Moffat Road/Hill Route
B. Travis Wright, MPS is an active advocate for the historic preservation of the Moffat Road/Hill Route, listed in 2012 as one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places.
The Moffat Road Hill Route: Most Endangered
Presented by B. Travis Wright, MPS
Followed by a Conversation with Colorado Preservation Staff
It’s been nearly a decade since the Moffat Road over Rollins Pass was listed as one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places for the initial threat of demolition by neglect. How has this ribbon of historic road fared in the intervening years and what new challenges threaten the integrity of this significant and complex cultural resource?
Through an immersive presentation—containing reference photography spanning three centuries—area historian and preservation commissioner B. Travis Wright, MPS intertwines eleven millennia of the human story and various uses of this ‘Great Gate’ with the majestic setting of Rollins Pass on the Continental Divide. This case study will spark discussion of not only how best to preserve Rollins Pass but also other threatened and endangered sites throughout Colorado for future generations.
At the turn of the 20th century, civilization began to demand that machines do more than perform, they should also astonish. Orville and Wilbur Wright took to the skies in 1903, and one year later, David Moffat’s Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railway also took to the skies—and the first train summited the Continental Divide on Rollins Pass in September 1904. After September, a cruel reality would set in: winter never really vacates Rollins Pass, it only eases for a few months per year. More specialty machines were needed to make the train route on Rollins Pass feasible, such as mallets and rotaries. A mallet is a compound articulated locomotive, two engines in one with the ability to climb steep hills and take sharp turns—fortunately for the railroad, mallets were first introduced to the United States from Europe that same year. The other technology, a rotary, served one purpose: the indiscriminate ingestion and expulsion of snow to clear the tracks. This massive snowplow with its gigantic blades was pushed by other engines to ensure the rails remained clear.
During this time, society realized that these magical machines had dreadful shortcomings, especially when it came to ice and snow. The Titanic collided with an iceberg and slipped under the icy waves eight years after Rollins Pass opened. Trains succumbed to the wintery elements as well; some trains were stuck for weeks in attempts to transit Rollins Pass. Many photographs on the following pages were taken in the winter months; the sight of frozen equipment and equally frozen men speaks to the determination and unsinkable human spirit that pervaded operations on Rollins Pass.
Despite the omnipresent struggle, from snow removal to brake failures, railroad workers and visitors alike were enchanted by the scenery. No matter the season, there always seemed to be time for the veneration and wonder of the views that can be seen from the summit; the top was named Corona—the Latin word meaning “crown.” Railroad workers emphasized that the crown at “the top of the world” was found on Rollins Pass.
—Chapter 3: Iron & Steam, 1880-1928 | Rollins Pass (2018)