Ghosts of the High Plains, part 1:
We’ve had an unseasonably warm Winter here in Denver (although the Mountains to the West are near-normal in terms of their annual snowfall) and with a new motorcycle and a warm (70+) day, I decided to do a long distance ride on Sunday, March 22.
My goal was to see how the bike did on a long ride, especially with the recent add-ons (Slipstreamer Spitfire windshield, Renntec grab rail and luggage rack, and the Air-Injection removal kit that is supposed to make the bike run cooler.)
My destination was the High Plains to the East and Northeast of Denver. The mountains are still a little dicey for riding, with sand and gravel in every corner and patches of ice in the shady spots, not to mention the cold temperatures. This time of year I’m content to stay east of the Rockies when I ride.
I always take a camera, and I have a real affinity for photographing things that are old, abandoned, derelict. Not sure why, maybe it’s the history major in me that sees in these forgotten things a link to the past.
Of particular interest to me (as both an historian and a veteran) are relics of the Cold War, which still dot the Colorado landscape. I’ve done much internet research over the past 3 years and have been truly astonished at what is out there, in plain sight, and to which most travelers are completely oblivious.
Leaving Englewood, I topped off the tank and headed straight East. Just past the C-470 “beltway” that marks the Eastern edge of the greater Denver metropolitan area, I passed my first relic: An old Titan -1 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) launching base. To the untrained eye, it’s just a fenced in area with an old Quonset hut and some concrete slabs.
The Titan bases were huge, the biggest and most expensive ICBM launchers ever built. Each one housed 3 missile launchers, a large crew and a security element. The launchers were built in haste in the early 1960’s at a cost (in 1960 currency) of over $200 million each. A total of 18 of these bases were built, 6 of them in Colorado. The others were in South Dakota, Washington State, Idaho and California, each of which got 3 bases – 1 squadron – each. Only Colorado got 2 squadrons, probably because the missiles were built at the Martin Aerospace company Southwest of Denver.
This road, Quincy avenue, runs through the old Lowry Bombing range, used by military aircraft as far back as WWII. The debris was cleaned up but the military found many uses for this otherwise nondescript area just East of the city. Among other things, military research and testing laboratories, a late, post-cold war Emergency communications system, and three other Titan 1 bases are located in the area that runs along Quincy avenue for about 20 miles.
Quincy is a fun, “roller coaster” road that rises and falls with the undulating terrain. I finally reach the end of the paved road, where Quincy intersects with the Kiowa – Bennett road that runs North-South. Turning North, I drive a short distance, cross Interstate 70, and then reach the old US highway 36 that parallels the interstate to the North.
Just East of Strasburg, Highway 36 peels temporarily off to the South to run through the town of Byers, but I take the older road that continues straight East. A few miles further on, I come to a sign that marks a poignant memorial.
This is the Oklahoma State University memorial. The sign explains what is being memorialized:
I stopped for a few minutes to look at the memorial. There was a description of each of the people who died in the crash, along with their dates of birth, many of them heartbreakingly young.
I feel a particular connection to Oklahoma State, since both of my parents are OSU alums, in fact, they first met on the campus at Stillwater.
The wind never really stops blowing out here, especially on high ground, where the memorial was situated. But other than the steady wind, it was appropriately quiet at the memorial.
Continuing East, I crossed a concrete ford (I recall that in Oklahoma we’d have called it a “low water bridge”) and soon rejoined US 36, now fully divorced from Interstate 70, which turned sharply to the Southeast at this point. US 36, on the other hand, points arrow-straight to the East.
Again the road rose and fell with the land. Coming down a hill, I saw an old farmhouse and what appeared to be cattle in the field. But they weren’t cattle.
American Bison, who once roamed these plains in the tens of millions, now just a more exotic form of livestock.
I also passed a little known landmark in Eastern Colorado: the Hoyt radio tower. Because distances can be deceiving on these vast, open plains, most people are probably unaware that this is the tallest man-made structure in Colorado, 1996’ from base to top. According to Wikipedia, it is the 43rd tallest man-made structure in the world.
(a little hard to see but you can see a vague shadow in the center of the picture frame)
Continuing East across the plains, I soon came to a “milestone” of my own: My new bike turned over 2,000 miles.
To be continued...