We passed by the city of Vail, elevation 8,150 feet. Since Grand Junction had an elevation of 4,600, we were climbing higher and hopefully to cooler temperatures. We noticed all the condominiums, homes and lodges built along the mountainside in this popular ski resort. Visible were the ski slopes, now a beautiful green instead of white with snow.
Up, up, up we climbed on I-70 until we finally reached Vail Pass Summit at 10,603 feet. At this point we started to drop down a little to our destination of Dillon, Colorado, elevation 9,087. We stayed at White River National Forest campground just outside of town for three nights. We were so happy to have cooler temperatures. Our first night the temperature got down to 37 degrees with daily highs in the low 70’s. Perfect!
The towns of Dillon, Silverthorne and Frisco all run together and are ski resorts with tourism as their main economy. It is a thriving, bustling area with many big name stores and restaurants. Since it was busy in August, I can only imagine what it is like in the winter during ski season. We were amazed at the homes perched right on the edge of the mountains.
Dillon Dam and Reservoir, a large freshwater reservoir, has a 25 mile shoreline with a walking /biking path that appeared to be heavily used. It is a reservoir for the city of Denver. The dam diverts water through a 23.3 mile tunnel under the Continental Divide to Denver. During the Great Depression when many Dillon people could not pay their property taxes, the Denver Water Board acquired most of the water rights in the area. In 1956 the Denver Water Board told the remaining citizens of Dillon that a dam was going to be built and they had until 1961 to sell their property and leave. The dam construction began in 1961 and was completed by 1963. The Denver Water Board set aside 172 acres for the new town of Dillon. The citizens and businesses were responsible for moving their own homes and structures. Many chose not to and the population shrank to 57. Today Dillon’s population is 904 not counting the nearby towns of Silverthorne and Frisco. With that sad history, it is so nice to see the thriving community today.
One day we drove the car on Interstate 70 to the nearby Eisenhower – Edwin C. Johnson Memorial Tunnel which at 11,158 feet is one of the highest vehicle tunnels in the world. It is also the longest mountain tunnel and highest point in the interstate highway system. It is a two bore four lane vehicular tunnel under the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. We first headed eastbound through the tunnel named for Edwin C. Johnson the Colorado former governor and state senator. We then turned around and drove through the westbound bore which is named the Eisenhower Tunnel after President Dwight Eisenhower, for whom the Interstate System is also named. The Eisenhower Tunnel was built first and took five years to be be completed in 1973. The Johnson Tunnel took four years, was completed in 1979 and was one of the last major pieces of the country’s interstate system. Each tunnel is just shy of 1.7 miles long. The tunnels are sloped at 1.64% grade and have a steep approach of 7% grade on one side and 6% on the other. The tunnel has a clearance of 13 feet 11 inches. In 2012 approximately 28,000 vehicles passed through the tunnel bores each day, or 10.7 million vehicles per year. During construction of each tunnel bore, there were three fatalities in the Eisenhower bore and four in the Johnson tunnel bore.
Next up: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, CO