The Alpine Tunnel was built by the Denver, South Park and Pacific RR to connect Denver to Gunnison CO. The 1,772 ft. tunnel at 11,723 ft. elevation went under the continental divide and is the highest and longest railroad tunnel in North America. Construction of the tunnel took over two years. During that time the Denver & Rio Grande beat the South Park to Gunnison by the expedient of buying the Marshall Pass toll road from Otto Mears and laying its track on the old toll road. Winter conditions were so severe that the last train ran through the tunnel in 1910, 28 years after it was built.
In the long valley at the western end of the tunnel the South Park built an engine house with turntable inside, section house, telegraph house, boarding house and other ancillary buildings in the high valley. Fire took out the engine and section houses, the frame boarding house collapsed after the route was abandoned,and the second turntable up the valley was removed, leaving only the frame telegraph house standing at the site for many years. Now many of the buildings partially have been resorted and tracks laid where they existed over a century ago.
98% of the road leading to the Tunnel complex east of Gunnison is on the old railroad bed, making for easy driving. The exception is at the Sherrard Loop. On Sept. 12 we easily drove up to the tunnel in our Jeep Grand Cherokee in high range, two wheel drive. I recently read an account on the web saying that the road was difficult and should be attempted only in an ATV. If that accurately described the condition of the road at one time, it no longer is accurate.
The drive up has several landmarks, where signs recently have been erected to explain the scene. The first is the base of a water tank, below. Above is the sign with a picture of the tank when it was in use.
Here is the next water tank up the road, nicely restored with the original colors. Can you make out the spout on the left side of the tank?
This is one of three cuts made for the road bed.
This shot looks back down the road we just came up.
Above, the sign explains the Sherrod Loop, and below is a part of the loop on which track has been relaid.
Probably the most scenic part of the road is the Palisades. The shelf road was stabilized by granite walls on the downhill side to prevent the road from slipping into the valley below. The sign below explains. There are several walls supporting the road.Yes, that is our road shown in the valley below. The Williams Pass road, open only in August, crosses the road bed here.
At the new upper parking lot for the tunnel complex is a full sized replica of the cross section of the redwood lining of the tunnel required for 80 % of its length. The signs below are mounted in the replica.