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If you don't know the title's reference to one of the most classic movies of all time, I'm not sure we should be friends. (haha) I started to make a small post about a plane crash site; I started to make a small post about an abandoned railroad; then I realized I also have photos of old abandoned cars around here, and so decided to put them all in one larger post just so I could use that as the title.
Let's start with the train, though. The Colorado mountains were once full of railroad tracks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, built largely, at least originally, to service the widespread mining industry. Once the old mines closed down, the railroad route usually did, too. So there are plenty of abandoned tracks around the state but few as picturesque as the old railroad trestles on the west side of the Needle's Eye Tunnel at the top of Rollins Pass.
The standard gauge railroad that climbed up Rollins Pass was envisioned not for the gold and silver mining industry, but as a way to connect Denver with coal mines from the western slope. But the tracks zigzagging up the mountainside over Rollins Pass and through the Needle's Eye Tunnel wasn't the final vision -- it was meant to be a temporary route until the much longer Moffat Tunnel could be built much further down the mountain. However, it took 24 years before the Moffat Tunnel was completed in 1928, so in fact the hill route's temporariness was quite extended. The "Hill Route" was closed in 1935 and the rails were pulled up. It was re- opened as an auto road in 1955 until 1979 when a rockfall near the north portal of the Needle's Eye Tunnel closed the road to the public.
To drive the road you need a little more clearance than say a Lamborghini sports car, but the average passenger vehicle can pick its way around the potholes and rocks. Access is from Rollinsville on the east side or from Winter Park on the west side (where it is often referred to as Corona Pass rather than Rollins Pass). The Moffat tunnel is still functional and train tracks still run through the valley connecting Denver with Winter Park, carrying both coal and humans. Whenever we are driving the road that parallels it in the valley and a passenger train goes by, I always roll down the window and wave at all the train cars.
On the east side (where I access it) the road is gated off a bit below the Needle's Eye Tunnel. You can walk or ride a bicycle the rest of the way. Can you pick out Erik in red walking along the road? Just a tiny dot ... gives you a sense of scale of the landscape here. The mountains always make me feel deliciously small. I like knowing the world is so much larger than I am; my human worries seem fairly insignificant against the backdrop of such time and matter.
The tunnel itself is gated off, so you just climb the hill over it to reach the trestles. From the west side, you can drive a vehicle right up near the trestles.
Here's an old track paralleling the Arkansas River near Buena Vista. You can poke around the old lights and switch boxes.
Another in Eagle County.
In what's known as South Park (yes it's a real place, not just a TV show, though no town of that name exists except the historical museum) along Highway 285 north of Fairplay, the town of Como still exists with a very small population, but was once a hub of activity, with a large stone roundhouse, railway depot, coal docks and a hotel to service the tracks running between the mountains and the plains. The South Park Line was a narrow-gauge track. This type of track can deal with mountainous terrain better than standard gauge, with the ability to use a smaller right-of-way, sharper curves, lighter rails and smaller, less expensive equipment. Work was begun on it in the 1870s.
The last scheduled passenger train left Como in 1937 and the rails were removed in 1938. One of the biggest contributing factors to its closing was the continual difficulties with the tunnel at 11,500 feet -- very harsh conditions at that altitude! Other branches of the South Park line remained operational until 1943, when the line in Leadville was shut down.
The roundhouse still stands and is currently being restored with an implication that it will be opened as a museum. There are several random railcars sitting in the meadow around it, but it's my understanding that they've been brought there from elsewhere in more recent years.
Now for airplanes. A very challenging 4x4 route that starts from Bunce School Road leads to the site of a small airplane crash that happened in 1965, commonly known as the T-33 plane crash site. The fact that the whole Bunce School area is now overrun with ATVs is a double edged sword. Why? Because I mostly find them annoying when they're like bees from a hive swarming all over the trail and you have to figure out how to pass one another every few minutes, yet one of them rescued us when Pinzy (our 1973 Pinzgauer) tipped over on that trail. But that was before the real swarm moved in and it was a privately owned dune buggy with an electric winch.
We hadn't had Pinzy for very long yet and Erik (as the driver) was still getting used to its idiosyncrasies, as it's quite a different vehicle than our 4Runner, Chewie, in terms of lines to take and strengths vs. weaknesses. We first ran the trail with Chewie but had several close calls with bottoming out on rocks we didn't have enough width to navigate around on the trail. Pinzy could romp right over those rocks but has wonky tipping issues. I happened to be outside of the vehicle and it was very surreal to watch it tip over on its side, but it was even more surreal for Erik who was inside and I'll never forget the look on his face, like a turtle suddenly flipped onto its back. It tipped onto the driver's side which meant Erik could climb out via the roof hatch on the passenger side.
Anyway, with the help of the winch pulling up and a few guys' manpower pushing from underneath it, we were pretty easily righted. So we had to be thankful for these folks in spite of their vehicle! But that was a few years ago. I will say here, though, that this is one thing I love about 4x4 "culture," which renders most societal things irrelevant, such as political affiliations which would otherwise prevent us from associating, economic status (expensive vehicle vs. cheapo vehicle), and even names. We've spent hours with other people either helping them or having them help us -- shoveling, pushing, pulling, winching, towing, shuttling, you name it -- and parted ways without ever even knowing each others' names. Most 4x4ers seem to follow a code of unconditionally helping strangers on the trails -- we all need karma!
Anyway, as to the site, I'm just going to post a photo of the informational plaque that stands at the site for the best explanation for the presence of the wreckage itself. Photo courtesy of 4x4explore.com ... I myself didn't think to take such a picture.
It's pretty sobering to imagine the pilots in their last seconds, the force of the impact that took their lives.
The most amazing thing in the wreckage is the turbine of the jet engine that still turns with but a flick of a finger. It's smooth as butter -- and I mean butter, not margarine -- which I found remarkable considering all the weathering it's endured outside in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. You'd think someone had greased it yesterday.
OK, so now I need to include some automobiles! Nothing much to say about these, just a random collection of abandoned vehicles we've run across either 4x4ing or hiking in the mountains of Colorado. Not a big collection, just enough to complete the title of the post. :-)
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