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Mountain driving is some thing most of us had to learn the hard way. But we did learn, and who among us hasn’t been stuck, going up or down one of our canyons, behind some well meaning but petrified flat-lander? You know the kind – he slows to 15 for every curve and hits 55 on every straight-away. I have walked, bicycled, motorcycled and driven these roads for more than 30 years now, and while I’ve never had an accident or a ticket on them, there are a number of people who believe I drive much too fast.
Unfortunately, the last person who told me that was wearing an Estes Park police uniform.
He was very nice about his warning. Actually, I wasn’t exceeding the speed limit, but it was “a dark and stormy night,” and I guess he figured I didn’t show very good judgment by passing him. If I ever wind up nose-first in a snow bank, he’s going to be one of a fairly large group of people who will purse their lips, nod their heads knowingly and allow as how “it was bound to happen sometime.”
But don’t hold your breath while waiting, friends.
We complain a lot about the roads, but you have to wonder what Rocky Mountain Jim, Isabella Bird or even Enos Mills would say if they could see the ribbons of asphalt that slice through the hills they so laboriously climbed.
We take for granted Trail Ridge and Highway 7, but all you have to do is drive the Fall River Road or look down at the old road as it winds past the Cheley Camp and Baldpate Inn to be reminded of how things have improved. Driving on Highway 36 to Lyons, you can see pieces of the old road here and there and picture the Stanley Steamers puffing their way up the hills. The Big Thompson, once a winding and narrow gorge, has now been so much changed by both man and nature that the pioneers would scarcely recognize it.
I suppose it’s a good idea to straighten out the Aspen Lodge curve. There’s an awful lot of scrap metal around it. The same thing is true for the S curve at Camp St. Malo, although it’s a beautiful view. Still, if you straighten out every curve, you just encourage the folks like me who tend to drive too fast.
On the other hand, the highway past St. Malo is the third road through this part of the valley.
The first was an old stage coach road and on a nice summer day I can still locate little sections of it on my property. When I do, I think about the good people who had the courage to use it. I wonder if people thought, as the driver snapped his whip over the horses’ ears, that he was driving too fast?
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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