After raining off and on all yesterday, and most of the night... Thursday dawned crystal clear and colder than a well digger's patootey! There was ice on all the Blazer's windows. As the Blazer warmed up and defrosted its windows, we were packing our lunch and getting pumped all over again about what lay before us today.
We both love the area we were getting ready to experience again: The climb on the old DSP&P grade from Pitkin to Alpine Tunnel.
We had mutually decided to take the Blazer instead of the bikes so we could amble along, do some hiking, take an ice chest (for the shrimp feast, picnic, remember?), drinks, etc. Also, we wanted to be able to interact freely (talk!) as we eased along in the Blazer and mutually grooving to the "Alpine Experience".
Ever since I begin to appreciate Colorado narrow gauge railroading (1990?) and begin to acquire books about same, the DSP&P has been one of my favorite Colorado narrow gauge lines. Honey Buns and I first explored the Alpine Tunnel area in about 1993. We were in our 1992 Buick Century. We drove the road bed as far as we could (stopping and gaping at the sights along the way)... only to be stopped by a snow slide that we could not cross with the Century. So... we got out and hoofed it the remaining 2 miles or so to Alpine Tunnel! It was great!
And here we were again, poised to experience Alpine Tunnel once again. Soon, we were ready to take off and begin our Alpine Tunnel adventure . Ahead would be something like 13 miles of one of the most historic and amazing pieces of railroading and railroad engineering ever accomplished in North America.
I took a TON of pics. Of course, like almost all things Colorado... pictures just cannot EVER do justice to actually standing there and experiencing it for yourself. An online acquaintance summed up seeing Colorado in one of his replies by saying that "it was almost a religious experience". I agree! Although there hasn't been a train over Alpine Pass in over 100 years... it was still a stirring experience to see the area once more and see firsthand what they accomplished to put those small rails over these huge mountains.
So... the Blazer loaded, our jackets on, and camera in hand... it was off for Alpine Tunnel.
All along the way, there are these facinating little "mini-scenes".... maybe a rock outcropping (as pictured below) or a histroical area (typically now with signs/makers interpreting the area)... the entire area is just steeped in history and "atmosphere".
We hadn't been motoring very far when a scene would open up that illstrated how FAST altitude was being gained. A 4% grade on a railroad will do that!
The aroma of the aspens and spruce were WONDERFUL as we slowly moved along. We savored the trip, the sights, the smells... all of it... every foot of the way.
A look back at a fill. There was a neat burbling brook tumbling down the mountainside here. In fact, most times when you stopped... you would hear the sound of rushing/tumbling water. That's cool, too!
And here's the tumbling water we were enjoying!
Just pick a direction, take a gander that way, and it was gorgeous... without fail!
Looking upgrade not far from the Woodstock town site. See that distant peak on up ahead? We'll be up there on the roadbed soon!
We were so fortunate to time our vacation time just right so we could enjoy the aspens in fall foliage again. We've only timed it this way once before. It was spectacular almost everywhere there were aspens!
More ruggedness from near the Woodstock town site. See that rock face up above?
If you look REALLY close (up top and on the right)... you'll see one of the palisades (rock retaining walls) that were used to hold the grade in place on the rugged mountain side. On the DSP&P, that area was referred to as "The Palisades".
One of the neatest things about the Pitkin to Alpine Tunnel grade is that history preservationists are doing their best to stabilize, and in some cases restore, the historic artifacts that remain. Here is the Williams Gulch water tank. It used to be at the townsite of Woodstock, until that terrible avalance wiped out the entire town. More on that in a bit.
Looking over the rugged granduer that comprises much of the climb to Alpine Tunnel. Again, if you look close, you'll see two levels of roadbed: The one we're on (it's in the foreground to the right)... and the one way up above! (You sort of have to know where it's at.)
This is the site of the old town of Woodstock. Woodstock was an interesting place in the early 1880's. It was extremely remote and living there was very rugged. The little narrow gauge DSP&P railroad was the only means of contact with the outside world. The boarding house at Woodstock was run by an Irish widow that had six children: Mrs. Marcella Doyle. The DSP&P Telegrapher there was J.S. Brown.
Sadly, a catostrophic avalance took place here during the winter of 1884. I will quote from Mallory Hope Ferrell's book "The South Park Line":
"The South Park's worst disaster occurred at Woodstock about 6:00 PM on March 10, 1884. A huge avalance roared down the steep mountainside above Missouri Gulch, completely burying the town and killing thirteen people. Included among the dead were telegrapher Brown, and all six of the Doyle children, who ranged in age from 10 to 23 years of age. Also killed were saloon keeper Joseph Royegno, Jasper Caswell, James Tracy, George Alexander, Michael Shea and Joseph Gerazo. Mrs. Doyle and three others were buried under the snow and not resuced for almost twelve hours... only to then learn of the horrible tragedy that had befallen the others."
The disaster wiped out the town of Woodstock, and it never regained its former size.
So sad. Life was tough in Colorado in the 1880's. The townsite with its memorial marker:
Looking upgrade from the Woodstock townsite...
Now we come to Woodstock Loop, later called Sherrod Loop. The rails of the DSP&P had to make almost a complete loop in order to make its final assault to reach Alpine Tunnel.
If you'll look closely... you'll see some rails have been relaid to help aid the historical significance of the area!
Here's a closer look at those rails...
In this shot, Honey Buns and I have walked out onto the fill that comprised Woodstock Loop. This is a majestic area!
In this view, I've turned 180 degrees to show you where we were...
See the rails over on the left? And, if you look real close over past the rails... you'll see our trusty ol' Blazer!
This is a classic shot that almost every South Park trekker has taken. I am no exception!
I thought this pic aptly illustrates just how much the restoration is adding to the "feel" of the Alpine Tunnel route experience. It's not too hard to imagine it's the early 1880's again, is it?
We've now left the Woodstock Loop area, and have proceeded upgrade further on the roadbed. In this angle, you're looking down near the Woodstock townsite. That road below is the roadbed that we were on.
Now you're looking further upgrade toward the Alpine Tunnel area. Look closely... you'll see the faint trace that marks the roadbed coming up from the Pitkin area. (Look on the distant mountainsides about 1/3 up the mountains.) Looking up ahead, that closest deep "V" is the pass area where Alpine Tunnel is located. See the upper roadbed just ahead as well as off in the distance where it rounds the curve to enter the Alpine Tunnel area?
The Palisades! Doubt there's a more fabled area than the Palisades! The rock formations here are incredible. Plus, the picture just doesn't convey the precarious way the roadbed clung tenaciously to the mountainside on a narrow shelf.
A closer look, and perhaps one that illustrates the height of the roadbed a bit better?
Now you're looking across a gulch at the roadbed we'll be on in a few more minutes.
Excuse the poor morning lighting, but this is a look back at the Palisade illustrated above. Trust me, these pictures don't even come CLOSE to the actual ruggedness of the area! We are WAAAAY up there in elevation in these pics on a narrow shelf of a roadbed!
Continuing our upward trek, this time toward the gulch I mentioned just above.
What a view! (And we're not at the highest point, yet!) You're looking back down the gulch toward Pitkin. See the trace of the roadbed on the mountainsides?
We keep on climbing higher... and we're still not there yet!
At last, after about 12-13 miles of climbing since leaving Pitkin, we arrive at the Alpine Tunnel area.
During the early years at Alpine Tunnel, there was a 150' long rock engine house that contained a 50' turntable (used to turn the steam engines around), a water tank, and a coaling platform... all of this INSIDE the engine house! There was also a small combination telegraph/train station, a rock boarding house, and other essentials.
The winters were so harsh on Alpine Pass, that typically the DSP&P line over it would be closed for weeks and sometimes months. Horrific snows were common.
Below you'll see a picture of the stabilized portions of the engine house. The preservationists have actually excavated the floor of the house and now the entire turntable pit is visible! The remains of the tank are still there, too.
Here's the restored small station... complete with the train order board!
Here's a replica of the coaling platform that was built after the engine house burned in 1906...
The preservationists have also relaid track using the original rails and tie plates and such in their original location. That's a stub switch you're looking at! All of their efforts REALLY help to add to the atmosphere! In this pic, you're looking toward the tunnel area.
They're even restoring the turntable that was installed after the loss of the enginehouse!
Now you're looking toward the actual Alpine Tunnel entrance...
And then, the actual tunnel portal rocks that have been excavated. Note you're looking at the TOP of the tunnel rockwork. The roadbed has been intentionally raised here to use as fill-in to close off the tunnel mouth. Otherwise, people will try (have tried) to enter the actual tunnel. Last time that was done and published (late 50's/early 60's?)... the timber lining was still intact, and the rails and ties were still there!
By the way... you can use old photographs to actually identify the individual rocks in the tunnel portal!
While eating our lunch, up came a couple of dual sport riders. It was a father and son team from Kansas. They come out to Colorado and ride together every year. Silly me, I didn't think to take a pic of them until too late. Oh well.
After spending some time at Alpine Tunnel, and eating our delicious lunch, it was time to start the descent back to Pitkin, load up the bikes, and head for Crested Butte.
I will be closing with a few more pics of The Palisade area.
Trust me, there are a LOT more pics... but I've already posted a TON of Alpine Tunnel/Pass pictures!!
The granduer and ruggedness is simply fascinating...
That's it for this segment.
In the next and last installment, we'll take our last dual sport ride of the vacation. It turned out to be a very pleasant surprise!
To Be Continued.