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Transportation in Glenwood Canyon subject to whims of nature

Willa Kane
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Photo Courtesy Frontier Historical Society/SchutteA rock slide blocks the road through Glenwood Canyon in the 1920s. While improvements to the road can enhance transportation, the forces of nature will be at work, changing the canyon in ways that cannot be controlled by man.
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The rock and dirt which came down from the cliffs above amounted to about 1,000 tons and although a big force of men were at once put to work to clear the track, the train did not reach Glenwood until about 5:30 in the evening.

– Glenwood Post, April 4, 1903



The forces of nature define Glenwood Canyon. Water, ice, wind, snow and temperature continually chisel and shape the canyon’s walls. These constant changes create awe-inspiring views and challenges to man’s ability to travel.

Even though Glenwood Canyon appeared impassable, the Denver and Rio Grande Railway successfully constructed its tracks through the canyon in 1887. Although Glenwood Springs residents and her visitors now enjoyed convenient travel, the tracks were not immune to delays created by rock slides and avalanches.



Senator Edward T. Taylor of Glenwood Springs envisioned an improved roadway through Glenwood Canyon that would be part of a boulevard stretching across the entire country. In 1899 he won an appropriation of funds to construct a state road from Grand Junction to Denver. By 1902, this road was completed, with most of the funds used to improve the road through Glenwood Canyon. Automobiles began to make an appearance in Glenwood Springs.

Money, however, may have created improvements but did not tame nature. The Garing family’s convoy of two automobiles arrived in Gypsum in October 1914 to find the Glenwood Canyon road closed for the winter. The family of six was presented with three options: stay in Gypsum until spring; freight their automobiles by train to Glenwood Springs; or continue on over an unimproved road over Cottonwood Pass. The adventuresome family chose Cottonwood Pass, creating a two-day trip where the Garing family sawed brush from the road, constantly repaired vehicles, pushed the autos in places up the steep grade, and winched the autos through the mud. Eventually, the Garing family motored past the Cattle Creek School and into Glenwood Springs, which 12-year-old Adrian Garing called “the most beautiful town in all the world.”

The Glenwood Canyon road, improved again during World War I, was included in the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway system in the 1920s. Once again, money did not conquer nature. During the 1920s rock slides were common, both on the road and on the railroad tracks. On March 15, 1926, a rock slide near today’s Bair ranch was particularly costly. The slide struck a Denver and Rio Grande train, plunging a railcar transporting new Chrysler automobiles into the Colorado River. The damage to the railroad alone was estimated at $20,000.

Today, four lanes of highway provide a timely transport though Glenwood Canyon and a billion years of geologic history. With every rock slide and avalanche, we witness nature continually reshaping a magnificent canyon. Each slide provides a challenge that reshapes our community.

Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Winter hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.


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