BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York and a journalist who has covered fracking and the environment in Colorado and New Mexico since 2001. 

Revisiting Colorful Colorado: A Chance Encounter with a Missing Border Crossing

On the way back to Colorado from Junction City, Kansas, yesterday, Jacob and I decided to drive the empty and mostly forgotten U.S. Highway 24 through western Kansas and eastern Colorado. The narrow two-lane blacktop passes through the dust-blown high plains and forms the main street of numerous forlorn time-worn towns, among which the greatest attraction is the world's largest ball of twine. It's a great drive and a less-harried alternative to Interstate 70 farther to the south.

U.S. 24 spills onto the freeway west of Colby, Kansas, and there's no indication that 24 exits the interstate until you get to Burlington, Colorado. Driving into town from the east, I noticed that the Colorado Department of Transportation directs east-bound U.S. 24 traffic onto the I-70 frontage road. Shit, I thought as we passed by the intersection, if 24 is routed onto the frontage road, that might mean there's another "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" sign I missed as part of my photography project, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado: 40 Views from the Border". My project may not be complete as I thought it had been.

Sure enough, after a ride on the Kit Carson County Carousel, we discovered a 41st "Colorful Colorado" sign.  But that sign, according to CDOT data, isn't supposed to exist.

The Denver Post reported in 2006 that there are 41 "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" signs. In theory, they should be easy to find: Every CDOT-maintained highway (state highways, U.S. highways and interstate highways) reaching the state line should have one of the wooden welcome signs. I scoured state highway maps, Colorado highway enthusiast websites and the CDOT online highway database and came up with 40 highway crossings. Add to that the two signs saying "Leaving Colorful Colorado" on Interstate 70 at the Kansas and Utah borders, and the total is 42. The Denver Post, I thought, must have been incorrect in its count or the state had turned the 41st highway back to a county, reducing the sign total to 40, excluding the two "leaving" signs.

The CDOT highway database shows eastbound U.S. 24 leaving Burlington along the I-70 frontage road, but that designation, in this case CDOT Highway 024D, ends once the frontage road begins to parallel the freeway, according to the official CDOT highway route map. Here's the official description of that stretch of highway:

From U.S. 385C at 8th Street in Burlington East and Northeast to the I-70 Frontage Road

The official designation ends on the frontage road about 8 miles west of the state line. Once the highway crosses into Kansas, the 24 designation disappears altogether, shifting to the freeway. There should be no CDOT markers at all on the last eight miles before the Kansas line, but those markers do exist, and so does the 41st "Colorful Colorado" sign — right across the freeway from one of those two "leaving" signs.

Now, now my project is called, "leaving" signs notwithstanding, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado: 41 Views from the Border".