Living on Colorado's Front Range, when anyone mentions Interstate 70, two things come to mind: A seemingly endless traffic jam through one of America's finest mountain landscapes between Denver and Vail, and a seemingly endless slog across the mind numbingly boring Great Plains between Denver and Kansas City. In Colorado, we have to strategically time our descent from the mountains on I-70 on a Sunday to avoid the post-4 p.m. exodus from the ski slopes and ensuing mountain traffic nightmare on the way back to the Denver metro in the winter. In the summer, we strategize our descents from the peaks and our exit from Breckenridge bars at happy hour to avoid the afternoon and evening traffic jam that ensues as tens of thousands of weekend mountain warriors clog the highest freeway in America on their way back to the 'burbs. Various solutions to this weekend ritual have been proposed, all of them far in the future and exorbitantly expensive. All too often, it seems, the thought of I-70 around here evokes more handwringing than feelings of well-earned escape and wonderment at the snowy peaks beneath which the freeway threads.
But it's easy to forget that I-70 continues west into Utah through a landscape utterly alien and just as breathtakingly spectacular as anything you'll see driving through Vail or Frisco. A few decades ago, UDOT blasted (at great environmental cost, no doubt) I-70 through the San Rafael Swell and San Rafael Reef west of Green River, Utah and northwest of Canyonlands and Arches national parks. It's a hell of a drive through 100 miles of America's Outback free of gas stations and services of any kind. It's also free of traffic jams and boring views, something you'll appreciate if you're long-hauling it west to, say, Las Vegas from Kansas City.
This western end of I-70 is part of what I think is probably the most spectacular stretch of freeway in the Interstate Highway System: I-70 between Denver and the freeway's end at Interstate 15 near Cove Fort, Utah.
As I continued reorganizing my photo archives today, I found a series of snapshots of I-70 through the San Rafael Swell I took in July 2007 on the way back to Grand Junction (a stunning landscape unto itself if you appreciate deserts as I do) from Great Basin National Park in Nevada. My friend Clinton came up from Texas, and we spent a weekend in one of America's least-visited and under-appreciated national parks. On the way back, as he was driving, I shot the scenery as we traversed the Swell on I-70 in his pickup. The images, most shot at midday at 80 mph, hardly do the landscape justice, but here's a look: