Los Angeles to New York via Interstate 70 and the Colorado Rockies
With a big sleeper-cab and a 53-foot trailer, I was a paid tourist. Here is a sample read from my book Highway America - the adventures of a Kiwi truck driver.
CalArk, the Arkansas interstate trucking company that I was working for, allowed their drivers a fair amount of freedom when it comes to choosing routes. Most traffic between Los Angeles and New York uses Interstate 40 for most of the journey because of its lower altitude, gentler slopes and more frequent service and repair places. On the other hand taking the I-70 over the Rockies could lead to all kinds of costly misadventures and higher fuel consumption. I didn’t want to push my luck too far so I sent an OBC message to Little Rock asking, ‘I-70 or I-40?’ A few minutes later the reply came back, ‘I-15, I-70, I-76, I-78, I-287, I-80.’ It was exactly what I, a paid tourist, had hoped for.
At 4pm Tuesday I departed on my first coast to coast run. Four hours later I rested up for the night at a rest area in the Mojave Desert where the outside temperature was still over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. According to radio reports some localities reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit that day. All praise to Old Bluey for its air conditioning and fast idle facility. The heat of the desert must also take a toll on the highway sign-writers; in the Mojave Desert I found a sign for a Zzyzx Road.
The nearby settlement of Zzyzx (pronounced Zikes) was established by one Curtis Springer in 1944 when he set up the local Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa on federal land. He created Zzyzx so that it would be the last word in the English language and everything went fine for Springer until he was sprung by the Federal Government for misusing government land.
On Wednesday morning I awoke to a beautiful desert sunrise and spent a few minutes taking photos before departing for Las Vegas, a TA breakfast and a flutter on a roulette wheel. By mid-morning Old Bluey was heading up Interstate 15 again through Nevada, a corner of Arizona and into Utah in brilliant sunshine.
At Fishlake National Forest I turned east onto the I-70 and started climbing towards the Rocky Mountains as cumulonimbus clouds gathered overhead. An hour later an enormous thunderhead hung menacingly over the landscape and triggered the most spectacular lightning displays imaginable. All around fiery, lightning bolts shot down from the sky, some striking the ground a mere fifty yards from the truck as I proceeded cautiously. The noise of the thunderclaps and torrential rain was deafening.
A few miles on the sky suddenly cleared and the only evidence of the storm was the steam rising from the still hot road and a few minutes after that the desert had the appearance of not having had rain for a hundred years.
I pulled into a rest area and took some more photos before going on to the West Winds Truck Stop at Green River, Utah, having completed 551 miles for the day.
A narrow strip of cultivated land on both sides of the river to the north of the town gave the locality a welcoming oasis appearance in spite of the uninviting surrounding desert. In the fading light I walked the main street, talked to some locals, and had a beer and a dinner and walked back to the truck where I studied the Rand McNally Road Atlas and the USA Rough Guide and wrote up the diary before putting the light out.
Green River is 4,000 feet above sea level and according to the Rand McNally Road Atlas a climb to over 11,100 feet (almost the height of New Zealand’s Mount Cook) was in store for Thursday and I rose early to prepare for one of the great adventures of North American motoring.
The sun had just risen when I crossed from Utah into Colorado and headed for Grand Junction (the junction of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers), the largest city in western Colorado with 44,000 people. From there the I-70 follows the Colorado River through rugged gorges and settlements with names like Parachute and Rifle to Glenwood Springs which boasts the world’s largest outdoor hot springs pool. I’m not sure if Rotorua qualifies as part the ‘world’ or not. A one time famous resident of Glenwood Springs was Doc Holliday, a dentist, gambler and gunfighter (lead fillings?) who retired there at the ripe old age of 35 and died a short time later in 1887. The local graveyard also holds the remains of Kid Curry, a member of the Butch Cassidy gang.
Continuing east the interstate enters Glenwood Canyon and makes numerous crossings of the Colorado River as it flows in the shadow towering mountain peaks all around. The road climbs steadily to 8,000 feet at the modern ski resort of Vail where President Gerald Ford was living in retirement. East of Vail the I-70 climbs quickly to an initial high of 10,666 feet at Vail Pass where I pulled into a rest area for another photo stop. It was July and the weather was mostly fine and hot at lower elevations but at Vail Pass there was still plenty of snow above the interstate and the air was thin and cold. Even though the hair spray load weighed in at only 19,000lbs. I was surprised at how well Old Bluey performed on the steep grades. Two years later when I hauled ice cream over the same mountains it was a different story. More about that later.
From Vail Pass the interstate descended again to below 9,000 feet at Silverthorne before climbing again to the Rockies summit at the entrance to the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel at 11,125 feet above sea level. Then it plunged again to 7,500 feet at Idaho Springs and leveled off for a few winding miles before making a long descent to the busy mile-high city of Denver.
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