Rollins Pass

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Rollins Pass
A Show of Power.tif
Riflesight Notch trestle on Rollins Pass
Elevation 11,676.79 ft (3,559 m)[1]
Traversed by
Location Boulder, Gilpin, and Grand counties, Colorado, U.S.
Range Front Range
Coordinates 39°56′03″N 105°40′58″W / 39.93417°N 105.68278°W / 39.93417; -105.68278Coordinates: 39°56′03″N 105°40′58″W / 39.93417°N 105.68278°W / 39.93417; -105.68278[1]
Topo map USGS East Portal
Rollins Pass is located in Colorado
Rollins Pass
Colorado
Rollinsville and Middle Park Wagon Road / Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway Hill Route Historic District
Area 436.3 acres (176.6 ha)
Built 1873 (1873)
Built by Rollins, John Q.A.
NRHP reference # 80000881, 97001114[8]
Added to NRHP Tuesday, September 30, 1980

Rollins Pass, elevation 11,676.79 ft (3,559.09 m), is a mountain pass and active archaeological site[9] in the Southern Rocky Mountains of north-central Colorado in the United States. The pass is located on and traverses the Continental Divide of the Americas at the crest of the Front Range southwest of Boulder and is located approximately five miles east and opposite the resort in Winter Park—in the general area between Winter Park and Rollinsville. Rollins Pass is at the boundaries of Boulder, Gilpin, and Grand counties. Over the past 10,000 years,[9] the pass provided a route over the Continental Divide between the Atlantic Ocean watershed of South Boulder Creek (in the basin of the South Platte River) with the Pacific Ocean watershed of the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado River.

Rollins Pass was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980[8] and is listed as one of the most endangered sites in Colorado.[2]:117

The sign at the summit of Rollins Pass. The elevation of '11,660 feet' on the sign "reflects what might have been an original survey value obtained during either the late wagon road era or early railroad construction…. The actual benchmarked survey elevation value of the summit of Rollins Pass is 11,671 feet (NGVD29), obtained during a 1952 second-order level line run from State Bridge to Denver by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey (predecessor to the National Geodetic Survey). When adjusted to NAVD88, the elevation is, without doubt, 11,676.79 feet."[2]:64
The sign at the summit of Rollins Pass. The elevation of '11,660 feet' on the sign "reflects what might have been an original survey value obtained during either the late wagon road era or early railroad construction…. The actual benchmarked survey elevation value of the summit of Rollins Pass is 11,671 feet (NGVD29), obtained during a 1952 second-order level line run from State Bridge to Denver by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey (predecessor to the National Geodetic Survey). When adjusted to NAVD88, the elevation is, without doubt, 11,676.79 feet."[2]:64

Contents

Naming[edit]

Rollins Pass is the sole, official name recognized by both the United States Geological Survey and the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN); a decision card was issued on Wednesday, December 7, 1904.[10] The pass was first known as Boulder Pass[2]:8—one of two variant names accepted by the BGN—the other being Rogers Pass.[11]

In Grand County, Rollins Pass is given the sobriquet of Corona Pass, named for the apex station at the summit, Corona.[2]:8 However, it is inconsistent, as well as atypical, to refer to mountain passes by the names of their apex stations. Fremont Pass, for example, is not named Climax Pass; nor is La Veta Pass referred to as Fir Pass.[12]

Description[edit]

Rollins Pass has been in continuous use for millennia: first as an internationally significant game drive complex that was hand-constructed and used by Paleo-Indians more than 10,000 years ago through the mid-19th century;[9] followed by nearly two decades as a wagon road from 1862–1880; as a rail route (under survey, construction, and later operational) from 1880 to 1928; as a primitive automobile road from 1936 to 1956; and for the past 61 years—from 1956 through present day—as a motor vehicle road.

The pass is traversed by Paleo-Indian (Native American) game drive complexes,[2]:8 hiking trails, including the Continental Divide Trail; an airway radial (V8),[3] a 10" Xcel Energy high-pressure natural gas pipeline,[4][5][6][7] and two roads:

  • The first dirt road is the Rollinsville and Middle Park Wagon Road, created in the early 1860s and this route predates the rail line. This road employed much of what would later become Rollins Pass. This original wagon route, now called the Boulder Wagon Road, took a steep counterclockwise route up Guinn Mountain encircling Yankee Doodle Lake before continuing to head west/northwest to proceed over the summit and down into the Middle Park valley near present-day Winter Park and Fraser, Colorado.
  • The second dirt road is mostly the former roadbed of the Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railway, that later became the Denver and Salt Lake Railway. This high-altitude railroad grade was part of the Moffat Road and this route was replaced (and later abandoned) by the opening of the Moffat Tunnel in 1928; the rails and ties were removed from Rollins Pass in 1936; however, some rail segments as well as ties, made of pine, oak, and walnut, can still be seen, along with planking used for snowsheds.[13][14][2]:124

Geology[edit]

The Front Range was created by the Laramide Orogeny, the last of three major mountain-building events, which occurred between 70 and 40 million years ago. Tectonic activity during the Cenozoic Era changed the Ancestral Rocky Mountains via block uplift, eventually forming the Rocky Mountains as they exist today. The geologic make-up of Rollins Pass and the surrounding areas were also affected by deformation and erosion during the Cenozoic Era. Many sedimentary rocks from the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras exist in the basins surrounding the pass.

History[edit]

A low rock wall and attached hunting blind (pit) at the Olson Game Drive on Rollins Pass. These features were hand-made by Native Americans; radiocarbon and lichenometric dating suggest occupation by Native Americans spanning the last 3,200 years, with diagnostic tools suggesting even older use of the site to more than 10,000 years ago.
A low rock wall and attached hunting blind (pit) at the Olson Game Drive on Rollins Pass. These features were hand-made by Native Americans; radiocarbon and lichenometric dating suggest occupation by Native Americans spanning the last 3,200 years, with diagnostic tools suggesting even older use of the site to more than 10,000 years ago.

Rollins Pass as a prehistoric Paleo-Indian hunting complex[edit]

Paleo-Indians (early Native Americans) were the first to utilize Rollins Pass as a natural, low crossing over the Continental Divide for the purposes of communal hunting of large game, including bighorn sheep and elk.[15] There are more than 96 documented game drives, including the Olson game drive, found largely above timberline and near the summits of multiple mountain ridges. Handmade rock walls drove prey toward hunters waiting in blinds. These unique high-altitude constructs were built, refined, and continually used over millennia.[16] Currently the game drives are being studied by Colorado State University archaeology graduate and PhD students led by Dr. Jason M. LaBelle, the associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the Center for Mountain and Plains Archaeology in Fort Collins, Colorado. The game drives built on—and over—Rollins Pass have international significance.[9]

The Olson game drive[edit]

The Olson site (5BL147) is a multi-component rock walled game drive and is but one part of a much larger game drive complex located on Rollins Pass. Byron Olson and James Benedict conducted work at the site in the late-1960s. Present-day archaeology teams built on Olson and Benedict's work to expand the overview of the site using modern techniques. As of 2013, at least 45 blinds as well as 1,307 meters of rock walls are present across the Olson site; the purposes of which were to funnel game upslope to waiting hunters. Both radiocarbon and lichenometric dating suggest occupation by Native Americans spanning the last 3,200 years, with diagnostic tools suggesting even older use of the site, dating back to more than 10,000 years ago.[9]

Other significant game drives[edit]

Game drives at other locations on Rollins Pass yield hundreds of additional blinds and miles of rock walls.[17]

Rollins Pass as a late-prehistoric and historic Native American route[edit]

Rollins Pass has a documented history as a migratory route, hunting trail, and battlefield among the late prehistoric and contact-period Indians of Colorado.[18]

"The Indians, both Ute and Arapahoe, used Rollins Pass. While it is possible to ride a horse across the Range at almost any point except some of the higher and rougher peaks, the Indians were as much interested as the white man in seeking a good grade. Instead of wagons they used teepee poles as drag-poles for transportation of supplies and papooses, and it was necessary that they follow easy grades and broad level country, wherever practical."

— Edgar McMechen, Romantic History of Rollins Pass, Municipal Facts, Volume VI, numbers 8 & 9

Rollins Pass as an historic wagon road[edit]

The first recorded use of the pass by a wagon train was in 1862, nearly 14 years before Colorado became a state.[19] Rollins Pass is named for John Quincy Adams Rollins, a Colorado pioneer from a family of pioneers,[2]:18 who constructed a toll wagon road over the pass in the 1873,[20] providing a route between the Colorado Front Range and Middle Park.[21][22]

John Quincy Adams Rollins[edit]

John Q.A. Rollins was born on Sunday, June 16, 1816 in Gilmanton, New Hampshire and was the son of a New England minister.[23][24] Rollins is described as being a strong man and an extensive character, popular with almost everybody whom he did not owe and his one predominating fault was his failure to pay his debts. Newspapers cited that he was so careless about his credit that he could not keep track of all his creditors, and in turn, they had trouble keeping track of him.[25] Rollins died on Wednesday, June 20, 1894 and is buried in Colorado's oldest operating cemetery, Riverside, in block 5, lot 12. His simple tombstone reads, "John Q.A. Rollins | Colorado Pioneer of Rollinsville and Rollins Pass."[2]:18 Colonel Rollins' newspaper obituary mentions, "No man in Northern Colorado was better known nor counted more warm friends than John Q.A. Rollins."[26]

Middle Park and South Boulder Wagon Road Company[edit]

Rollins received approval for his toll wagon road on Tuesday, February 6, 1866. The Council and House of Representatives of Colorado Territory passed an act signed by the governor approving the wagon road as the "Middle Park and South Boulder Wagon Road Company." Records reflect the incorporators as "John Q.A. Rollins, Perley Dodge, Frederic C. Weir."[2]:21[23] Yet, the "Rollins road" through Boulder Pass was not completed until the first half of August 1873.[27][28][29][30][31] While the newspaper articles cited "wagons can now be taken over this route without the slightest trouble,"[27] other articles countered, "the trail... is splendid for horses but fearful for wagons"[32] and "the rocks, mud-holes, bogs, creeks, boulders and sidling ledges of that road, can only be appreciated by being seen, the only wonder is that a wagon can be taken over at all."[33] Other articles were a bit more grim, referring to the wagon road as a "little more than the rocky ridge of a precipice along which lurked death and disaster."[34] Newspaper records reflect on Friday, June 12, 1874, James Harvey Crawford along with his wife, Margaret Emerine Bourn Crawford,[35] made pioneer history as the first (nonindigenous) couple to cross Rollins Pass by wagons, and Mrs. Crawford is credited as the first woman to cross the pass. That day held many challenges, including a two-hour blizzard, "which was of terrific violence" and she remarked in a newspaper article, "the bumping was so hard I thought I was nearly dead."[36] As there was no formal road constructed from "Yankee Doodle Camp on up, only an Indian trail, she and the children had been left behind while her husband took the wagon pulled by a pair of mules, a team of horses and a yoke of oxen on up and camped. Then he came back for her with the team and the running gear only of the wagon, and she had to hold the children on someway, despite the dreadful bumping"[37][38] with the "wagon almost standing on end."[39]

The pass was used heavily in the latter half of the 19th century by settlers and at one time as many as 12,000 cattle at a time were driven over the pass.[40][41] The wagon road had one tollgate and the following rate structure: “For each vehicle drawn by two animals, two dollars and fifty cents; for each additional two animals, twenty-five cents; each vehicle drawn by one animal, one dollar and fifty cents; horse and rider and pack animals, twenty-five cents; loose stock, five cents per head . . . horse with rider, or pack animal with pack, ten cents.” The cost for nonpayment of a toll was the same as causing intentional damage to the road: $25.[2]:22 The road began to fall out of use and into disrepair in 1880, approximately one year before early railroading attempts over the pass begun.[20][42][43]

Rollins Pass as an historic railroad route[edit]

"Snow cuts on Rollin's [sic] Pass, Moffat Road, Colo." This is a colorized sketch of McClure photograph 257-8067, the description stating, "Snow scene, summit Rollin's Pass: elevation, 11,660 feet; on Moffat Line R. R., three hours' ride from Denver. Photograph taken in May, 1906. The region of perpetual snow. Photograph by L.C. McClure, Denver."
"Snow cuts on Rollin's [sic] Pass, Moffat Road, Colo." This is a colorized sketch of McClure photograph 257-8067, the description stating, "Snow scene, summit Rollin's Pass: elevation, 11,660 feet; on Moffat Line R. R., three hours' ride from Denver. Photograph taken in May, 1906. The region of perpetual snow. Photograph by L.C. McClure, Denver."[44]

Early railroad endeavors[edit]

There were multiple prior efforts to build a railroad over Rollins Pass in the 19th century and all attempts were met with impassable engineering challenges, financing issues, or both: GHS, Jefferson, & Boulder County Railroad and Wagon Road (A.N. Rogers’ line) in 1867; U.P. in 1866; Kansas Pacific in 1869; Colorado Railroad (B. & M. subsidiary) in 1884—two tunnels located; Denver, Utah & Pacific in 1881 (construction started and tunnel located).[2]:27 The remains of the latter tunneling attempt can still be seen on the northern slope of the rock wall at Yankee Doodle Lake and the detritus from the attempted excavation of the tunnel was placed at the northernmost part of the lake where pulverized granite tailings can be seen rising out of the water.[14] These tailings were definitively from the 1880s tunneling efforts as they are not visible in the early stereoscopic images from the wagon road era of Yankee Doodle Lake; further, the attempted tunnel was not part of the later rail line that ultimately summited Rollins Pass.[2]:20

The Moffat Road over Rollins Pass[edit]

In the early 20th century, David Moffat, a Denver banker, established the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway with the intention of building a railroad from Denver toward Salt Lake City, Utah by way of a tunnel under the Continental Divide.[45][46][47][48] However, the railway only reached Craig, Colorado. This entire line from Denver to Craig was known as the Moffat Road.[2]:9

The line included a 23-mile stretch over the top of the Continental Divide, at Rollins Pass, with a two to four percent grade and switchbacks along many sections; the result was one of the highest adhesion (non-cog) standard-gauge railroads ever constructed in North America.[2]:9 This corridor over Rollins Pass was always intended to be temporary until what would later become the Moffat Tunnel was constructed and opened; therefore this overmountain route was constructed as cheaply as possible: using wooden trestles instead of iron bridges or high fills and wyes instead of turntables. Construction of this route was exceptionally dangerous and deadly: in a single day, 60 Swedish workers were killed when a powder charge exploded prematurely during the construction of Needle’s Eye Tunnel.[49]

Along this route were three tunnels: Tunnel #31 (Sphinx Head Rock), Tunnel #32 (Needle's Eye Tunnel), and Tunnel #33 (the Loop Tunnel at Riflesight Notch).[50] All three tunnels today are either completely caved in or have had multiple partial cave-ins. Other notable landmarks on the route included the Riflesight Notch Loop, located at Spruce Mountain:[51] a 1.5 mile loop where trains crossed over a trestle, made a ~90 degree gradual turn to descend 150 feet, and passed through Tunnel #33 underneath the trestle.[52]

A rail station, Corona, was established at the summit of the pass, with a red brick dining hall, weather station, power station, and lodging. In summers, the train ride from Denver to Corona was advertised as a trip, "from sultry heat to Colorado's north pole;" tourists could stand in snowdrifts in the middle of July or August.[53][54][55][56][57][58] Tours launched from the Moffat Depot,[59] a small building constructed in the Georgian Revival style, featuring two-story tall windows, intricate exterior brickwork, and roofline pommels.[60] This building, located several city blocks northwest from Denver Union Station, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976,[61] and laid dormant for many decades after it was shuttered in 1947;[62] in 2015, it was made the focal point of a senior living community center.

Weather and operational difficulties[edit]

Despite the fact that the line was enclosed in almost continuous snowsheds (wooden tunnels) near the summit of the pass, trains were often stranded for several days (and in some cases up to 30 days)[63] during heavy snowstorms because snow could fall or be blown through the wood planking of the sheds. Delays affected the timeliness of both newspaper and postal mail deliveries. Coal smoke and toxic gasses collected in the snowsheds causing temporary blindness, loss of consciousness, and sometimes death.[14][63] Workers on the Moffat Road had an adage: "There's winter and then there's August."[14] It was these heavy snowstorms that led to the financial demise of the Moffat Road and served as the incentive for construction of a permanent railroad tunnel through the Rocky Mountains and into Middle Park.

Following scuba dives, no evidence exists that locomotive or wreck debris rests at the bottom of Yankee Doodle Lake or Jenny Lake.[2] However, many derailments, wrecks of Mallet locomotives, and/or the loss of portions of rail manifests occurred on both sides of the pass:[52]

Railroad Wrecks, Derailments, & Accidents on Rollins Pass
Side of Rollins Pass Specific location Equipment involved Crew deaths Passenger deaths Crew injuries Passenger injuries Date Cause
East on a curve just above Antelope Mallet No. 201, 10 coal cars, and caboose[64][65][66][67] 4 N/A 1 - January 1910 brake failure
East unknown rotary[68] - N/A - - February 1913 derailment
East near Jenny Lake rotary and several cars[68] - N/A - - March 1913 avalanche
East Dixie siding box car with stuck brake[69] 1 N/A - - November 1913 fall
East Bogen sheds near Jenny Lake rotary[70][71][72][73] 1 N/A 2 - January 1915 brake failure
West Ranch Creek Wye freight train[74] - N/A - - December 1915 derailment
West Old Camp Six 12 loaded coal cars, Mallet helper, caboose[75][76] 0 N/A 0 - January 1917 brake failure
West Arrow Engine 120 and the caboose from the rollback, above[75] 0 N/A 0 - January 1917 brake failure
West Ranch Creek Wye passenger train and rotary collision[77] - N/A 2+ 1 (first passenger injury)[78] April 1917 damaged rail leading to a collision
East Spruce freight train extra 118 and multiple coal cars[79][80] 1 N/A 3 - April 1917 brake failure
East inside Needle's Eye Tunnel freight train[81] 0 N/A 0 - October 1917 derailment
East Yankee Doodle Lake rotary and engine[82][83][84] 3 N/A 2+ - December 1917 avalanche
West snowsheds at Corona freight train[85] 0 N/A 0 - October 1918 derailment
East unknown wooden gondola railcar[2]:118 0 N/A 0 - 1909-1929 derailment
East Antelope two engines and 10-23 coal cars[86][87][88][89][90][91] 2 N/A - - December 1922 brake failure and fatigue
West Riflesight Notch Loop Mallet No. 208 and tender[92][93][94] 4 N/A 2 - February 1922 avalanche
West Ranch Creek Wye two coaches[95] - N/A - - July 1923 derailment
West Riflesight Notch Loop Mallet No. 210 - N/A - - 1924 derailment
West snowsheds at Corona passenger train No. 2 and caboose[96][97] 0 N/A 0 - October 1925 fire

The Moffat Tunnel[edit]

The winding inefficiency of the outdoor Rollins Pass rail route is brought into sharp contrast when compared with the direct, weather-agnostic Moffat Tunnel route. The Moffat Tunnel eliminated 10,800 degrees of curvature along the Rollins Pass route.[98]
The winding inefficiency of the outdoor Rollins Pass rail route is brought into sharp contrast when compared with the direct, weather-agnostic Moffat Tunnel route. The Moffat Tunnel eliminated 10,800 degrees of curvature along the Rollins Pass route.[98]

Several locations for the Moffat Tunnel were scouted prior to the selection of the present-day location; one possible location was identified at high altitude between Yankee Doodle Lake and the Forest Lakes.[99]

Plans to build a longer tunnel at a lower elevation were better planned and financed; the single-track Moffat Tunnel opened just south of Rollins Pass on Sunday, February 26, 1928. The Moffat Tunnel eliminated 10,800 degrees of curvature along the Rollins Pass route; the tunnel resulted in considerable time savings as well as money that was used for snow removal atop Rollins Pass.[98] After the first year of operations, an annual report to stockholders showed "marked savings in operating costs" by 24.86%. Savings were seen in other areas, including in fuel reductions ($89,074.45 savings; $1.3 million in 2018 when adjusted for inflation[100]), engine servicing ($156,188.89 savings); whereas gross tons per train hour increased by 34.84%.[101]

After the Moffat Tunnel opened, the tracks over Rollins Pass remained in place and were maintained at least as late as July 1929[102] as an emergency route. This emergency route was needed only once[103] for a several day-long closure: on Thursday, July 25, 1929, dry rot of wooden timbers caused a collapse and 75 feet of rock caved-in and blocked the Moffat Tunnel near the East Portal. It took until Tuesday, July 30, 1929 for the tunnel to be cleared of debris.[104][105] Permission to dismantle the rails on Rollins Pass was granted by the Interstate Commerce Commission on Saturday, May 18, 1935[103] and the rails were removed the following summer: the west side was cleared by Tuesday, August 11, 1936, and the east side 14 days later; contractors toiled non-stop, including overnight to remove both the rails and ties.[2]:67 A wye on the passing siding at the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel is currently utilized for short-turning some modern services and marks the spot where the Rollins Pass line, if it still existed, would have merged into the modern route.

The route through the Moffat Tunnel became part of the mainline across Colorado for the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, later the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, and now the Union Pacific Railroad. The Moffat Tunnel continues to be used for both the Amtrak's California Zephyr that provides service between Chicago, Illinois and Emeryville, California as well as for the seasonal Ski Train that operated between Denver and Winter Park from 1940 to 2009; in March 2015 and from 2017–present, the service was rebranded the Winter Park Express.

The pioneer bore used to originally construct the Moffat Tunnel was later converted into the Moffat Water Tunnel by Denver Water.[106]

Rollins Pass as an air route and navigational waypoint[edit]

In the era of powered flight, Rollins Pass provides an attractive way to cross the Continental Divide between west and east at a relatively low point for aircraft. Not only does the enroute airway radial, Victor Eight, cross the pass; but a rotating airway beacon was established in the mid-to-late 1940s and first appeared on aeronautical sectional charts in March 1948 as a star, indicating a beacon.[107][108] The beacon and its supporting infrastructure have since been removed due to the introduction of the Low-Frequency Radio Range systems to replace visual navigational aids. The rough road that was once used to service and reach Beacon Peak at the Continental Divide, branches off of the Rollins Pass road, and is closed to all forms of motorized traffic per the current Motor Vehicle Use Maps.

Rollins Pass as an historic automobile road[edit]

Plans to convert Rollins Pass into an historic automobile road were first published in November 1949.[109] Several years later, on Saturday, September 1, 1956, Colorado lieutenant governor, Steve McNichols, opened Rollins Pass as a non-vital and seasonal recreational road.[2]:104 Each summer, from 1956-1979, Rollins Pass served as a complete road over the mountain pass for automobiles until a rock fall in Needle's Eye Tunnel in 1979 closed the path over the pass. In 1989, after several engineering studies and structural strengthening of Needle's Eye Tunnel were accomplished, the complete road was re-opened only to close permanently in 1990.[110][111]

Rollins Pass as a natural gas pipeline route[edit]

In the mid-1990s, Rollins Pass was closed for the installation of a 10-inch diameter Xcel Energy high-pressure natural gas pipeline.[112] The pipeline, not under marker,[113] still is in existence and uses the low pass to reach the Front Range by loosely following County Road 8 in Fraser, utilizing much of Ranch Creek towards the Middle Fork of Ranch Creek below Mount Epworth, climbing the pass near Ptarmigan Point, and following much of the old railbed past Corona, across the twin trestles, down the old wagon route on the spine of Guinn Mountain, and then towards Eldora.[114]

Artifacts[edit]

Preservation of both prehistoric and the historic record[edit]

A majority of Rollins Pass is located within the boundaries of two national forests—Roosevelt National Forest and Arapaho National Forest—and as such, is federal land.[115] The Archaeological Resources Protection Act along with the Antiquities Act, among other federal and cultural laws, protects and makes it illegal to collect artifacts, including but not limited to: arrowheads, horseshoes, buttons, cans, glass or ceramic bottles, dishware and utensils, coal, railroad spikes, and telegraph poles from Rollins Pass. All artifacts—from the prehistoric to the historic—on the pass are objects of antiquity and are being studied and documented by universities and government agencies.[2]:12 The material record of Rollins Pass is illegally carried away each year in the backpacks of well-intentioned visitors who want a souvenir.[115][2]:12 Each artifact has important scientific and cultural value and theft harms the historical record.[115] Visitors are encouraged to preserve the area for future generations by leaving items in place and sharing photographs and GPS coordinates (if available) with researchers dedicated to telling the story of Rollins Pass and a web resource has been setup to aid with this project.[2]:127[116]

Enforcement[edit]

United States Forest Service Law Enforcement personnel and staff routinely patrol and enforce natural and cultural resources on Rollins Pass as well as in other areas within the National Forest System.[117][118]

Artifacts affecting the road prism[edit]

On both sides of Rollins Pass, the road prism contains both prehistoric and historic artifacts buried under the surface. Any improvements to the rough road through regrading would first require sectional archaeological excavations by the United States Forest Service. In several places, on or just under the surface, historical artifacts are covered with geotextile stabilization fabrics having characteristics that match the soil and permeability of the existing roadbed.[2]:119

Ghost towns, settlements, and gravesites[edit]

There are several ghost towns on or near Rollins Pass, the four most notable being Arrow, Corona, Eldora and the East Portal construction camp, and Tolland.[41] There are also at least a half-dozen other established settlements, dating back to both the wagon road and railroad eras, scattered across Rollins Pass.[2]

There are also several historic gravesites across Rollins Pass. One granite headstone at Arrow reads, "R.M. Smith | June 28, 1842 | Nov. 12, 1909." One marker near the Eldora Ski Area states that it holds two members of John C. Frémont's third expedition in 1845-1846, although this is disputed.[119][120]

Environment[edit]

Illegal off-roading of a vehicle on Rollins Pass near Mount Epworth and Deadman's Lake. The alpine tundra is extremely fragile and can take hundreds of years to fully recover.[121][122]
Illegal off-roading of a vehicle on Rollins Pass near Mount Epworth and Deadman's Lake. The alpine tundra is extremely fragile and can take hundreds of years to fully recover.[121][122]
This annotated view shows the damage to the alpine tundra caused by illegal offroading on Rollins Pass. The vehicle is outlined in blue, the tire tracks in red, and the designated road in yellow.
This annotated view shows the damage to the alpine tundra caused by illegal offroading on Rollins Pass. The vehicle is outlined in blue, the tire tracks in red, and the designated road in yellow.

Leave No Trace[edit]

Rollins Pass has unique floral, faunal, and riparian zones that spread across multiple Colorado counties; to best preserve the native environment of Rollins Pass, leave no trace and trail ethics apply to all visitors.[123] Trundling is discouraged for safety and environmental concerns as well as to preserve artifacts.[124][2]:125

Flora[edit]

Rollins Pass consists of several distinct floral environments including lodgepole pine and quaking aspen at lower elevations, and krummholz at tree line. Above tree line, the landscape consists largely of small perennial wildflowers, cryptobiotic soils, and alpine tundra. The latter being extremely fragile and if damaged, can take hundreds of years to recover.[121][122] Leaving the trail can cause erosion, land degradation, possible species extinction, and habitat destruction[122] and it is for these reasons vehicles, including off-road vehicles, are not allowed to leave the established road.[125][126]

Pine beetle epidemic[edit]

The mountain pine beetle epidemic, beginning in 1996 and continuing through present day, affects many forested areas in Colorado, including those on Rollins Pass. One out of every 14 trees in Colorado is dead.[127][128][129] Trees affected by the beetles contain 10 times less water than a healthy tree and crown fires can quickly spread.[130][131]

Fauna[edit]

The top predator in the area are black bears (Ursus americanus), generally below timberline; however, they occasionally venture above the krummholz. The bears prey on bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) and mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus), as well as yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris) in the region. Above timberline, pikas (Ochotona princeps) are common. At or below timberline, both elk (Cervus canadensis) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are common. The presence of migratory bighorn sheep and other large game is the reason why Native Americans constructed sprawling yet intricate game drive complexes on Rollins Pass.[9]

The porcupine can be seen at all elevations on Rollins Pass, including at (and above) the summit. The porcupine begins its rounds at sunset, as it is nocturnal; this member of the rodent family also has the ability to adroitly climb trees.[2]:113

Among birds, the white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucurus) are present on Rollins Pass, especially above treeline. Their seasonal camouflage is effective in the summer against the exposed blocks of granite as well as against snow in the winter, rendering them virtually undetectable. Brown-capped rosy finches (Leucosticte australis), rock wrens (Salpinctes obsoletus), and pipits are also seen or heard at timberline and near the summit.

Riparian zones[edit]

Nutrient-rich ecosystems exist on Rollins Pass where water, and bodies of water, meet the alpine and subalpine tundras.[132]

Lakes[edit]

There are three lakes on the west side of Rollins Pass: Deadman's Lake, Pumphouse Lake, and Corona Lake. On the east side of Rollins Pass are King Lake, Yankee Doodle Lake, and Jenny Lake. Historically, Yankee Doodle Lake was referred to as Lake Jennie by John Quincy Adams Rollins, but modern archaeologists have re-interpreted this to be the modern day Yankee Doodle Lake;[2]:20 the railroad and period newspapers occasionally referred to this lake as Dixie Lake.[133] Also in the vicinity: Bob Lake, Betty Lake, the Forest Lakes, Skyscraper Reservoir, Lost Lake, and Woodland Lake.[134]

Creeks and rivers[edit]

On the west side, in addition to the Fraser River at the start of Rollins Pass are the following creeks: the South Fork of Ranch Creek, the Middle Fork of Ranch Creek (fed by Deadman's Lake), and Ranch Creek (fed by Pumphouse and Corona Lakes). On the east side of Rollins Pass, the South Fork of the Middle Boulder Creek is fed by Bob and Betty Lakes and Jenny Creek is fed by both Jenny and Yankee Doodle Lakes; further downstream, Antelope Creek feeds into Jenny Creek. The South Boulder Creek runs at the start of Rollins Pass on the eastern side; but first flows through Buttermilk Falls, a large 550-foot-long waterfall, near King Lake, visible from the summit of Rollins Pass.[2]:65[134]

Improvements[edit]

A summer 2006 project led by the United States Forest Service and having the participation of both environmental and user groups saw improvements made to wetlands, lakeshore, and upland habitats at Yankee Doodle Lake and Jenny Creek.[135][136] Fencing was installed to restrict vehicle travel to designated routes and improve degraded areas.[137] Before work could begin, sectional excavations by archaeologists took place to document the wagon road era settlements of the "Town of Yankee Doodle at Lake Jennie," located at present day Yankee Doodle Lake.[2]:20

Wildfires[edit]

In the summers, wildfire danger increases due to various environmental factors: low moisture, lightning strikes, high winds, and human-caused factors. As the pass is a recreational area, wildfires can also be caused by unmanaged, unattended, and/or uncontrolled campfires.

Fire restrictions[edit]

At present, the entirety of Rollins Pass is covered by Stage 1 Fire Restrictions:

  • As of Tuesday, July 24, 2018, the west side of Rollins Pass, located in Grand County, is under Stage 1 Fire Restrictions[138][139]
  • As of Wednesday, July 25, 2018, the east side of Rollins Pass, located in both Boulder and Gilpin counties, is under Stage 1 Fire Restrictions[140][141][142][139][143]

Nature caused[edit]

  • On Saturday, August 3, 1996, a lightning strike caused one of the eastern-most wooden trestles near the summit to catch fire; the blaze was extinguished by fire crews before the trestle’s integrity could be compromised.[144][145] The wooden trestle was likely saved by the use of coal-tar creosote applied to treat and preserve the wood, as part of the Bethell process.[2]:83

Human or equipment caused[edit]

  • On September 27, 1915, Mart Wolf, owner of the Elk Creek Saloon, set fire to his establishment in the town of Arrow on the west side of Rollins Pass in the hopes of collecting $1,000 of insurance money. Due to high winds, the fire quickly spread and Arrow was all but snuffed out of existence.[2]:54–55[146][147][148]
  • On Wednesday, October 30, 1918, a fire fanned by 40-mile-per-hour winds claimed several snowsheds and buildings at Corona, including the destruction of the Weather Bureau's observation station.[2]:38[149][150]
  • In 1923, a train caused a wildfire on the east side of Rollins Pass on Giant's Ladder.[2]:80
  • On Thursday, October 15, 1925, passenger train No. 2, including caboose, was completely destroyed by a fire in the Corona snowshed; the fire consumed about 400–500 feet of snowshed.[96][97]
  • On Wednesday, January 26, 1927, the town of Rollinsville was nearly destroyed by a fire believed to have been started by a spark from a locomotive. Five buildings were destroyed and 20 guests in the Rollinsville hotel lost their personal belongings when the hotel burned to the ground.[151]
  • On Wednesday, August 4, 2010, a plane crash on the east side of the pass caused a small wildfire.[152]

Climate[edit]

Summer thunderstorms form very quickly; above timberline, exposure to electrical storms can be dangerous or deadly. This weather system was photographed on Sunday, July 8, 2018 on the west side of the Rollins Pass road, roughly halfway between the trailhead for Pumphouse Lake and the summit.
Summer thunderstorms form very quickly; above timberline, exposure to electrical storms can be dangerous or deadly. This weather system was photographed on Sunday, July 8, 2018 on the west side of the Rollins Pass road, roughly halfway between the trailhead for Pumphouse Lake and the summit.
A small, solar-powered weather station is surrounded by native growth on the west side of Rollins Pass, located above Ptarmigan Point.
A small, solar-powered weather station is surrounded by native growth on the west side of Rollins Pass, located above Ptarmigan Point.

Seasons[edit]

Winter[edit]

Arctic conditions are prevalent during the winter, with sudden blizzards, high winds, and deep snowpack. High country overnight trips require gear suitable for −35° Fahrenheit or below. The subalpine region does not begin to experience spring-like conditions until June. Wildflowers bloom from late June to early August.[153]

Summer[edit]

Due to high-elevation above timberline in a backcountry setting, there is neither lightning protection nor lightning mitigation from sudden thunderstorms resulting in a high-risk, extremely dangerous situation for visitors.[154] The most suitable—but not best—refuge available from electrical storms would be in a metal-topped vehicle as it would serve as a mobile Faraday cage.[155]

Weather equipment and historical records[edit]

Historical[edit]

During the railroad era, a United States Weather Bureau observation station was mounted atop the large water tank at the townsite of Corona. Records show "the prevailing wind direction was west, the lowest temperature recorded was −30° Fahrenheit (in February 1910), and the most monthly snowfall was in March 1912 with 72.5 inches of snow."[2]:45

Present day[edit]

A small, solar-powered weather station exists on the west side of Rollins Pass, located above Ptarmigan Point.

Atmospheric pressure[edit]

While temperature, humidity, and other factors influence atmospheric pressure, the atmospheric pressure on the summit measures roughly 457 Torr (mmHg); while a standard atmospheric pressure measured at sea level is 760 Torr. At this pressure, many people, especially out-of-town visitors, can suffer from rapid dehydration and altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness.[156] Acute mountain sickness can progress to high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE), both of which are potentially fatal.

Avalanches[edit]

Human-triggered and natural avalanches are possible anywhere on the pass and there have been three notable avalanches—all at Yankee Doodle Lake—on Rollins Pass:

Railroad era[edit]

  • On Tuesday, January 27, 1914, sliding snow from Tunnel #32 "completely covered the track for a long distance" caused a multi-day blockage at or near Yankee Doodle Lake.[157]
  • On Monday, December 10, 1917, an avalanche near Yankee Doodle Lake swept a rotary and assisting engine 150 feet off of the tracks. The engineer of the assisting engine was "scalded about the head so badly that the bones of the face were exposed and he is not expected to live." Other railroad workers died and several were injured.[82]

Post-railroad era[edit]

Backcountry skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers are advised to check daily avalanche forecasts, practice diligent terrain management, and always carry and know how to use rescue gear, including Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs).[158]

On Wednesday, November 28, 2001, two highly-experienced backcountry skiers triggered a sizable hard-slab avalanche. From the accident report, "The avalanche released from a southeast-facing slope and fell 600 vertical feet and stopped by crashing through the 10-inch thick ice of Yankee Doodle Lake. The displaced water resulted in a surge 10-12 feet tall along the south shore." The avalanche pushed both men into the lake and one survivor was sent 190 feet into the center of the lake. The survivor, suffering from hypothermia and frostbite, hiked to five miles to the Eldora Mountain Resort where he sought help.[159] The search involved ground crews, air crews, avalanche rescue dogs, and trained dive-rescuers with specialized rubber suits. The body of the second skier was found 91 feet offshore. Both skiers were well-equipped, including having avalanche transceivers.[160][161] Following the accident, each year in December, the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group holds a Joe Despres Memorial Dry Land Transceiver Training to include practices for using transceivers, along with avalanche courses and backcountry seminars.[162][163][164][165]

Access[edit]

General information and seasonal recreation[edit]

A vehicle has not followed the published Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) and has parked inside of the Indian Peaks Wilderness area, where motorized vehicles are prohibited. Fines can be as much as $5,000.[166]
A vehicle has not followed the published Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) and has parked inside of the Indian Peaks Wilderness area, where motorized vehicles are prohibited. Fines can be as much as $5,000.[166]

Rollins Pass is managed by the United States Forest Service as a recreational location and can be accessed from roads on both west and east sides. The entire road is unpaved (dirt and rock), has no guardrails, and has a speed limit of 20 MPH.[167] Current-year Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) should be reviewed to determine which trails and roads are open to vehicles. Violators are subject to fines up to $5,000—"regardless of the presence or absence of signs" and operating a vehicle in wilderness areas is prohibited.[168][169][170][166][171]

There are no facilities, shops, restrooms, water fountains, trash receptacles, nor shelters located on either side of the pass.[172] The only exception is the Ärestua Hut, located on the northern side of Guinn Mountain at 11,000 feet on the east side of Rollins Pass. The small hut was constructed 48 years ago and is open year-round.[173][174] A series of hand-constructed stone windbreaks exist above timberline north of Needle's Eye Tunnel—these structures date to the railroad era on Rollins Pass; however, they currently lack roofs and serve only as aerodynamic dampeners for wind and wind gusts.[175]

Winter[edit]

Both sides of the pass can be traveled by snowmobile when at least six inches of snow cover the road in the winter—generally beginning in late November or early December and lasting through early April.[176]

Spring[edit]

Both sides of the pass are closed in spring—including several weeks in June—to any form of motorized traffic: snowmobiles, automobiles, ATVs, or motorcycles for the prevention of road damage.[172]

Summer[edit]

Both sides of the pass can be traveled—in good weather—by motorized vehicles in the summer. Rollins Pass is scheduled open for vehicular summer traffic from June 15 through November 15; however, it is generally not possible given typical snowfall accumulations and slower melt rates in southerly-shaded areas, to drive higher than Sunnyside or Ptarmigan Point on the western side, or Yankee Doodle Lake on the eastern side before early-to-mid July.[177][178] The first high-country snowstorms bring fierce winds and create impassible snow drifts that are not plowed; this effectively puts higher landmarks—including the summit—out of reach as soon as late September or early October. On average, the near-annual existence of snow at or above timberline, ensures the road is only passable less than 90 days per year.[2]:10

Summer usage of the pass is currently classified as 'heavy' by the United States Forest Service; as such, parking can be very limited at designated parking sites.[177] While the route mostly has gentle grades with switchbacks between two and four percent and does not contain loose gravel, four-wheel drive higher-clearance vehicles fare better than two-wheel drive vehicles, particularly in certain technical sections: some areas on the east side have up to a 17.63% grade; the west side has some areas with a 15% grade.[179][180] In narrow sections, the vehicle heading downhill must yield to the vehicle traveling uphill.[181]

From the north or south (along the Continental Divide Trail)[edit]

The Continental Divide Trail crosses the summit of Rollins Pass from south to north; the trail bisects the former wye at Corona and takes hikers through the Indian Peaks Wilderness past the dining hall foundation at the summit.

Typical condition of the road on Rollins Pass. This photograph was taken facing southwest on the road near the Riflesight Notch trestle on the west side of Rollins Pass.
Typical condition of the road on Rollins Pass. This photograph was taken facing southwest on the road near the Riflesight Notch trestle on the west side of Rollins Pass.

From the east (near Rollinsville & Tolland)[edit]

The road up the pass on the eastern side from the Peak to Peak Highway (State Highway 119) begins at the East Portal road running west, parallel to South Boulder Creek and the current Union Pacific Railroad tracks, to the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel, and then rises on the abandoned railroad grade from Giant's Ladder to the closed Needle's Eye Tunnel. From Rollinsville to East Portal, the road is an all-weather gravel road, with some chattery washboard sections, that can be traveled by regular automobiles. However, beginning at East Portal, at the formal start of Rollins Pass road (Forest Service Road 117), the road prism becomes very rough and has a level 2 road maintenance status described as "assigned to roads open for use by high-clearance vehicles" that includes the following attributes: "surface smoothness is not a consideration" and is "not suitable for passenger cars."[182][183][184][171] This former railroad bed is open for 11.7 miles; two miles past Jenny Lake, there is a concrete-filled steel road gate with large rocks and berms approximately one half-mile before Needle's Eye Tunnel.[185][52] A rough trail continues around either side of the tunnel for nonmotorized transportation; the road is open for hiking and mountain biking beyond the barricaded portal of the tunnel toward the summit.

From the west (near Winter Park)[edit]

The road up the pass (County Road 80) on the western side from Winter Park starts from U.S. Highway 40 in Winter Park and has a level 2 road maintenance status described as "assigned to roads open for use by high-clearance vehicles" that includes the following attributes: "surface smoothness is not a consideration" and is "not suitable for passenger cars."[182][183] The road is open for 14.4 miles and terminates at the parking area at the summit.[170] Exactly 0.15 miles before reaching the summit, capable vehicles can turn right onto County Road 80 and continue via Forest Service Road 501—this rough road rises above and bypasses the summit for another 1.8 miles before dead-ending overhead Yankee Doodle Lake at Guinn Mountain.[52]

Guided Tours[edit]

Guided winter snowmobile tours follow much of the summer road from Arrow and terminate shortly after Sunnyside (located further uphill and past the Riflesight Notch trestle). Winter tours "top out at nearly 12,000 feet"[186] but do not go higher than Ptarmigan Point and do not reach the summit at 11,676.79 feet.

Guided summer off-road tours are also conducted on the west side of Rollins Pass; however, all tours are conducted on-road using off-road capable vehicles.[187]

Incidents and accidents[edit]

Due to hairpin turns, steep terrain, and inclement weather, there have been several incidents[188] and accidents, some fatal on or near the Rollins Pass road:

Non-motorized[edit]

  • On Wednesday, July 18, 2012, a woman was injured after losing her footing and sliding 200 feet down a snowfield where she crashed into rocks at the bottom of the slope. The injured woman was taken via a Flight for Life helicopter to Denver.[189]
  • On Sunday, February 4, 2018, a backcountry skier fell, sustained multiple injuries—including broken bones, and became unconscious. His friend was able to phone for emergency services but a helicopter could not land due to 70 MPH winds and blowing snow. Rescuers could not arrive until 10 hours later.[190][191][192][193]
  • On Saturday, August 4, 2018, a backcountry skier fell approximately 300 feet down Skyscraper Glacier on Rollins Pass, impacted rocks, and became unconscious. Search and rescue services were mobilized and the 23-year-old skier was able to hike back to the summit.[194]

Motorized[edit]

  • On Saturday, October 8, 2011, a car crashed into the South Boulder Creek off of Rollins Pass road, the driver was pronounced dead at the scene and the passenger was taken to the hospital.[195]
  • On Monday, February 18, 2013, a snowmobiler on the west side of Rollins Pass, lost control of his machine on a groomed trail and struck a tree where he was pronounced dead by search and rescue services.[196]
  • On Sunday, August 16, 2015, two girls on ATVs, ages 11 and 12, went over a 150-foot cliff on Rollins Pass road; requiring the services of both an ambulance and a medical evacuation by helicopter.[197][198]
  • On Saturday, May 5, 2018, search and rescue services were called for an ATV rollover accident on the east side of Rollins Pass.[199]
  • There are several motor vehicles that have wrecked on Rollins Pass; yet these instances appear to have been done deliberately as no news articles seem to be associated with these wrecks. Four wrecks are still visible on the east side of Rollins Pass—one car and one snowmobile on the first leg of Giant's Ladder near the start of the Rollins Pass road; one car near Guinn Mountain closer to the summit; and one ATV directly off the summit, downslope from the old pergola, on the eastern side of the Continental Divide. On the west side of the pass, a wrecked snowmobile can still be found at the southern slopes of Mount Epworth near the shores of Deadman's Lake.[200]

Route and closures[edit]

The complete pass is open and accessible for snowshoeing, fatbiking, backcountry skiing, and cross-country skiing in the winter and to hikers, bicyclists, and horseback riders in the summer.[201][202][172][203][204][205][161][159][164]

2018 photograph of Needle's Eye Tunnel, near the summit of Rollins Pass. Wire mesh and metal dowels were installed throughout the years to help reduce additional rock falls and preserve the condition of the tunnel constructed in 1903 (115 years ago) (1903).
2018 photograph of Needle's Eye Tunnel, near the summit of Rollins Pass. Wire mesh and metal dowels were installed throughout the years to help reduce additional rock falls and preserve the condition of the tunnel constructed in 1903 (115 years ago) (1903).

For visitors in motor vehicles wishing to access and retrace the old railroad line, the majority of the route or right-of-way over the pass is open and intact with several exceptions.[206] Some of the railroad trestles have deteriorated (at Riflesight Notch), have been destroyed (trestle #72.83 on the west side, by the FAA [then the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA)] in 1953),[2]:83 or have been dismantled (trestles #51.00 and #54.48 on the east side). Per the current Motor Vehicle Use Maps, all extant trestles on the pass are closed to any form of motorized traffic, including motorcycles. Two railroad tunnels on Rollins Pass are completely caved-in: Tunnel #31 (Sphinx Head Rock) and Tunnel #33 (the Loop Tunnel at Riflesight Notch).[207][52] Closures also include sections leading to Tunnel #32, Needle's Eye Tunnel—a 170-foot-long[2]:120 high-altitude railroad tunnel used through 1928. The tunnel was open to automobiles from 1956-1979 for seasonal and inessential purposes. In 1979, the tunnel was closed due to rock falls; following a geologic engineering study in 1981, a Mine Safety and Health Administration study in 1985, engineering design work in 1986, and repair work in August 1987,[208] the tunnel was re-opened in 1989.[2]:10[209] The following year, in July 1990, several thousand pounds of rock fell from the crown of the tunnel, injuring a United States Navy veteran and Denver firefighter resulting in a below-knee amputation.[210][2]:10[211][212] Since then, the tunnel was sealed by Boulder County along with the United States Forest Service and rockfalls continue to occur at both the crown and shoulder of the tunnel.[2]:120[213] In November 1990, the post-accident engineering report cited restoration errors and faulty work: design specifications were not consistently followed, rock bolts were incorrectly spaced, and gravity and seasonal temperature variations were also listed as factors in the accident.[214]

In 2002, the James Peak Wilderness and Protection Area Act (Public Law 107-216) was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. The act amended the Colorado Wilderness Act of 1993 and designated lands within both the Arapaho National Forest and the Roosevelt National Forest as the James Peak Wilderness area and added lands to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, establishing these lands as federally protected territory. The act contained an administrative provision, "If requested by one or more of the Colorado Counties of Grand, Gilpin, and Boulder, the Secretary shall provide technical assistance and otherwise cooperate with respect to repairing the Rollins Pass road in those counties sufficiently to allow two-wheel-drive vehicles to travel between Colorado State Highway 119 and U.S. Highway 40. If this road is repaired to such extent, the Secretary shall close the motorized roads and trails on Forest Service land indicated on the map entitled ‘Rollins Pass Road Reopening: Attendant Road and Trail Closures’, dated September 2001.”[215] To date, no repairs have been made: Gilpin and Grand counties have requested to open the road; however, the difficulties and expenses of making improvements to the road, including coordination of maintenance and re-introduced liabilities—coupled with intractable disputes surrounding the 1990 accident in the tunnel, have become contentious and ongoing issues.[216][184][217]

Aviation[edit]

An aerial view of the emergency backcountry helicopter landing zone located at the summit of Rollins Pass; the white prong of the landing zone, furthest from the camera, points north. The comparatively low saddle of Rollins Pass is visible in this image as the summit itself (in the foreground and midground) is plainly lower in elevation than the surrounding mountains. The wood debris consists of both remnants from snowsheds that covered the tracks as well as discarded railroad ties that were removed from service in the summer of 1936.
An aerial view of the emergency backcountry helicopter landing zone located at the summit of Rollins Pass; the white prong of the landing zone, furthest from the camera, points north. The comparatively low saddle of Rollins Pass is visible in this image as the summit itself (in the foreground and midground) is plainly lower in elevation than the surrounding mountains. The wood debris consists of both remnants from snowsheds that covered the tracks as well as discarded railroad ties that were removed from service in the summer of 1936.

Airway Victor Eight[edit]

Rollins Pass is traversed by a low altitude enroute airway radial, Victor Eight, the width of the airway is 4 nautical miles on either side of the centerline which skirts the summit of the pass.[218][3][107] Pilots have recommended to avoid the area in bad weather due to extreme downdrafts, mountain waves, and turbulence on the east side of the pass.[219][220]

Emergency landing zone[edit]

A non-illuminated summer emergency backcountry helicopter landing zone exists at the summit, placed sometime between September 1999 and October 2005.[221]

Rotating airway light beacon (Beacon 82)[edit]

A rotating airway light beacon (Beacon 82 on aeronautical charts), was placed very near the summit of Rollins Pass atop what was then later termed Beacon Peak, in the mid-to-late 1940s at an approximate elevation of 12,080 feet.[222][223] The glass-domed lighted beacon rotated six times per minute, marking the airway between Los Angeles and Denver, and it held a two-million candlepower electric lamp with a 24-inch parabolic reflector.[224] The beacon was removed in the late-1960s and is currently in storage (not on display) at the Pioneer Village Museum in Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado; however an 11 foot by 9 foot concrete foundation remains at the top of the peak along with the leg stubs used for the beacon's lattice tower.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

There have been many documented airplane and helicopter crashes on and near Rollins Pass:

  • On Sunday, August 21, 1949, two people were killed instantly when their plane crashed on Rollins Pass.[225]
  • On Wednesday, January 6, 1954, a single engine airplane—a Beechcraft C35—with a tail number of N792D, crashed on a shoulder of Guinn Mountain near Yankee Doodle Lake on the east side of Rollins Pass.[226]
  • On Saturday, March 3, 1962, a Beechcraft 35 with a tail number of N430B, crashed near Rollins Pass close to Jenny Creek.[227]
  • On Tuesday, March 6, 1962, a Bell UH-1 Iroquois military helicopter with a tail number of AF91635, crashed near Rollins Pass close to Jenny Creek.[227]
  • On Friday, January 24, 1964, a single engine airplane, with a tail number of N4351N, crashed in turbulent, cloudy, and stormy conditions near the Riflesight Notch Loop on Rollins Pass. One pilot and three passengers of the Cessna 195 were killed on impact and recovery did not occur until August 20 that year.[228]
  • On Monday, July 11, 1966, a nonscheduled operation of an Alamo Airways De Havilland 104-6A, with a tail number of N1563V, impacted a mountainside in turbulent, cloudy, and stormy conditions on Rollins Pass. The crash of this dual engine plane occurred upslope of Deadman's Lake, opposite Mount Epworth at the crest of the Continental Divide.[229] Two crew and one passenger were killed.[230]
  • On Saturday, January 3, 1970, a Cessna 172 with a tail number of N7104A, crashed into an alpine lake at "11,700 [sic] feet" near Rollins Pass, killing both aboard.[231][227]
  • On Tuesday, December 14, 1971, a single engine AT6 trainer crashed near Rollins Pass, killing the pilot.[232][233][234][235]
  • On Wednesday, December 30, 1998, a single engine airplane—a Piper PA-28 Cherokee—made an unplanned forced landing on the east side of Rollins Pass in the midst of extreme wind and low visibility conditions. A cross-country skier was able to phone for a rescue, conducted by snowmobile, of the two passengers and one pilot who were injured; yet all three survived and were released from the hospital that evening.[205][236][237][238][239]
  • On Sunday, July 30, 2006, a single engine airplane, with a tail number of N5232X, crashed in clear conditions on Rollins Pass, approximately equidistant from Bob, Betty, and King Lakes.[240] The two occupants of the 1969 American Champion 7KCAB were killed on impact.[241]
  • On Wednesday, August 4, 2010, a single engine airplane, with a tail number of N8974A, crashed in clear conditions on Rollins Pass, near Jenny Creek, southeast of Yankee Doodle Lake. All three occupants of the 1951 Beechcraft C35 airplane were killed on impact.[152][242]

In popular culture[edit]

Film, music, and books[edit]

  • Country music artist, Tracy Byrd, recorded a music video for the 1996 single, Big Love, which featured sights on the west side of Rollins Pass, including: Ptarmigan Point, Mount Epworth, Deadman’s Lake, Riflesight Notch trestle, and more. The album cover pictures the artist himself in front of a scenic backdrop that can be seen at the summit of Rollins Pass, looking northeast; the back of the album features the artist holding his guitar while seated on a rock outcropping near the railroad-era dining hall foundation at the summit.[243]
  • The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1925 silent film, The White Desert, starring Claire Windsor as Robinette McFarlane and Pat O'Malley as Barry Houston was filmed on Rollins Pass in the winter of 1922 and released to the public on Monday, May 4, 1925. The film features moving pictures of long trains ascending Riflesight Notch trestle and of rotary snowplows in action between Ptarmigan Point and the summit. The railroad imagery is displayed only at both the beginning and the end of the movie with dramatic scenes (mostly indoor or pseudo-outdoor) and both dialogue intertitles and expository intertitles filling most of the film's runtime. The film is considered to be both rare and to have historical significance due to the footage of trains operating on Rollins Pass.[244]††
  • The 1928 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer silent drama film, The Trail of '98, was filmed in part on Rollins Pass as well as inside the Moffat Tunnel using specialized lighting. The film was directed by Clarence Brown and starred Harry Carey as Jack Locasto.[245][246][247][248][249][250][251][252][253][254][255][256]
  • In the late 1920s, movie producers scouted Rollins Pass as a possible location for a third film.[257]
  • On Saturday, November 3, 2012, Colorado State University archaeology professor Dr. Jason M. LaBelle and colleague Dr. Pete Seel debuted their documentary film, Stone and Steel at the Top of the World which describes the ancient hunters of the Colorado high country as well as the Moffat Road railway. As part of a Rollins Pass Mini-Film Fest event held at Colorado State University, the documentary was shown prior to a rare screening of The White Desert in Fort Collins, Colorado. This occasion marked the first time Reginald Barker's silent film had been shown since 1978.[258]
  • On Saturday, May 12, 2018, Colorado State University archaeology professor Dr. Jason M. LaBelle along with the authors of multiple archaeological and research-based publications[259] on Rollins Pass, B. Travis Wright MPS and Kate Wright MBA, held a book launch event and presentation for Rollins Pass titled, Rollins Pass: Through the Lens of Time that included an encore screening of Dr. LaBelle's documentary film, Stone and Steel at the Top of the World as well as a rare screening of The White Desert at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Littleton, Colorado.[260] At the event, as a central part of the authors' founding movement preserverollinspass.org, the authors discussed their efforts to build a GPS database of prehistoric and historic artifacts that will be made available for the benefit of archaeologists and land managers. They also revealed The John Trezise Archive for Rollins Pass Imagery—the "world's largest collection of Rollins Pass imagery for non-commercial use that is crowd-sourced, completely searchable and available to the public, and secured from loss."[261][262]
  • The 2018 Peak to Peak Chorale's spring musical told "the tale of a train trapped for days by a spring blizzard atop Rollins Pass in the 1900s." The singers, musicians, and actors portrayed the passengers and crew that departed from The Stage Stop (in Rollinsville, Colorado) and became stranded when a huge rotary snowplow stopped working.[259]

Places and landmarks[edit]

Recreation[edit]

  • For the past 52 years—since July 1966, the Epworth Cup has been one of the nation's longest-running downhill skiing races held annually in early-to-mid July on Mount Epworth.[112][267][268]
  • On Thursday, May 10, 2018, it was announced that the Indian Peaks Traverse, a 60+ mile single-track trail open only to "hikers, bi[cyclists], horseback riders and any other form of non-motorized transport" will traverse a portion of Rollins Pass and is slated for a soft-opening in 2022.[269][270]

Science and archaeology[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

†.^ No passenger lives were lost during the years Rollins Pass served as a railroad; the Passenger deaths column reflects this fact with a value of N/A for each row.[2]:68
††.^ Otto Perry's Moffat Route DVD, released on July 13, 2006, contains select rotary footage from The White Desert.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Rollins Pass". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 25 April 2018. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq Wright, B. Travis; Wright, Kate (2018). Rollins Pass. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-1467127714. 
  3. ^ a b c "SkyVector: Flight Planning / Aeronautical Charts". skyvector.com. 
  4. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  5. ^ a b "BEFORE THE PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION OF THE STATE OF COLORADO * * * * * - PDF". docplayer.net. 
  6. ^ a b "Evaluation" (PDF). www.phmsa.dot.gov. 
  7. ^ a b "NPMS Public Viewer". pvnpms.phmsa.dot.gov. 
  8. ^ a b National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f LaBelle, Jason M. & Pelton, Spencer R. "Communal hunting along the Continental Divide of Northern Colorado: Results from the Olson game drive (5BL147)", 2013
  10. ^ [2][dead link]
  11. ^ "GNIS Detail - Rollins Pass". geonames.usgs.gov. 
  12. ^ "Quillen: Name that pass". April 15, 2010. 
  13. ^ Griswold, P.R. "The Moffat Road"
  14. ^ a b c d Bollinger, Rev. Edward T., "Rails that climb"
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Further reading[edit]

  • Black III, Robert C. (1969). Island in the Rockies. Grand County Pioneer Society. ASIN B000HJMIRM.
  • Bollinger, Rev. Edward T. (1979). Rails That Climb. Boulder, Colorado: Johnson Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0918654298.
  • Bollinger, Rev. Edward T. & Bauer, Frederick. (1981). The Moffat Road. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0804002073.
  • Bowles, Samuel. (1869). The Switzerland of America: A Summer Vacation in the Parks and Mountains of Colorado. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0806126258.
  • Boner, Harold A. (1962). The Giant's Ladder. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Kalmbach. ASIN B0007EB0H6.
  • Church, Minette C. et al. (2007). Colorado History: A Context for Historical Archaeology. Denver, Colorado: Colorado Council of Professional Archaeologists. ISBN 978-0974313719.
  • Crossen, Forest. (1976). Western Yesterdays: David Moffat’s Hill Men. Fort Collins, Colorado: Robinson Press, Inc. ASIN B000HJIBSW.
  • Griswold, P.R. "Bob." (1995). David Moffat's Denver, Northwestern and Pacific. Denver, Colorado: Rocky Mountain Railroad Club. ISBN 978-0962070723.
  • Griswold, P.R. "Bob." (2010). The Moffat Road 2-26-28. Aurora, Colorado: Double R Publishing.
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  • LaBelle, Jason M. & Pelton, Spencer R. (2013). Communal hunting along the Continental Divide of Northern Colorado: Results from the Olson game drive (5BL147). Quaternary International: Volume 297, May 29, 2013, Pages 45–63.
  • Miller, Wick R. (1986). Numic Languages in Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 11: Great Basin. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 978-0160045813.
  • Sells, John A. (2011). The Moffat Line: David Moffat's Railroad Over And Under The Continental Divide. Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse Publishing. ISBN 978-1462026548.
  • Sundquist, Elizabeth Josephson. (1994). Dismantling the Rails that Climbed. Denver, Colorado: Egan Printing Company.
  • Wright, B. Travis & Wright, Kate. Foreword by Jason M. LaBelle, PhD. (2018). Rollins Pass. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-1467127714.
  • Wright, B. Travis & Wright, Kate. Foreword by Jason M. LaBelle, PhD. (2018). Rollins Pass. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-1540233325.
  • Wright, B. Travis & Wright, Kate. (2018). Rollins Pass. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-1467129053.

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