COBWEB CORNERS: The tunnels up the pass
By Mel McFarland
There are five tunnels in Ute Pass. They were built by the Colorado Midland Railway in 1886 and used until the Golden Cycle company ran the last Midland Terminal train in 1949. After that, Golden Cycle tore the tracks out, but the tunnels remained. People do occasionally scramble up to walk through them, but it is not easy. The old railroad bed makes a good trail, but Mother Nature is trying to erase it, In places there is hardly any trace. In the tunnels some pretty big rocks have come down.
Three other Midland tunnels are in Manitou. The first one going west is on the hillside above town, south of Ruxton Avenue. The next one is about halfway up Ruxton, near the big rock, named Indian Head Rock. There was a big bridge over Ruxton at this point. It was there until 1964 when it was cut up. You can still see parts of it if you look hard enough. These first two tunnels are slowly filling up with the gravel that washes down the hillside. They even did that when the trains were running! Up near the Manitou water tank there were two big wooden bridges, but they were buried in waste rock from Cripple Creek, but that is washing away too, and here and there parts of the old bridges poke out of the ground.
The third Manitou tunnel is in this area, with a house near the entrance. That house is there for a reason. After the tracks were removed in 1949, people started driving on the old roadbed. It went almost all the way to Cascade. To keep people from doing that, Golden Cycle sold this property so a house could be built there, which blocks the way. The tunnel has been used as a garage, a barn and simple storage. It is not a good idea to walk through it. The owner does not appreciate uninvited visitors!
It is hard to believe that the Manitou and Ute Pass railroad tunnels were once so busy. A hundred years ago, nearly as many people rode through them on trains (1,600 a day) as now drive up Ute Pass in cars!