Roadster Roadtrip: Satch Heads To O’Fest

Las Vegas to Grand Junction, CO

So far so good: After a smooth, hot run from San Diego to Las Vegas, we set out on Day Two for Grand Junction, Colorado. That’s a seven-hour drive—and you lose another hour when you cross into the Mountain Time zone.

I thought I had passed a Shell station on my way to Peter and Gayle Brock’s house—hey, did you know that Gayle still has the 2002tii she bought several decades ago?!—but I didn’t see it as we started out this morning. Oh, well, it can’t be too far  to the next one, can it?

Yes—yes, it can.

Since I once fried a fuel pump in Nancy Drew by running her tank dry, I tend to have more range anxiety than an electric-car owner. I like to start looking for the Shell sign when the fuel gauge reads half-full, and I try never to run over 250 miles on a tank, even if that means I have to forgo Shell Nitro V-Plus go juice.

Gayle Brock still owns her ’74 2002tii.

Amazingly enough, Las Vegas disappears pretty quickly without offering up any welcome Shell stations. But surely there must be one or two before we leave Nevada, right?

Yes—yes, there is. In Mesquite. Which is almost in Arizona.

By the time Nancy Drew’s thirst is slaked in Mesquite, we have run almost exactly 300 miles on most of a tank:

We found a welcome oasis in Mesquite, Nevada.

 

That tiny corner of Arizona gives you a taste of the delights that await you on this route. People who think that the Interstates are boring may change their minds when they discover this delightful up-and-down roller-coaster of a freeway. It is over too fast, of course—especially if you are giving only token regard to the suddenly lowered speed limit—but it is a tantalizing run through huge uplifted layers of sandstone.

Once you pass into Utah and start to unwind under its 80-mph limit, you see the geology changing before your eyes. Here are the beautiful red formations that make Utah such a tourist attraction, along with vast agricultural valleys. If you follow I-15 far enough, you hit Salt Lake City—but we’re turning east onto I-70.

Interstate 70 ought to be declared a national treasure.

And it’s not just for the scenery—although I must admit that I am tempted every now and then to stop the car and take pictures. Yes, I know—pathetic. This highway is simply one of the best high-speed driving roads on the planet. Oh, um, I mean relatively high speed. You know, like that 80-mph limit.

This highway is so beautiful that Mother Teresa couldn’t stick to limit. At least if she were driving a blue roadster.—Satch Carlson

Nancy Drew takes a break at Ghost Rock.

 

Grand Junction, CO to Denver

Ah, my favorite Interstate highway! One reason that Interstate 70 is my favorite highway has to do with the fantastic geological diversity of the American Southwest, especially as the road passes through the San Rafael Swell near Green River. Now, as we ease into Colorado, we leave behind the fascinating topography of the desert and head upstream along the Colorado River.

We leave behind the 80-mph speed limit, too.

I-70 offers spectacular scenery through the San Rafael Swell. (Dennis Adams, National Scenic Byways Online)

The highway is no less spectacular in Colorado, but for different reasons. Following the river, I-70 rises through beautiful—and logistically challenging—canyons; especially in Glenwood Canyon, the engineering difficulties were enormous. (If you have driven the tunnel roads in the Alps, where it sometimes seems as if the road is cantilevered out into space, you can appreciate this section of I-70!) In some places the highway is divided in two, with the eastbound and westbound lanes at different elevations.

Day Three takes us along the Colorado River toward Denver.

Because the terrain is so twisted, engineers had to create sharper curves than normal on the Interstate, so the speed limit is set for snail safety: 50 mph. However, you soon emerge into higher limits—although we seem to have arrived just in time for the Annual Highway Construction Festival, which runs whenever I drive in this state.

The best way to drive I-70 here is to spot a local, someone who knows the Secret Speed Limit, and I find just such a one: a humongous GMC Yukon about the size of the USS Forrestal. Setting the pace through the 65-mph section as we rise into the forested western slope of the Rockies, the Yukon merrily grilles slower traffic out of the left lane—it is much better equipped for this task than is the nose of a blue aluminum roadster—and as we roll out of the mountain curves onto a rising plateau, I see that the Secret Speed Limit must be somewhere around 90.

The piñon pines of the foothills have given way to the tall firs of the mountains by the time I lose my Yukon guide near Vail. The highway is familiar now; this is the road that carried drivers from the west to BMW CCA Oktoberfest settings in Keystone, in Breckenridge, in Beaver Creek.

Higher in the Rockies, the hills are covered with evergreens.

Fortunately, the Yukon is not my only “rabbit,” for I am passed by an enthusiastic Subaru before long, and I happily let him lead the way through the Eisenhower Tunnel, the highest point on I-70—indeed, the highest point on the Interstate system—at 11,158 feet above sea level. Traffic is quite heavy thereafter, and the sky turns dark with threatening clouds—which soon produce rain.

Fortunately, the rain is not of an intensity which would require us to seek shelter, or maybe put the top up, but the temperature has fallen to 63ºF, so I resort to the heater instead of the air-conditioning. This means that the bottled water I’ve stashed in the footwell will no longer be chilled, but at this point I would gladly trade it for a flask of hot tea—and by the time we have run downhill a few more miles toward Denver, the day is hot and sunny again.

And the water is still cool enough for a refreshing drink.—Satch Carlson

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