A while back I went to Grand Junction, Colorado to do some training. It’s a long drive from the Denver area, about 5 hours, but it has to be one of my favorite drives. The scenery the entire way is just breath taking and you get to see some pretty cool things, especially in Glenwood Canyon. For those of you that are regular readers of my blog, this one will be a little different (hey, it’s my blog). It doesn’t have anything to do with Civil 3D directly but, it does have some pretty cool civil engineering designs in it. If you are a civil engineer, read on, you’ll like it.
I’ve traveled this road many times before and each time I do, I’m just amazed as I drive through Glenwood Canyon. US Interstate 70 (I-70) runs through the canyon alongside the Colorado River. This is some pristine wilderness area and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has done an amazing job in preserving the natural beauty of the canyon while building a four lane interstate. On my way back from Grand Junction this time, I decided to stop as often as I can along the canyon and take pictures. Now, as a disclaimer, I do not claim to be a photographer. In fact, I took all these pictures with my phone (Motorola Droid).
Heading East on I-70, you run into the Town of Glenwood Springs. This town marks the West entrance to the canyon.
The town is known for a Hot Springs. I’ve never been there but growing up, we always heard they had a “clothing optional” area. This is also the gateway to several mountain towns and the Aspen Ski Resort.
Once in the canyon, you’ll be driving along the Colorado River as well as a set of train tracks. The tracks were part of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad but are currently operated by Union Pacific. Shortly after entering the canyon, the tracks go through a tunnel.
In the picture above, you can see the railroad tracks on the opposite side of the river as it enters into a tunnel. Shortly after the railroad tunnel, the highway goes through a set of tunnels. These first tunnels are fairly short.
In this picture, you can see a bridge passing over the highway. This is a pedestrian and bike trail that continues the entire 12 miles of the canyon. After the tunnel you travel a while through some amazing scenery.
After a bit, you come to the first place that you can pull off the highway. This is the No Name rest area, named because of the No Name Creek that discharges into the Colorado River here.
If you enjoy hiking, you can hike up along the No Name Creek. At the end of the trail, you’ll come to a water diversion structure. This diverts some of the water from No Name Creek for the Town of Glenwood Springs. You can even see some of the old wood stave pipe. I didn’t hike the trail this trip but I have in the past. It’s a pretty easy hike until you get to the end of the trail. If you wish to keep hiking, you’ll have to go cross country and that’s when it gets pretty tough.
The above image is taken above the interstate looking north to the No Name Canyon.
At the No Name rest area, get out and stretch a bit and look at some of the educational material they have. You can read up a bit about the construction of the highway, the wildlife of the canyon, as well as some of it’s history. You also get a great view of the approach the designers of the highway took to minimize the impacts the highway would have on the canyon. Instead of separating the highway horizontally, they decided to terrace the highway in places, allowing them to minimize the disturbance of the natural area.
After moving on from the rest area (don’t rush, enjoy your time there) you’ll get a chance to see the terraced highway up close and personal as you drive along the highway.
Once again, as you travel down the highway, you get to see some of the most amazing scenery in the world!
Travel a bit more and you’ll come to the Grizzly Creek rest area. This is quite the amazing rest area. It feels like a lot of the rest area is under the highway (some of it is but most of it is adjacent to the highway). Being able to put a rest area at this location was an amazing design accomplishment. In the narrow canyon, there is a four lane highway, a river, a stream, a railroad, and a complete rest area! I wasn’t able to get an overall picture of the rest area, you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
Grizzly Creek runs right through the middle of the rest area (hence its name). If you are looking to do some Rocky Mountain fly fishing, this is a great stream to do it.
In the picture above, you can see two bridges crossing over the creek, the upper bridge is the highway itself and the lower bridge is the one for the roads within the rest area. This really is a great stream for fishing. I’ve stopped a couple times in the past and fished it. And, yes, I have fished it in weather very similar to what is pictured here and I was wading while wearing shorts (my wife thinks I’m crazy). Here you can see the confluence of Grizzly Creek and the Colorado River.
Because of the very steep canyon walls on the south side of the rest area, this part of the canyon does not get much sunlight so if you visit in the winter time, make sure you put your jacket on when you get out to walk around. Another thing, if you plan on stopping at the Shoshone Power Plant or Hanging Lake exits, don’t worry about stopping here first because, You’ll Be Back!
Moving on from Grizzly Creek, once again you travel through some of the most amazing scenery on your way up to the Shoshone Power Plant.
This is another excellent example of the terracing of the highway through the canyon.
The next exit is the Shoshone Power Plant. This power plant, established in 1909, is virtually under the highway. In fact, the restrooms here are literally under the highway.
The pedestrian/bicycle path will allow you to get a really good view of the power plant and it’s penstocks.
As you walk around the power plant, there is another pipe type of structure that almost looks like a penstock but is definitely different from the other two.
As you can see from the image, the pipe is open at the bottom and it discharges directly into the river.
I wasn’t able to find any information on what this is but it appears to be some sort of emergency spillway. If anyone knows for sure what this is, please leave a comment letting me know. I wonder if they ever give tours of the facility?
If you walk up along the river, you can see the discharge location below the turbines.
I don’t know what the working capacity of the plant but, it does take up a considerable amount of the water from the river this time of year. If you look upstream of the discharge, you can see the river is barely flowing and downstream of the discharge, it’s the Mighty C0lorado once more.
When leaving the power plant, there is no way to get directly back on East Bound I-70. I had to go back west and turn around in the Grizzly Creek Rest Area. This is why, if you plan on stopping at all the available points to stop, don’t stop at the Grizzly Creek Rest Area when you first get to it.
Heading back East from the power plant takes you to the next area (once again, after passing amazing scenery). The next place you can get off the highway is at the Hanging Lake Rest Area. This is one of the most scenic parts of the canyon. In fact, in order to preserve the beauty of this area, the highway goes through a tunnel to avoid disturbing this part of the canyon.
This rest area is also the trail head for the Hanging Lake Trail, a very popular trail in the canyon. I haven’t had a chance to hike it myself but one day I do intend on stopping and hiking it. The rest area is great because right after the exit, the highway enters into the tunnels that bypass this area. This is also the location of the diversion structure for the Shoshone Power Plant. In addition to these two very cool things, the railroad tracks pass right under the highway, in a tunnel, as the highway itself goes into a tunnel right next to the diversion structure for the Shoshone Power Plant and, just my luck, a train passed by while I was there. Talk about being in a Civil Engineering Geek Nirvana!
If you stop at this rest area, make sure you walk along the pedestrian path a bit. On the opposite side of the river (that would be to the south), up in the hills a way you can spy a structure. This is a part of the tunnel infrastructure. I’m not exactly sure what it’s role is but I know it has something to do with the tunnel.
(The picture didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped, poor lighting and I was using the zoom feature on my camera which is a digital zoom).
As I said before, this is one of the more scenic areas of the canyon. Get out, look around, take some pictures, and just enjoy the wonderful outdoors!
As mentioned before, at this rest area is the diversion structure for the Shoshone Power Plant downstream. There are six or seven gates (didn’t get a picture of them all and I can’t recall the exact number) that allow the Colorado to bypass the diversion during higher flows. This time of year, the river is flowing very slowly so I suppose it’s a good time to do construction as well.
In the last picture, you can also see where the highway tunnels begin.
Leaving the Hanging Lake rest area, just like the Shoshone Power Plant exit, there is no way to get directly back onto Eastbound I-70. You have to go west, back to the Grizzly Creek Rest Area (that’s the third time this trip) and turn around.
Going back East again, after passing the exit for Hanging Lake, you enter into the twin bore tunnel.
The tunnels are just under 4,000′ long and bypass the Hanging Lake area. In comparison, the Eisenhower and Johnson Tunnels, the longest and highest tunnels in the US highway system (also on I-70), are over twice as long.
After traveling through the tunnels, the highway once again separates itself vertically but this time, instead of a terraced approach, the designers went with a viaduct for the Westbound traffic.
As you can see from the picture, the Westbound lanes are elevated above the ground the entire length of the highway that is visible in this picture. Around the corner a little ways, the Westbound lanes travel through a tunnel and the Eastbound lanes do not. This is known as the Reverse Curve Tunnel, presumably because there is a reverse curve either in the tunnel or near it. I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the tunnel as I didn’t travel through it this trip and there was no place to pull over for pictures but you can see it a little in the following picture:
There are several miles of scenic driving alongside the Eastbound Viaduct that is just absolutely breathtaking! It amazes me to see how many people drive through this canyon as fast as they can without slowing down to marvel in it’s beauty.
The last place you can stop within the canyon is the Blair Ranch Rest Area. This is a wider portion of the canyon and isn’t quite as dramatic so if you are looking to skip a stop, I would say this would be the one to skip but, it is worth stopping at if you have the time. There are some fantastic views along the Colorado River.
And if you get lucky, you just might get to see some wildlife. While walking around the rest area, I spotted what I thought was a bunch of geese, but they just didn’t seem quite right. I walked up a bit closer and it was a rafter of wild turkeys! (Yes, rafter is what you call a group of wild turkeys. I had to look it up myself). I wasn’t able to get close enough to get a real good picture but, here you go.
After the Blair Ranch is a couple more miles of scenic driving, nothing quite as spectacular as the rest of the canyon but beautiful in it’s own way and then, you leave the canyon.
If you would like to take a virtual scenic trip of your own through Glenwood Canyon, just open up Google Earth and get driving directions from Glenwood Springs, CO to Dotsero, CO and play them. The following image will walk you through how I set up Google Earth to view it. Please click on the image so you can see the different steps.