National Geographic : 1961 Jul
of the past. Now the city spread around us in all directions- half a million strong. Its lights seemed to fill all the space between us and the purple mountains. Since World War II, Denver's population has increased by a third. The lure of mile high daily living and two-mile-high week ends in the Rocky Mountains is still pulling. Seven hundred newcomers a month pour in. But its geography, so appealing today, once threatened to stop Denver in its tracks. Backed against the highest ramparts of the Rockies, Denver early felt the need for a mountain route west to compete with lower passes in Wyoming and New Mexico. Mountain Pass to "Elephant Land" "That stream of traffic going straight west and disappearing behind the Hogback is U. S. 40," a Denver acquaintance comment ed. "Look at it! And to think there wasn't a decent road over Berthoud Pass until 1923." In 1861 engineer E. L. Berthoud and scout Jim Bridger set out to find a pass west of Denver for a stage route to Salt Lake City. Berthoud worked his way up the east face of the Continental Divide. At 11,315 feet he noticed a stream flowing northwest and cor rectly surmised it to be a tributary of what we call the Colorado River today. Denver had its westward route, but Ber thoud Pass was so formidable that not until the coming of the auto was it much used. Re curring talk of a tunnel at the 9,000-foot level reveals that Denver still is not satisfied with Berthoud's route-one of the Nation's highest passes on a major highway. With mounting excitement we entered the high country "to see the elephant," as had countless westering people before us. Seeing the elephant is a state of mind; pioneers coined the phrase to show they were ready to believe everything, ready almost to be hornswoggled rather than admit that any thing was impossible in the Golden West. One of the early West's biggest elephants was gold. So naturally we stopped when we saw the roadside signs and paid $1.50 for the privilege of panning three cents' worth of gold from Clear Creek. After this modest success we felt quali fied to visit Central City, the ghost town where tourist dollars have replaced the large ly mined-out diggings. We did our bit to keep Central City green by adding to several lat ter-day deposits. We explored a mine, heard opera in the restored Opera House where miners used to applaud with gunfire, dined in the Teller House after admiring its "face on the barroom floor," and rode a wild Jeep over mine-bitten slopes and rock-strewn gulches. Our Jeep driver, a college boy with the perfect summer job, pulled up negligently beside the 1,000-foot-deep Glory Hole saying, "Don't worry. We have a spotless safety rec ord. We've never lost a driver." Taking my own wheel, I drove my children up the highest auto road in the United States, to the top of Mount Evans-14,264 feet above sea level. We gazed through the chill mist at a tumble of snow-pocked mountains, from Pikes Peak in the south to Longs Peak. Soon we were traversing Rocky Mountain National Park via Trail Ridge Road and looking south toward Longs Peak, 14,251 feet, highest in the park area. The Centennial State's alpine regions-more extensive than Switzerland's - lay all about us.