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COBWEB CORNERS: Blasting Ute Pass to make 2 lanes in the 1930s

By Mel McFarland

        In the 1960s, the state widened Highway 24 through Ute Pass to four lanes. Just 30 years earlier, it had been less than a two-lane road, hardly better than the one-lane wagon road built in the 1870s.
       In the project to make it two lanes, which lasted for two years (ending in mid-1931) the state did some things that would not go over well today.
       Thousands of pounds of dynamite were used. The explosions eliminated whole hills that the old road had wound around. Ever heard of Yellow Mountain or Red Mountain? They were two of the Ute Pass hills removed during the project!
       The blast that took out Yellow Mountain was one of the largest. It was near Waldo Canyon. The residents in Manitou were shaken out of bed, as some of the dynamiting occurred during the night. Complaints were heard daily about broken windows and shifting walls and doors.
       A new wall, supporting a section of the new road, used stones from the Manitou Greenstone Quarry. But half of the quarry was eliminated to make room for the new road. The original Rainbow Falls was destroyed during the work, and a higher location was renamed Rainbow Falls. The new bridge would pass almost over this falls, once it was finished.
       The Ute Chief Bottling Works, located at the mouth of the pass, was at the center of the changes at the bottom end of the pass. Work was cut back during the blasting, in response to concerns that the explosions and trembling earth would shift some of the underground springs, and they did. A few springs actually became greater.
       Even when the roadwork was done, a problem remained. The new road from Manitou up to Rainbow Falls, about a half-mile in length, could not be used because the bridge there was not yet installed, nor was there funding to do so. A later column will tell that story.
       Driving up the pass today, you are mainly on the old 1930s road. Driving down, you're on the side built in the 1960s. If you look up, you can see some of the 1930s rock work along those westbound lanes.

(Posted 10/14/15, updated 12/15/15; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

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