The Moffat Route is one of the
best known and most loved railroads in
America. Named after its founder, David
Moffat, this line was made famous
in the photography of L.C. McClure in the 1900's, and achieved world
acclaim with the construction of Moffat tunnel in the 1920's.
David Moffat began the Moffat Route, originally named the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific
(DNW&P), in 1902
with the intent to build a line directly west out of Denver that connected with
Salt Lake City and then the west coast. He dreamed of a road that was owned and
operated by the people of Colorado, instead of eastern railroad barons who only
acted in their own best interests, and often against Colorado.
The tracks move west out of the plains of Denver and immediately begin the
long climb over the continental divide of the Rockies by traversing the Front Range rock escarpments.
Along this section, the rails wind through the foothills and into the mountains
by going through 27 different tunnels cut into the rocks along the way. Known as
the Tunnel District, this reach has miles of twisting turns curving in and out
of the canyons, often requiring a tunnel at the points.
There are no settlements of significant size until the tracks reach Tolland,
near Moffat Tunnel. Here the original railroad began a series of switchbacks,
loops and crossovers known as "Giant's Ladder", in order to gain
elevation and reach the top of Rollins Pass at 11,660 feet. This was a fantastic
scenic route and an engineering marvel. Unfortunately, it was also a nightmare
in the winter months, which lasted from October to May. Keeping the tracks clear
of snow was a full time task most of the winter and this expense often ate up
all other profits made by the railroad.
After struggling to stay afloat for years, the heart of the line, David
Moffat, passed away in 1911. This along with other difficulties caused the
railroad to close down. However, it was reorganized and re-energized a few years
later and opened again as the Denver and Salt Lake (D&SL). In the 1920's,
public funds were allocated to build the Moffat
Tunnel. This project would bore
a hole through 6 miles of the mountain crest and eliminate the
troublesome tracks over Rollins Pass.
From Rollins Pass and the Moffat Tunnel, the railroad route continues
westward, down into Middle Park. This wide valley is totally surrounded by
towering mountain peaks. On the west side of the valley the train reaches Hot
Sulphur Springs, another resort town built around bubbling pools of hot water at
the base of the mountains.
Next the railroad travels into Byers and Gore Canyons. These huge crevasses
were carved across the Gore Range by the Colorado River. Upon leaving the
gorges, the line reaches Orestod, a cutoff point where the original tracks
diverged northerly to Steamboat Springs, and then were to continue west to Salt
Lake. Unfortunately, Craig was as far as the railroad got. Because of an
unfavorable financial environment, mostly due to interventions of the Union
Pacific railroad, funding was never raised to continue the route to its planned
destination. Instead, a new plan was conceived to connect the Moffat Route with
the Denver and Rio Grande. A cutoff was created from Orestod on the Moffat line
to Dotsero on the Rio Grande tracks. In this way the transcontinental trains
could now travel directly west from Denver, connect with the Rio Grande tracks
to Grand Junction and on to the west coast. Eventually the D&SL was absorbed
by the D&RGW, and it carried most of the transcontinental traffic through
References: 2, 14, 15, 16, 17
Tunnel 6 c1900
Rifle Sight Notch Trestle c1900
Yankee Doodle Lake c1900
Moffat Tunnel East Portal c1930
Gore Canyon c1900