Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: Vail, Colorado

The second in this series.

It was years ago – in the mid-‘80s in fact – that I made a car/bus/train trip to Baltimore, Maryland. I drove as far as Vail, Colorado. It was there that I boarded a bus to Denver. From the Mile High City to all mid-West and East Coast stops, traveling accommodations were via Amtrak. I remember it being a delightful, albeit lengthy journey.

Vail is what sticks. It is remarkable from the standpoint that when I was there, the environment was pristine in the sense that the air was clean and there was not a billboard in sight – for miles. If I had to hazard a guess, town-folk, friendly town-folk, mind you, wanted it this way. And add to this, mountains that just wouldn’t quit. Also standing out in my mind are two automobile brands, more so than others. Sorry, I’m not going to name names. But I will say this: I believe one of those brands is no longer being manufactured.

Located along U.S. Interstate 70 in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, in Eagle County, Vail sits at an altitude of 8,022 feet, a little over a half-mile higher in elevation than Denver.

So, what is it about Vail besides mountains, clean air and general high-elevation ambiance that warrant such mention here?

Well, for openers, to visit Vail is like setting foot in the European Alps. So, it has this distinctive alpine appearance to or character about it. In fact, its climate is alpine-like. Vail, first and foremost, sits at the base of the Vail Ski Resort on Vail Mountain. With a population in 2010 of 5,305 people the town is not that old. It was incorporated in 1966. So, that should give you some idea of what the area is like.

The time of the year of my visit was May, so spring – but no snow – was in the air. Though, a quick side trip to the Tennessee Pass summit at 10,424 feet, near the town of Leadville, afforded breathtaking westward-looking views of both Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive. It had been argued which was higher, but the dispute was finally resolved. Mt. Elbert was declared victor, towering at 14,439 feet over its sibling Mt. Massive, which you would think, based on its name, it would be taller, but peaks at a lofty 14,429 feet. Incidentally, in chatting with one of the locals, it was pointed out that mean air temperatures were warmer, compared to what he had been used to. Keep in mind this was but one person’s observation. That may very well have been the case, but, regardless, them thar mountains were draped in snow during my appearance. Just so you know it’s not like that was the only point that came up in conversation. That there was a lake at that location and that the man was there to fish, the idle chit-chat, I’m guessing, helped him pass the time – between catches.

Okay, so you may be asking yourselves: Why would anyone travel to Vail (by car), just to board a bus to Denver only to then get on an Amtrak train to journey to the East Coast?

Would you believe because I wanted to?

What you need to know is that this was during a time when I was doing research for my Master’s thesis. In doing such I visited a professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah in this regard.

So, why not travel the entire way by train instead? That Amtrak doesn’t go to Provo it made more sense to just drive there. Also, being that a friend of a family member owned a cabin in Vail, I had permission to leave my car in the parking lot of the cabin complex while I was “training” it the rest of the way to Baltimore, though it did mean walking with luggage in hand from cabin to bus stop. Remember: this is in the mid-‘80s and I am 30-something and am totally enjoying the exercise benefit and challenge the walk provides, not to mention taking in the spectacular panoramic views in the process.

Georgetown_Loop,_c._1885[1]And, speaking of trains, situated between Vail and Denver and also along I-70 is the famed Georgetown Loop Railroad. (See photo at left).

I think it all comes down to this: Vail is a clean-air community with unsullied scenery. There is a lot to do there. And not too distant is Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado.

In that general area and particularly in warmer climes are opportunities for white water rafting. In fact, recreational opportunities abound, probably even more so when it snows. Interestingly, Vail is not off the beaten path. It sits right along U.S. Interstate 70 west of Denver which makes getting there by car or bus a relative snap.

Just so you know, from California in getting to Vail, I drove via Reno, Nevada with an overnight stay there, venturing forth the following day on what is probably the loneliest stretch of highway in all of America – Nevada State Route 50 – which, by the way, becomes SR 6 in Utah. On day-2 it was on into Provo, where I spent my second night. I had arrived at Vail by day-3.

For me, the high point of the entire mid-‘80s trip was the drive passing through such well-known places like Yosemite National Park, Reno, Nevada (“The Biggest Little City in the World”), Salt Lake City, Utah, and not to be overlooked, of course, was Vail.

Vail, Colorado: I may have just been passing through, that I stopped by for a visit, I’m really glad I did!

Image above: Louis Charles McClure

– Alan Kandel