Dollar Highway”. Three reasons:
    1. Per mile cost to build (in the old days!)
    2. Million dollar views everywhere
    3. Actual value of gold in roadbed as much of the fill was tailings from gold mines.

  3. Back East, Brunes action : best game 7 playoff game tonight in the history of hockey ! …unless you live in Toronto… any hope you guys caught it in the Rockies ?

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