Friday, September 8, 1999...

Greetings from Limon, Colorado, an hour east of Denver in the middle of nowhere. Today I crossed the Rockies via U.S. 40, the scenic route.

40 splits from I-80 at Park City, Utah, home of ski resorts and a film festival. I-80 (and the Lincoln Highway) turn northeast here to pass through Wyoming; U.S. 40 veers southeast to course through several hundred miles of ranchland.

Motel Dine-A-Ville sign, Vernal, UTVernal, the largest town in northeastern Utah, is noteworthy for three reasons: as the gateway to Dinosaur National Monument, a few miles away; as the home of the Motel Dine-a-Ville, whose entrance marker -- a pink dinosaur holding up a sign with the motel name -- survives even though the motel behind it has been demolished; and as the site of the only bank building in America mailed to its location.

Early in the century, shrewd Vernal natives noted that the cost of mailing bricks to town was less than half the cost of having them shipped across the mountains. Enlisting friends in Salt Lake City and environs, they flooded Utah's mailboxes with bricks. After this experience the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service imited the aggregate weight of packages sent to any one address. The two-story bank building still stands at the corner of Main Street, none the worse for its shipment through the mail.

Both Vernal and the neighboring town of Dinosaur, Colorado make the most of their proximity to the quarry designated as Dinosaur National Monument. The Colorado town even names its streets after the reptiles; US 40 is Brontosaurus Boulevard. The national monument features a quarry from which thousands of bones have been recovered.

As 40 continues across northwestern Colorado, the road is so empty that it's hard to believe this was once a major east-west route. I was often the only car for several miles in either direction. One isolated propertyowner named his land "Titty Peak Ranch," suggesting a man who desperately needs to get out more.

As it approaches the west side of the Rockies, 40 enters ski country at Steamboat Springs, whose Sputnik-topped sign for "Space Station Gas" brings a little bit of 1963 into the late Nineties. The road crosses 9,426'Rabbit Ears Pass (named for a rock formation visible from near the summit), then Berthoud Pass, more than two miles above sea level, before descending the eastern slope of the Rockies.

Despite what the natives would have you believe, Denver is not in the Rockies. It's on a flat plain about 10 miles east of the Front Range. En route to Denver, 40 passes through the mining town of Idaho Springs, where the old Argo Gold Mine offers tours which include the opportunity to pan for gold. Then comes Golden, home to Coors Beer and Buffalo Bill Cody's earthly remains. When Cody was buried atop Lookout Mountain, the view in all directions must have been magnificent; now the mountain is covered by radio and TV transmitters and smog often limits the view to a couple of miles.

40 joins I-70 near Idaho Springs, then splits off again to traverse Denver on Colfax Avenue, Denver's main east-west street for more than a century. Colorado's capitol building is one of six state capitols along one routing or another of US 40: the others are in Columbus, OH; Indianapolis, IN; Topeka, KS; Salt Lake City, UT and Sacramento, CA. 40 also passes in front of Illinois' former capitol building in Vandalia. As usual at this point of a road trip, I find myself wishing I just had half a day more. I've got to get from here to Cincinnati by 3:30 Saturday afternoon, losing two hours to time changes along the way. Won't be much time for sightseeing in Kansas tomorrow -- fortunately, however, Kansas obliges by offering very little worth seeing. To my surprise, had trouble finding a room tonight in Limon, Colorado. Though the road into town was deserted. the town's filling up for "James Dean Days," featuring antique cars and motorcycles. Not sure why Limon honors Dean, who was a native of Indiana, but I guess it's better than trying to lure tourists with an event named after some local nobody...

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