[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

Floodgap Roadgap's Summer of 6 -- U.S. Highway 6, Part 11: US 6 in Colorado (Palisade to Glenwood Springs; Mesa County, Garfield County)

Go to: Part 10 | Main US 6 page | Part 12

Through this segment and well into the next the Colorado River and its geologic consequences will be our companion, including the arresting Glenwood Canyon alignment which we begin here and continue into Part 12. The Colorado River, the principal river of the southwestern United States, runs 1,450 miles from its headwaters at La Poudre Pass in the central Rocky Mountains (10,184'), at the Continental Divide, to its mouth at the Gulf of California between Baja California and Sonora in Mexico. Among its many tributaries, some defined officially, include the Gila River, the Gunnison River, the Little Colorado River, the San Juan River, the Dolores River and of course the Green River, passing through Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Moab (UT), Lake Havasu City (AZ), Yuma (AZ) and San Luis Rio Colorado (Sonora MX). At its greatest discharge it pours a torrential 384,000 cubic feet per second from its 246,000 square mile basin.

Modern geology believes the Colorado River first formed as a westward stream after the geologic upheaval that thrust up the Rocky Mountains during the Laramide Orogeny, approximately 50 to 75 million years ago (MYA). The same uplift redirected the Green River, its major tributary, from its flow towards the Mississippi instead to the Colorado. Before the Gulf of California formed approxmiately 5-10 MYA, the original course of the River drained possibly as far north as modern Monterey, CA. (A remnant of this ancient course is the submerged Monterey submarine canyon.) The formation of the Sierra Nevada range around 4.5 MYA forced the Colorado southward, and as the Colorado Plateau increased in height simultaneously, the new course of the river dug a deep gouge which today is known as the Grand Canyon. Its large delta in southern California, Arizona and northern Mexico included the geologic depression known as the Salton Sink, yielding Lake Cahuilla from 1000 AD to roughly 1500 or 1700 AD, which last flooded in 1905 to yield the Salton Sea.

At its historic peak the River entered its ancient delta with a discharge as high as 22,500 cubic feet per second, substantially varied by rainfall and snowmelt runoff. From 2 MYA to as recently as 10,000 years ago, basalt flows from the Unikaret volcanic field in northern Arizona repeatedly dammed the river within the Grand Canyon and formed at least 13 lava dams. Most of these dams collapsed, yielding some of the largest floods ever to occur in North America likely exceeded only by the Missoula Floods in Oregon and Washington. The chronic flooding risk along the Colorado River was likely catastrophic to early peoples inhabiting the valley, who nevertheless later formed some large tracts of agriculture that lasted centuries. Primitive irrigation canals showed humanity's interest in taming the great river even then, particularly the Hohokam, who built an extensive network ranging as long as 300 miles total. Drought, however, was what ultimately caused these early cultures' collapse, somewhere around AD 1300; the Navajo, who migrated to the valley around AD 1000, were able to survive on skills acquired from their predecessors, along with the Mohave who fished in the relatively plentiful lower Colorado and cleverly used the flooding to irrigate their fields, and the Utes, who gradually extended south around AD 1500. Conflict was inevitable when the white man arrived, first with the Spaniards in the 1700s, and then an American influx which was cemented with the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Among other peoples, the federal government eventually forcibly relocated the Navajo, Mohave and Utes, and subsequent treaties at gunpoint established the modern-day reservations, most notably the Navajo Nation, the largest Indian reservation in the country.

To increase water availability and diminish flooding risk, extensive development occurred on the river during the late 19th and most of the 20th century. Over thirty dams and miles of canals operate in the river valley; among these, of course, was the famous 1936 Hoover Dam between Nevada and Arizona, forming Lake Mead with its impoundment. The Hoover Dam's regulation of downstream flooding made additional dams possible. Almost 40 million people depend on Colorado River water for farming, residential, hydroelectric and industrial use, and conflicts over water rights have been highly acrimonious, including from Indian tribes whose ancestral lands were ruined or lost. To this day most of its allotments are governed by the constellation of compacts, acts and agreements collectively known as the Law of the River, formed from 1922 to 1973. Reduced flow in its lower reaches has diminished sediment loads downstream, impacting wetlands and estuaries, and changing the silty reddish colour it was named for originally to a more typical greenish-blue. The desiccation of its delta has had substantial ecologic and economic consequences, such as loss of habitat and poorer water quality with higher salinity; agricultural runoff causes fish kills, and unnatural releases from upstream dams alter water temperature, causing cooler water even in summer which affects fish, and even putting recreational boaters at risk of hypothermia. In 2012, the US-Mexican Minute 319 agreement constructed a strategy for restoring limited flow to the delta; the first pulse flow reached the sea in May 16, 2014, the first time water had ever reached the ocean from the Colorado River in decades.

Interstate 70 from Mack to Palisade

First, let's rewind a little. If you didn't know US 6/50 branched off at Mack, you'd never guess it, so what might a less informed motorist see? (See Part 10 for the various highways these exits refer to.)

Continuing EB I-70 after the Mack exit, with the Colorado at our right.
Exit 19 to CO 340 is the first mention of US 6 from the freeway, at least at that time.
Exit 26, showing BL 70 and US 6/50 into Grand Junction, and the "signed" diversion of US 6 from the mainline Interstate.
Exit 42, signed as "TO 6" -- but this is to 37 3/10 Rd in Palisade.

You saw Exit 44 in the last part.

I-70/US 6

Rejoining US 6 after the merge.

But, I-70 is signed alone.
In this section I-70 is mostly built right on top of the US 6 roadbed, which is the eastbound lanes (convenient). Here is exit 49 to CO 65, a scenic route across the Grand Mesa.
A small spillway across the Colorado.
Gonna get hotter later, though.
I-70 passes through a set of tunnels at this exit marked "Parking Area," but the old alignment of US 6 branches off and around to follow the water's edge. On some maps this is marked "Old I-70."
It's certainly understandable why they built the tunnels, but I think this routing is much more scenic.
A view of the I-70 tunnels as we pass by, the Colorado between us.
More gorgeous mesas as I-70 exits the tunnels in the distance.
Looping back onto the Interstate mainline.
Mile 55.
EB I-70 (unsigned US 6).
US 6

Between DeBeque and just west of Rifle US 6 occupies a very poorly signed but well-maintained frontage road alignment, designated by CDOT as segment 006M. This segment is more or less continuous with segment 006L from Rifle to just west of Glenwood Springs, which actually bears shields. For a little variation we'll get some views of this road from the Interstate as well, even though US 6 is not technically routed on it here.

Exit to DeBeque. We turn left to cross north of the highway.
Looking down "downtown" DeBeque.
DeBeque was named for W. A. E. de Beque, who explored the region in 1884 while looking for ranchlands. Its ranching history continues today as the only Wild Horse Sanctuary City in the West, where the town in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management and private organizations works to protect the remaining wild horses and burros in the region using "hospital" corrals and facilitating adoption. Incorporated in 1890, the town has a population of 504 [2010].
Segment 006M roughly starts here, at Mile 62.305. The road proceeding to the left is county road and is not state highway. We turn right.
When there is any, that is.
This CDOT depot correctly marks the route as "SH 6" but even with such a depot so close, there are no shields on this segment or even obvious milemarkers.
Hey, mesas.
Entertaining and well-preserved steel truss over the Colorado, which crosses our path to now run to our right.
EB unsigned US 6.
Crossing the Interstate to run parallel to the eastbound lanes again.
Garfield county line.
Garfield County, CO

Named for President James A. Garfield, the county has 56,389 residents [2010] with its seat at Glenwood Springs, which we will reach at the end of this part.

EB unsigned US 6. At the county line, the frontage road officially becomes named as "Highway 6 & 24." This actually turns up periodically on signs.
Another crossing over I-70, this time to hug the northbound side.
This time, it's "HWY 6."
Advance signage for Parachute and exit 75 along the Interstate beside us.
Entering Parachute on this charming old crossing over the Parachute Creek (note structure marker G-04-R).
Parachute's naming is apocryphal but apparently came from the Hayden Survey of 1879, which noticed the erosion patterns on the Roan Plateau to the north looked like the lines of a parachute with the ridge as its "canopy." (At least one source disputes this, and says it comes from a corruption of the Ute term pahchouc, or "twins," referring to the twinned peaks overlooking the region. Nobody really knows.) Temporarily renamed Grand Valley for much of the 20th century, the old name was adopted after a historical revival in the 1980s. It has 1,095 residents [2012].
The vet clinic, for Dad's amusement.
Picturesque downtown Grand Valley Parachute.
Leaving town.
This sign, at least, prefers the Hayden naming history.
The Exit 75 interchange.
From here, US 6 hugs I-70 very closely to the north with a single crossing south, so let's get a view from the Interstate now (distance signage leaving Parachute).
I-70, with the twin frontage roads (US 6 is the one on the left).
It then crosses over to the south side of the freeway.
Approaching exit 87, where US 6 diverges on its first signed alignment since Palisade.
Mile high club! (Wait, that's not what it means?)
Exit 87, with US 6 at the right.
Turning left towards Rifle and looking back at the US 6 frontage.
Passing under the Interstate. This is the end of segment 006M and the beginning of segment 006L, both at Mile 88.895.
EB US 6, signed finally, at Mile 89.
Entering Rifle.
Rifle is named for the Rifle Creek which passes through the city, incorporated in 1905, itself named for an apocryphal skirmish with white trappers in the late 1800s where one trapper's rifle was lost along the creek's shore. A cattle ranching hub, it is also noteworthy not only for its strong support of handgun open carry, but open carry is actually mandatory by employees at public places of business. The modern population, presumably a very polite one, numbers 9,172 [2010].
Junction CO 13. This is the end of segment 006L at Mile 91.24, beginning a brief co-routing over segment 013A.
SB CO 13 is a small stub towards I-70 at Exit 90; NB CO 13 proceeds to the left through extremely lonely territory towards the Wyoming state line where it becomes WY 789. This is the diversion of former CO 789 until 1984; see Part 10 for the history.
EB US 6/SB CO 13.
Crossing the Rifle Creek. No firearms noted on this sortie.
In the middle of town SB CO 13 deviates down towards I-70. We leave segment 013A and begin segment 006D at Mile 91.999 ...

US 6

... but not for much longer. CDOT has proposed the elimination of this segment to AASHTO and it was accepted in May 2015, though it still appears in OTIS and on the CDOT route log as of this writing (June 2016). Presumably US 6 is now routed with CO 13 back to I-70 for continuity, though there are so far no local reports of signage changes. However, it was still US 6 in 2006, so we'll proceed.

An even earlier obsolete alignment was this old truss in Rifle now designated the Christopher Collyer Memorial Bridge. First built in 1908, it carried US 6 traffic for decades over the Colorado River until it was judged structurally deficient and the highway was realigned north of the River in 1977. CO 13 heads back to I-70 along a later crossing. (Part of this older routing survives as County Road 320, which is now discontinuous.) Added to the National Registry of Bridges in 1985, due to its structural issues the bridge is closed to all traffic today, even pedestrians.

The bridge is named for 19-year-old Christopher Michael Collyer, who disappeared in fast currents in the Colorado nearby while swimming on June 22, 1999. He was never seen again.

Mile 92.
The bridge and the old crossing in the background as we leave Rifle.
Through the valley.
Entering Silt.
Silt's name was sealed in 1889 when the railroad arrived, churning up the fine dust of the same name (allegedly, a contemporary sign even warned engineers to "WATCH OUT FOR SILT"). The moniker stuck when the town was incorporated in 1915. For years local residents disliked the connotations with dirt and soil, and repeatedly tried to change it; nothing worked, not even after a 1989 Rocky Mountain News article showing the bumper sticker "Silt Happens." Agriculture and ranching remain local industries. The modern municipality has 2,667 residents [2008].
Mile 99 through the small downtown.
Distance signage leaving Silt, on old-school button copy. Notice the exclusive use of capital lettering, which was typical for CDOT at the time.
EB US 6.
Some of the fields and countryside.
Mile 104.
Entering New Castle.
New Castle was named (with the epenthetic space) after Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the famous English coal mining town, and incorporated in 1888. As the name would imply, the town originally established itself upon the rich coal deposits in the nearby hills but within a decade both major mines (the Vulcan and the Consolidated) closed due to disaster, the Vulcan Mine from flooding in 1896 and the Consolidated Mine from fire in 1899. The town then turned to ranching and agriculture, giving way to construction and tourism today and a substantial green industry push in interesting contrast to its fossil fuel history. The modern municipality has 3,796 residents [2008].
The original US 6 bridge entering town, built 1931.
Mile 106 and downtown.
The very modern-looking city hall.
EB US 6.
Distance signage leaving town.
Approaching the end of the alignment.
Turning to I-70.
The frontage road (with "NO OUTLET") is not part of segment 006D. This is the end of this segment (Mile 110.806), so we rejoin I-70.

I-70/US 6

This won't last long, though.

EB I-70 (US 6 is once again unsigned).
Distance signage to Glenwood Springs, in the next Part.
Mile 112.
Glenwood Springs city limits at Exit 114.
Continue to Part 12
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