Wednesday, July 11, 2007

On the Road Again

I've just returned from yet another road trip. This time, I went to Glory War in Buford, Wyoming. Buford is a wide spot in the road along Interstate 80 about halfway between Cheyenne and Laramie. Population 2, Buford is a jumping off point for the nearby public use areas for camping and hiking. It took me 2 days to get up there and 3 days to get home.

The difference? I took the "scenic route" coming home. I followed the interstates on my to Wyoming, but opted for something different on the way home: the road less taken, you could say,

From Buford, I headed back to Cheyenne on I-80 then drove east through town on US 30, the old Lincoln Highway. East of Cheyenne, US 30 rejoins I-80 and the old Lincoln Highway parallels it most of the way to Pine Bluffs, WY. MOST of the way. The old Lincoln Highway is bisected by the interstate in at least two locations, so it's difficult, if not impossible to follow it all the way. At Pine Bluffs, US 30 leaves the interstate and heads off on its own through the rolling plains of Nebraska.

I followed US 30 for around 120 miles, but diverged from the main road a couple times to take some photos of some bridges I came across on an older alignment.

Eventually, I came to US 138 near Big Springs, Nebraska and opted to turn west. Many road scholars refer to US 138 as an "orphan" highway. As a 3 digit highway, its "parent" route would be US Highway 38, but it no longer exists, having been replaced by US 6 almost 75 years ago. US 138 is a short, primarily 2 lane highway which runs only about 70 miles from US 30 near Big Springs, to US 6 at Sterling, Colorado. Approximately 12 of those miles are in Nebraska before 138 passes into Colorado.

Most of the communities along the highway only have populations of a couple hundred people and look mostly abandoned with an occasional deserted motel or the crumbling husk of an occasional old gas station. The roadway itself looks tired and worn and there wasn't much traffic along it (it parallels Interstate 76 much of its length). Though it had been resurfaced in places, the road looks rather neglected, though there were telltale signs of a possible slurry seal at one time (that stuff that almost looks like a layer of paint on the road), but there were many cracks in the pavement were needing attention. Being a less-travelled roadway, I'm sure it's near the bottom of the highway department's list of priorities.

At a few points along the way, an old dirt county road parallels the highway just the other side of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Upon closer examination, part of this county road appears to be an old alignment of the highway. Near Sedgwick, I found an old one-lane concrete bridge that has seen better days. Much of one side of the bridge was badly damaged, possibly by too many farm trucks over the years. I also found a couple wooden bridges along the way that are still in use. The bridge embankments appear to consist of stacked railroad ties secured by wood posts. The bridge railings are also wood, almost always painted white (probably so they can be seen). The bridge decks, though wooden, have often been paved over.

Eventually, I came to Sterling, Colorado population 12,000. For this area of the state, that's quite a few people. As 138 enters town, it becomes a divided highway for approximately 2 miles then becomes a 4 lane street before splitting into 2 segments. westbound traffic follows 4th Street, while eastbound traffic follows 3rd Street. At the intersection of east Chestnut Street (aka US Highway 6), US 138 comes to an end. Like many US Highways, there is no official "End" signage, just another highway intersection .

From Sterling, I headed back east along US 6, crossed Interstate 76 and pointed myself towards Holyoke then turned south on US 385 towards Interstate 70 at Burlington then followed the interstates back home.

Yes, I went out of my way to follow US 138. I could have easily remained on Lincoln Highway past Grand Island, Nebraska then headed south on US 81 towards Salina, Kansas and Wichita, but everyone wants to travel Lincoln Highway or Route 66 or the National Road. I do too, but there are so many other roads to travel and so many other places to see as well. Someday, I will travel these roads (not to mention US 71 to Canada). This time, I opted a little known, long forgotten highway in the wilds of Nebraska and Colorado.