|Just west of Denver,
the Moffat Route leaves the Great Plains
and begins traveling up the massive Front Range escarpment of the Rocky
Mountains. Along the reach from Denver to Rollinsville
their are 28 tunnels cut through the rocks and the train gains over 3,000
feet of elevation in 40 miles. The tracks wind their way up South Boulder
Creek through extremely rugged and remote canyons where populated towns
are almost non-existent.
The Front Range Tunnels 4, 5, and 6
The Front Range erupts abruptly west of Denver, rising from the plains
to 14,000 feet in just a few miles. This reach consists of monstrous slabs
of sandstone rock that lay tilted like a string of knocked over
Near Denver the railroad winds up a sandy foothill to the base of the
main escarpment at Coal Creek. Here a wooden trestle originally crossed
the Coal Creek valley. This structure was replaced with a steel trestle
and then again with a plate girder bridge. A water tank at this location
was removed in 1956 after the end of the steam era.
As the railroad travels north, along the escarpment, it keeps gaining
elevation for the assault on the high mountains. Due to the jagged nature
of the terrain the tracks must turn in and out of the major canyons and
this required drilling tunnels through the outcrops to maintain a smooth
alignment. The tunnels begin just west of the Coal Creek crossing. Tunnels
1 through 8 hang on the massive sandstone faces of the escarpment. The old
timers called the section "The Flatirons" for their resemblance
to familiar kitchen apparatuses.
The train passes Plainview after the first
tunnel. Here there is a long siding and a wonderful view to the great
Following the second tunnel the tracks crossed Bull Gulch with another
wooden trestle. This one was replaced by earthen fill in 1941.
At tunnel 8 the tracks turn west into South Boulder Creek canyon. The
old location of tunnel 9 became unstable during construction and a
temporary "shoo-fly" was constructed around the tunnel. This
quick fix remained until 1938 when a little larger curve was cut in.
The train rides high on the valley walls past Crags Spur. At one time
the famous Crags Resort stood here and could accommodate 200 guests. Life
was short for the resort and it burned completely just a few years after
its completion in the 1900's. The view from Crags is spectacular and the
railroad later named the stop "Scenic."
Between tunnels 12 and 18 the geology changes as the tracks rise up
Boulder Creek. The hillsides are more rounded and the vegetation changes
from Firs and Spruce to Ponderosa Pine.
A short break in the tunnels accommodates Crescent
Siding following tunnel 18. This was the old location of a spur line to
Walker Ranch. The siding once contained a depot and section house for the
Denver, Northwestern and Pacific railroad. Past Crescent the tunnels begin
again from 19 to 29 at regular intervals along the valley walls.
At tunnel 29 the grade in the track changes from steep to mild as the
climb into the high country begins. Just past tunnel 29 the railroad
finally crosses South Boulder Creek for the first time. Originally a
wooden pile trestle stood here, and it was later replaced with a plate
Pinecliffe lies in the river valley past
tunnel 29. A long siding evolved here over the years. The siding capacity
was increased several times until it reached a couple of miles in length
and included several curves. At one time a Depot was located near the
railroad crossing with Highway 72.
Past Pinecliffe the tunnels stop until Rollinsville,
when the last tunnel 30 puts in an appearance. This area contained the
Hanging Rock that L. C. McClure made famous in a photograph.
References: 14, 15, 16, 17