Saturday afternoon, hot, crabby and restless, we decided to beat the heat and drive up to Cripple Creek.
With Highway 24 closed, the best option seemed to be State Highway 115 to U.S. 50, west to Canon City and thence north on S.H. 9 to Cripple Creek.
Driving to our local gambling mecca via Highway 24 and S.H. 67 usually takes about an hour. It’s an easy, pleasant drive. You can leave at noon, arrive at 1 pm, spend a few hours gambling/sightseeing/wandering the streets, and be back by 7 p.m. It’s an easy summer excursion, especially if you enjoy the hopeful jangle of the city’s smoke-free casinos.
The alternate route isn’t unpleasant, but it’s seriously inconvenient.
Driving Highway 50 through Canon City is less than inspiring. Approaching from the east, there’s a vast prison complex to the left just as you enter town, followed by fast food outlets representing every such company in America – except, apparently, Starbucks. Leaving town, another prison looms on your right. Given that the city’s economy is driven by what is euphemistically described as the “corrections” business, the ubiquity of fast food is hardly surprising. Corrections employees aren’t particularly well-paid, while families visiting incarcerated loved ones are likely to have severe financial challenges. Result: lots of potential fast food customers.
A few miles west of Canon, S.H. 9 meanders through the mountains, eventually depositing the intrepid traveler in Cripple Creek two hours after leaving Colorado Springs.
On a sweltering summer Saturday that would otherwise have been one of the biggest gambling days of the year, Cripple Creek was quiet.
“How’s business?” I asked a casino bartender.
“What business?” he replied. “You’re my only customers. Thanks for keeping me company!”
The trip back, via the historic Phantom Canyon road, took another two hours.
Yet it was an interesting trip, reminding us that the entire urbanized Front Range has only three convenient routes to the mountains and the Western Slope; Highway 50, Highway 24 and Interstate 70.
All three were surveyed, planned, and built by 19th century railroad engineers, and expanded by later generations of road builders. To drive any of the three, not to mention I-25, is to be reminded that our state’s transportation system is at best inadequate, at worst disastrous.
Only two continuous four-lane highways that cross the state? Two lane blacktop elsewhere, backed up by 19th century dirt? And if it hadn’t been for “Big Ed” Johnson, the shrewd dealmaker who served as Colorado both as Governor and U.S. Senator, I-70 would have ended in Denver. No ski industry, no Vail, no Copper Mountain, no Breckinridge…we’d just be a poky little rural state, with a quaintly outdated transportation network.
Poky, no. Outdated, yes. Where’s Big Ed now that we really need him?