A TUNNEL OF COLD REALITY

I stopped to explore a tunnel that had been a major hazard on the Canyon Highway until the highway department finally bypassed it. “It must have been only wide enough for one-way traffic at any time,” I observed one Sunday afternoon on the drive back to my apartment.

“They used to have traffic lights at each end,” Erik replied, repeating a story heard many times.

“Wow, I’m glad we don’t have to use it any more. Look at all these huge rocks that have fallen from the ceiling!”

The bypassed asphalt was covered with boulders bigger than our VW Beetle.

It isn’t the only tunnel in the canyon. Some, the siphons, carry irrigation water through mountains. Every year somebody rafting the river is swept through one and drowns. In accord with Far West tradition — and bloated political leverage — the railroad long ago claimed the choicest spots along the narrow river passage. As a consequence, the highway twists a lot. When there’s little traffic, this can be a sporty drive.

Our alternate route was longer but faster — miles traded for time. The freeway opened out into marvelous vistas. As we came to know each roadway, we anticipated the coming views.

“Think Mount Stuart will be visible around the next curve?” he’d ask.

“No, it’s too cloudy.” Then, detecting a solitary crag ripping through a dramatic storm, I’d recant. Sometimes both Rainier and Adams stared like brothers with heads at table level. Watching for cattle and sheep, we viewed foxes and deer.

In winter, freezing rain or drifting snow often forced the state to close the expressway. Even when that highway stayed open, its surface could be treacherous.

Everywhere I turned, once I was out of the orchards and well beyond town, I could see all too clearly, this was the kind of place you could leave somebody to die.

Or be left to die.

For more of the story, click here.

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