Coming home from the Las Vegas National Horse Show, my daughters and I knew we would likely run into the storm on our way home. We had kept an eye on the weather forecast indicating a winter storm was taking shape. From our stopover spot in Utah, we made an early start Monday morning. The plan was to be ahead of the worst part of the storm as much as possible. The last place we wanted to be was in the mountains, in blizzard conditions, with the horses. We stayed on schedule, Monday morning, with my girls having their turns in driving.
Snow began to fall when we made our way through the very scenic Glenwood Canyon. We stopped at the Hanging Lake Rest Area to check on the horses, and, if possible, get an update on the weather. The horses were good, very comfortable in their warm trailer. The weather update, not so good. Snow was beginning to fall heavily between Vail Pass and the Eisenhower Tunnel farther to the east. By the time we made Vail Pass in the early afternoon, I-70 was pretty much snowpacked. Before making our run up the pass, it was time to chain up. We pulled up behind a trucker who was chaining up also. After I finished chaining up, the trucker asked what kind of horses I had in the trailer. I told him we had show horses, four of them of the hunter/jumper kind. “Sounds expensive,” he replied. The trucker offered to lead us up to the tunnel. I accepted his kind gesture.
snow and ice on the window, right (middle-row) passenger side (taken at Vail Pass, I-70 eastbound)
photo credit: Elizabeth
Slowly, and steadily, we drove from Vail Pass to the Eisenhower Tunnel. In winter conditions, it is one of the most difficult stretches of I-70 through the mountains. We passed several slide-offs and accidents along the way, which became more numerous between Silverthorne and the tunnel. About 10 minutes after we passed the Silverthorne exit, the Colorado State Patrol closed I-70, east and west, due to the numerous accidents.
I-70 (eastbound) before the steep grade to the entrance of the Eisenhower Tunnel
photo credit: Deborah
Slow and steady remained our pace up the steep grade to the tunnel entrance. In making the steep grade, everyone kept their momentum going forward. When the tunnel entrance is reached, one cannot help but to relish the drive through the tunnel. No snow, no wind. And, a short stretch of dry road.
at the western entrance to the Eisenhower Tunnel (I-70 eastbound)
photo credit: Deborah
It was snowing heavily, probably more heavily, as we drove out of the tunnel. We pulled over to the side where many truckers were checking their chains, before making the long drive down the steep grade. The trucker who led us up was glad to see we made it through. He thought he had lost us. I told him some other cars got in between us, but we kept sight of his rig. I thanked him for his generosity, that it was much appreciated.
While the intensity of the snowfall was varied, it was time to heavily concentrate, again, on winter driving, but in diminishing daylight and on icy roads. Driving downhill was easier, but it is also keeping the speed under control. With the icy road and snowpacked conditions, you couldn’t use your brakes too much. Apply too much brake, the horse trailer would fish tail. The horses wouldn’t like it, and neither would I.
the steep downgrade from the Eisenhower Tunnel (I-70 eastbound)
photo credit: Deborah
The last road section of concern was Floyd Hill below Georgetown. It is the curvy part of I-70 coming out of the mountains. In snowy and icy conditions, Floyd Hill is notorious for accidents. But, if taken with caution, it is easy to navigate the curves.
The remainder of our drive home was largely a slushy one. The only remaining icy and snowpacked spot was Monument Hill on I-25, also another accident magnet in winter conditions. Having driven Monument Hill many times in winter, it is the matter of keeping the speed under control on the downgrade.
A longer than normal drive because of the winter conditions, it was a safe one. When we reached the JN Ranch to stable the horses, Monday night, they had four inches on the ground and more still falling. Though it was windy, the blizzard conditions came very late in the overnight. By Tuesday morning, the JN Ranch had 15 inches of snow and drifts at 6-7 feet in height. This morning, they were finally able to clear the snow from their access road. Here at home, we had a couple of inches but plenty of wind.
It’s safe to say winter has begun.