History Timeline 1930's

Photo above: A workman on the construction crew of the Empire State Building. Courtesy Federal Works Agency, WPA/National Archives. Right: Unemployed workers in Chicago in line at food kitchen run by Al Capone. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons via National Archives, U.S. Information Agency.

Great Depression

U.S. Timeline - The 1930s

The Great Depression

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  • Timeline

  • 1932 - Detail

    August 23, 1932 - The highest continuous paved road in the United States, the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, is opened to traffic.

    Trail Ridge Road

    Rocky Mountain National Park had been open for fourteen years before construction began on the highest altitude paved road in the United States. From 1929, and for the next three years, the first section of Trail Ridge Road, 17.2 miles long, was blasted, constructed, and completed. It would take six more years before it reached the terminus at Grand Lake, forty-eight miles in total length. And how it came about, and how it came to completion, was a testament to the ingenuity of a nation during an economic depression, and the skill and bravery of the men who accomplished it.

    The route of Trail Ridge Road was not new. It had been used by Native Americans for centuries as a way to cross the mountains. The Arapahoe called it "Where the Children Walked," or "Taienbaa." By 1929, the park, fourteen years old, had inadequate ways to penetrate into the park interior. The first road in the northern section, Fall River Road, had proved inadequate for motor travel with only one lane of unpaved road since its completion in 1921. That road is still open from July to September for some of its length.

    How to describe the trip. Take the word of the director of the National Park Service during its construction. "It is hard to describe what a sensation this new road is going to make," predicted Horace Albright. "You will have the whole sweep of the Rockies before you in all directions."

    Eleven miles of the road are above the timberline. It requires a drive that rises four thousand feet within minutes of entering. It's cold there. Twenty to thirty degrees colder than at its entrances.

    Its Historic Construction

    Begun in September 1929, the engineering feat was remarkable. With a maximum of seven percent grade, the Trail Ridge Road was constructed during nine years, with only four months of available construction time allowed to the two firms responsible due to the permafrost of the region from late fall to late spring. Snowfall in this section can reach twenty-five feet per year. Construction equipment used; gas-powered steam shovel, tractors, graders, horses, and one hundred and fifty men.

    Who oversaw its construction? U.S. Highway Engineer W.L. Lafferty. Who constructed the eastern section? C.A. Colt of Las Animas. Who constructed the western section? L.T. Lawler of Butte, Montana.

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    Today on Trail Ridge Road

    The road is still there, paved and just as remarkable, able to take visitors to far reaches of Rocky Mountain National Park. It is maintained by the National Park Service and known as U.S. Highway 34 by number or Trail Ridge Road, the Beaver Meadow National Scenic Byway.

    All along the byway, Park Service overlooks, trails, campgrounds, and historic buildings abound. The Fall River Visitor Center is located at the eastern entrance. A second Visitor Center, the Alpine Visitor Center, is located near Fall River Pass, at 12,183 feet in elevation, its highest point. That center is seasonal. The road crosses the Continental Divide at 10,758 feet at Milner Pass.

    Site from East to West. If you enter Trail Ridge Road at its eastern terminus at Fall River, your first sites will include the Sheep Lakes and West Horseshoe Park before you reach the Deer Ridge Junction that leads to Bear Lake and the entrance station and Visitor Center at Bear Meadow, which is open year round. This is another option to getting onto the Trail Ridge Road from the southeast.

    Around the next curves past Deer Ridge, and there are many, including Rainbow Curve after the Hidden Valley region, the vistas are spectacular, whether at the Beaver Ponds or Hidden Valley regions. As you approach the central section, Hanging Valley can be seen to the north before you reach the Rock Cut, Iceberg Pass, and Tundra Curves. From there, the Alpine Visitor Center awaits, before you travel around Medicine Bow Curve, then descend toward the Kawuneeche Valley, the Grand Lake Entrance Station, and the Kawuneeche Visitor Center.

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    The Alpine Visitor Center, open during the traditional June to October season (usually Memorial Day to Columbus Day) when the road is passable (most of the road is impassable during late fall to late spring months), has spectacular views, ranger orientation, and facilities.

    There's plenty of trailheads and places to hike, although hiking here should be done with caution and by experienced hikers. The elevations are serious and should be done only by those healthy enough to meet the rigors of the conditions and with the necessary provisions.

    Camping is allowed at designed developed sites; Timbercreek Campground near Kawuneeche Valley is the only such campground along the Trail Ridge Road. Its elevation is 8,900 feet high, situated along the Colorado River eight miles north of the Grand Lake Entrance Station, and has 98 sites on a first come, first serve basis. Recreational vehicles are allowed.

    Wilderness camping is allowed, but permits are required. Permits for the western area of the park should be obtained at the Kuwaneeche Visitor Center. For the eastern section of the park, they should be obtained at the Beaver Meadow Visitor center.

    Photo above: Overlook along Trail Ridge Road, 1985, Arnold Thallheimer, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Rock Cut along Trail Ridge Road, 1993, Brian C. Grogan, Historic American Buildings Survey. Info Source: Library of Congress; "Trail Ridge Road," Frank Hannigan, Colorado Encyclopedia; National Park Service; Wikipedia Commons.

    Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge Road

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