I ventured across the river to tour the Hotel Colorado, which had undergone extensive renovation about ten years ago. It was now up to snuff with those other incomparable establishments such as the Broadmoor and the Brown Palace. The walls of the grandiose lobby were naturally adorned with a galaxy of black and white photographs depicting the hotel’s glorious past. Of course, the gallery would not be complete without photos of distinguished guests, which ran the gamut from Alfonso Capone to presidents Taft and Roosevelt (Teddy), all of whom had their own private Pullman car which could be shuttled off on a side rail spur right next to a side entrance. Now that was traveling in style. I’ll have to admit, sometimes I wish I would have lived in the early 1900s, when one could hop on a train at any time to go anywhere.
I headed east on I-70 and immediately noticed that omniscient sign there was heavy snow ahead – the gray, icy slush that accumulates on the sides of the semi’s trailers as they were plowing west from Denver. What was really on my mind was seeing what had happened to my all-time favorite rest area in the whole state of Colorado. About twelve miles up river, I took the Hanging Lake exit and found myself terminated in a cul-de-saced, pristined parking lot. I couldn’t believe what had happened.
The old highway (U.S. Route 6), which skirted along the river and passed right by the base of the trail leading up to Hanging Lake, had been obliterated. Now, one could only reach the base by a hundred yard trek by foot from a shadeless concrete pad. Before, I could pull off the old highway into a gravel parking area, protected from the intense, high-altitude sun by a panoply of huge deciduous trees. Picnic tables dotted the shaded mountainside just above the parked cars. A cold-water creek cascaded down from Hanging Lake and flowed into the Colorado under a two-lane, 1920s Route 6 highway bridge. It was all so bucolic, and such a comfortable place to meet people.
The unfortunate demise of such a “natural” rest area could only be attributed to the completion of the last link of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon. On the plus side, the beauty and grandeur of the canyon remained unscathed, due to the construction of a mile-long tunnel on the opposite side of the river. But why they couldn’t have left that short stretch of the old highway open to auxiliary traffic was beyond me. Another amenity of the old place was walking across the road to the edge of the river, and waving at the locomotives as they pulled their creaking and grinding freight through the curves along the opposite banks. The sounds of the rail were actually amplified as they reverberated off the canyon walls and the river’s placid waters.
I was really getting depressed, as I sat there in Ol’ Baleau, parked in that static, quasi-picturesque setting the Federal Highway Engineers had contrived as a “scenic overlook”. What a crock! I had to get out of there before nausea set in. When I finally maneuvered myself back onto the east-bound freeway, I was still in a state of remorse, thinking about how our so-called great Interstate Highway System could unconscionably have desecrated such a wonderful, little pull-off spot. Like so many small unsuspecting towns across the country, one of my favorite resting nests had become an innocent victim of the Interstate’s eradication program – a sort of “final solution”, if I may be so callous to observe. And all for gaining a few “precious” minutes…gee-mo-nee!
I exited I-70 at Minturn on U.S. 24, and traversed Tennessee Pass (10,424 ft.) through a canvass of white, then down a few feet to Leadville (the highest incorporated town in the U.S. of A. at 10,000 feet). Continuing on south, the highway paralleled the ice-clogged Arkansas River. A might too early, I thought, for the white-water rafters. It was definitely still winter with the mountain peaks enshrouded in gray, snow-laden clouds, and I couldn’t have been happier…it was, after all, the last leg of my “Last Blast of Winter” trip. I hooked a right at Poncho Springs on U.S. 50, and headed east through a “teasing” snowfall, that is, just enough flakes to keep me alert, but not too much to make driving hazardous. It was downhill all the way through the Arkansas River canyon, and it felt 1ike I was just gliding down so effortlessly, so quietly and serenely, that I wasn’t even aware of any motion. I didn’t want it to end, that’s how copasetic the whole scene was.
It did finally end behind the Holiday Inn in Pueblo, where I packed it in for the night with a blanket of white, snuffing out any light from coming through the skylight. As I was gassing up (the van) the next morning, I noticed Ol’ Baleau was carrying some excess baggage in the form of those humongous, stalactitic gray globs of ice hanging from under the fenders, obviously accumulated from the day before. A man at an adjacent pump was periodically eyeballing the glacial mass that Blue had collected. Shaking his head, he said, “Mister, I don’t know where you’ve been, but I sure don’t want to go there.” “Hey, they’re just some ‘fenderbergs’ I picked up going over the pass,” I replied. “It was a walk in the park,” I intoned to myself. He wouldn’t have understood. The drama of the drive back to Dallas was behind me. Weather-wise, the rest of the trip was uneventful. So be it. I had felt enough of the Colorado cold to last me through the torrid Texas summer ahead. That was all I could hope for. Amen.