Essay: Canyon I-70 motorcycle ride is a hot, smoke-filled welcome
There are things you can see and smell from a motorcycle that aren’t noticeable from a car.
Glenwood Canyon smells like a campfire and, in places, looks like hell.
Just hours after the Colorado Department of Transportation on Monday opened Interstate 70 through the canyon, it was time for a ride. Followed by Vail Daily reporter John LaConte and Editor Nate Peterson, we headed west from Gypsum, with video cameras recording the sights.
The sights are a mixed bag. There are places where there’s no evidence of fire. But there was still smoke rising from a side drainage on the south side of the canyon just west of Bair Ranch.
Trees atop the canyon walls are charred matchsticks, and in the early afternoon before a slight wind kicked up, smoke was everywhere, along with the pervasive smell of a smoldering campfire.
This summer’s canyon construction project has been delayed, obviously, and the westbound highway deck between the Hanging Lake tunnels and Grizzly Creek was abuzz with various vehicles, including a helicopter sitting on the roadway, then flying what looked to be utility line repair missions.
The highway median around Grizzly Creek is mostly ash, with charred brush and the occasional fallen tree.
Heading back to Gypsum presented a better view of the canyon’s northern walls. Again, there are spots with green and growing trees. But there’s plenty of canyon wall where the vegetation has been reduced to little more than ash thanks to fire that must have been moving rocket-fast.
The eastbound trip also shows where charred vegetation left by the fire will give almost no cover to rockfall from rain or melting snow. It won’t take much of a fast-moving thunderstorm to create a rocky, muddy mess, particularly in the westbound lanes.
Coming out of the canyon on a day with temperatures already in the low 90s, it’s almost incomprehensible to ponder the conditions firefighters faced while building fire lines around roughly 45 square miles of burn zone.
The other thought is how far away from Gypsum the fire really was. It sure seemed closer on the weekend of Aug. 15, when flames were visible from parts of town as the fire consumed vegetation on the way up to Coffeepot road.
And, while there’s no stopping on the road and all the canyon’s recreation areas are closed, gawkers were out Monday. On Monday’s ride back to Gypsum from Glenwood Springs, three other motocyclists were on the road. Those riders left the highway at the West Glenwood exit, but didn’t stop and got right back on eastbound I-70. Those riders got off at Gypsum. They, too, got a eyeful —and nose-full —from the canyon.
It’s nice to have that road back open.
Scott N. Miller is the Business Editor for the Vail Daily.
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