Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Old Postcard Wednesday--Highest Point on the Sky Line Drive, Canon City, Colorado

[hawg-bak, hog-]
noun Geology
a long, sharply crested ridge, generally formed of steeply inclined strata that are especially resistant to erosion.
Origin: 1655–65

The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad produced this old postcard along with many others actually featuring scenes with trains traveling through vast, scenic lands of the American west. Skyline Drive, built by prisoners* (see info preceding final video) atop a hogback in the area where the rail route passed, must have been such an exciting side trip by auto that the railroad company sought to use it as a selling point to lure tourists. [History of the Royal Gorge Route Railroad is detailed here.] 

It should be no surprise to any of us that what was once a marvel to conquer and behold remained exactly that for the generations that followed. Problem is there has been a population explosion and recreation for members of that population has differing meanings and has been enjoyed in forms not dreamed of by the folks in the old auto pictured in this postcard. Which leads us to occurrences in the present day for the Skyline Hogbacks area.

The image and text below it are from Skyline Hogbacks Preservation Campaign's website:

This is a skyline view of the Skyline Hogbacks as they look after being literally torn up by ATV's. Vegetation has been replaced by tire tracks, leaving the loose sediment an easy target for frequent and strong Colorado wind erosion as well as stormwater issues.

If you click on this section of the Preservation Campaign's website you can view before (1997) and
after (2008) photos of Skyline Hogbacks that show many new trails created and deepened by off-road enthusiasts. This video is an example of the kind of activity on the Hogbacks that the Skyline Hogbacks Preservation Campaign sought to ban in order to save the fragile landscape (note: the road is not Skyline Drive, which is paved, but one of the many trails carved into the Hogbacks):

On Aug. 1, 2008, the city council of Canon City closed the 563-acre Hogbacks area to all uses pending a vote in November of that year. Below is a portion of an article published on Nov. 5, 2008 in The Daily Record reporting on what transpired:
Cañon City voters resoundingly said "yes" to the Hogbacks issue on Tuesday, allowing the city to move forward with a master plan designed to create open space in the area just east of Skyline Drive. Referendum 2A sailed through with a 57 to 43 percent vote (3,960-3026) by city residents. The ballot issue was the result of months of work by the ad hoc Hogbacks Committee, which was organized in January by City Council.

Mayor Frank Jaquez was delighted by the results and showered issue supporters with praise for its approval.

"You guys won it," Jaquez told several members of the Skyline Hogbacks Preservation Campaign, a group of citizens that banded together in an effort to protect the area's unique qualities. "The city could not have done it without all the work you did. You were the ones out there pounding the streets, giving the presentations."
Monica McGowan, campaign chair, said she was elated with the voters' decision.

"I am so proud of the teamwork of the community, pulling together like this," McGowan said. "People had confidence in what we were trying to accomplish. It could not have been done without so many people with expertise coming together." . . .

. . .Issue 2A was hard fought throughout the community, because it restricts motorized uses in the Hogbacks area, which now will be opened to walking, hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, bird watching and more. Motorcycle enthusiasts were concerned their sport was being taken away.

The city countered that there simply was not enough space in the Hogbacks to accommodate all historical uses. The city controls only 339 acres of the 563 combined acres, and that land is broken up into three major parcels by privately-owned acreage.

The committee's primary reasons for recommending discontinuing motorized use were liability issues and a poor revenue stream for the project. Funding for future open space improvements will come from grants and other revenue sources.

Understanding motorcycle enthusiasts' disappointment with the decision, council has said it will continue to seek opportunities for motorized sports, while acknowledging it is unlikely any appropriate area exists within the city limits for such activity.

If Issue 2A had failed, the Hogbacks would have remained closed to all uses indefinitely.
McGowan said the open space label will allow the Hogbacks to be utilized by schoolchildren, colleges, community members, tourism, the Chamber of Commerce and many others.

"Now, it will be what it should have been historically," McGowan said. "I am so proud of our council. They took every part of the governmental structure, and they did everything exactly the right way."

Good news! The website describes improvement and re-vegetation in the area one year after the vote to put in place a Master Plan for the Hogbacks area, and discusses the future of the Master Plan for the area. It is interesting and encouraging follow-up reading here.

Photo: source

Through it all, Skyline Drive looked out at all of these years of activity and change, and oh, the stories it could probably tell if only a road could talk! Here is a good description of Skyline Drive from a marvelous website by a woman geologist who lives in Colorado. Visit her at The description below is from a page titled Skyline Drive Scenic Photo Tour, in which she includes photos of the Skyline Dinosaur Tracks and includes a link to more information about Skyline Fossils.

SKYLINE DRIVE - A few miles west of Cañon City, Colorado, is the entrance to Skyline Drive, off Highway 50. It is a one-way, paved road that runs about 3 miles along an extremely narrow 800 foot high ridge and winds along following the crest of the Dakota hogback. In many locations the ridge is only as wide as the road, with sheer drops on both sides. Skyline Drive is open year round (weather permitting) but one must drive slowly and carefully!

Sometimes the road seems to disappear and drop off to nowhere, alluding to a sensation I can only describe as both scary and awesome.

"The Arkansas River has excavated much of the Tertiary piedmont deposits and cut deeply into the older Cretaceous marine rocks between Cañon City and the Kansas border. The upturned layers along the mountain front, marked by hogback ridges and intervening valleys, continue nearly uninterrupted around the south end of the Front Range into the embayment in the mountains at Cañon City".1

1 The GEOLOGIC STORY of The GREAT PLAINS By DONALD E. TRIMBLE, GEOLOGICAL SURVEY BULLETIN 1493 United States Government Printing Office, Washington : 1980.

To end, let's take a fast timelapse drive up and over Skyline Drive, courtesy of Take My Trip. At that link, you will find a really fun trip journal of the drive, with yet more pictures. It was at this site that I learned about Skyline Road having been built by prisoners. The quote is below, followed by the Skyline Drive drivelapse:
*There's absolutely no logical reason for anyone to have built this road.  It's utterly unnecessary, except to provide a thrilling drive and an incredible view of US 50 (and later, the rest of Cañon City).  The only reason it was built, was because of the plentiful source of very cheap labor in Cañon City.  You see, Cañon City has had a rather large population of bad guys and gals for well over a century -- most of them living in prison cells. Currently, Cañon City is home to 9 state prisons, and 4 federal lock-ups.  Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, those prisoners went to work, chiseling a 3-mile road out of the rock.



mythopolis said...

This was fascinating history. And I was reminded of Pikes Peak and the up-hill races there. The second video had my head spinning like I was on a joyride...especially the hairpin turns, and scenic pull-offs! Yikes!

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

wow what a scary road - hope the person taking the video was driving slower than it looked

Actually - watching the video i could see Road Runner and Wyle E Cayote chasing down those roads...

NB: today the most senior manager on the project contacted me and gave me a job to do. Until now we had lived in blissful ignorance of one another - so glad that you were able to provide me a few moments of much needed relief :)

Looking to the Stars said...

Great Post!!!! I have good and bad memories of Canon City. The good ones are of my adopted Aunt Rosie, who lived there and had 3 wonderful bing cherry trees :)

I always love reading how City Councils save their corner of the world. This is true gov't in action :)

Jannie Funster said...

I must say I like the idea of the non-motorized areas.

I am such a wimp on roads like in the video, my eyes would be closed all the way if in a car.

Maybe one day I shall visit there. You never know.

Hattie said...

Fascinating! There is an area here of great importance, culturally and scenically, that is being torn up by Jeeps and ATVs. Alas, the main perps are Native Hawaiians, and it is their land.

Stickup Artist said...

Three cheers for the citizens of Canon City! Power of the people. I hope I make it up there some day!

Lydia said...

mythopolis~ Yup, Yikes! I have never known about the up-hill races at Pikes Peak. Sounds interesting.

Pixies~ I can see those characters on this road too. Thanks for the fun mental image...quite in contrast, I must admit, to envisioning your new work relationship with the most senior manager. It's good news, really, but I get what you mean about "blissful ignorance of one another." Those days are gone. :)

Looking to the Stars~ Such nice comments from a native Coloradan makes me smile! Your memories are always interesting to me, including the one about the bing cherry trees.

Jannie~ I think the non-motorized areas are a wonderful thing, similar to non-motorized-vehicle-only lake use. It sounds like this particular city council was going to really try to work out an arrangement to make the motorcyclists happy, too.
I'd also like to see this road, not sure about being the driver!

Hattie~ After reading your comment earlier in the day I kept thinking about what you had written, and it made me sad. Still does. Pity.

Stickup~ Three cheers and five gold stars, indeed.
I would love to see what would come from your camera and photographic eye on a trip there. :)

francessa said...

Love that post! And that road. Sometimes there have to be things that seem to be unnecessary!:-)



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