Drive Worthy: Rte. 40
40 is the long way — the really long way, between Boulder and Salt Lake City. It weaves along a beautiful asphalt path, meandering without the brutal efficiency of an Interstate. It rides first north from Denver, then eventually bearing west, moving up and right over the Rocky Mountains. After spending nearly 2,000 miles getting brainwashed by the vast cornfields of interstate arteries like I-80 and I-90 following our Maine departure at the beginning of the summer, Rt. 40 was a welcome change.
After a few initial wrong turns following a mandatory detour for an accidenty, we strapped in on Rt. 40 and began making our way Northeast. The climate and scenery quickly changed and provided some welcome rural views; the leisurely pace of the road was much appreciated by its passengers.
As the the altitude kept climbing, eventually we hit a gateway across the road proclaiming "Welcome to Rocky Mountain National Park." It was here, where the route required $20 for the day use (or $80 for a yearly National Parks pass), leaving us debating whether or not we should find another route. Our travel plans in the coming weeks called for more National Parks though, and quick math said the yearly pass was the most economical choice. We'd soon realize this would be one of the best decisions we could make from our summer on the road.
Once inside the park, we pulled around the first bend and were confronted by a beautiful meadow and a road lined with trees backed by the Rockies. The superlatives flowed. As we kept climbing we slid around hairpin turns to be greeted by terrain we'd never expected to see: open, grassy tundra, gigantic boulder fields, and rapidly-approaching storms.
At over 11,000 feet we bundled up against icy winds, barely able to contain ourselves. What we were seeing and feeling was completely new and entirely exciting. On the descent, the sun was setting, and we compared our stunned thoughts of our expectations versus the reality of what we had just experienced.
The drive marked a second beginning for the trip, an introduction to a scale that needed new measurement in our minds.
We'll go back, with more research, and more time to wander and stop. But, if the opportunity presents itself for you to go, just do it, you'll never regret it and certainly never forget it. [H]
Jon Gaffney is a man of the road who enjoys testing the recommended-use limits of everything he owns.
If he doesn't have a camera, he's probably climbing, hiking, skiing, or swimming and needed both hands.
You can follow his continuing cross-country adventures as the Huckberry Van Man here.