Remembering the Rockies rambles of Jack Kerouac

Grasses grew luxuriantly last summer west of Kremmling, near the mouth of Gore Canyon, just before haying season. Photo/Allen Best

When Jack Kerouac traipsed across the Rockies after World War II

by Allen Best

KREMMLING, Colo. — When Jack Kerouac and his companions were traipsing across North America after World War II, there were no interstate highways. Those traveling from Denver to Salt Lake City mostly drove on the narrow, two-laned Highway 40.

From Denver, that highway switchbacks its way over the Continental Divide at Berthoud Pass, what Kerouac, in his famous 1956 book, “On the Road,” called “that tremendous Gibraltarian door.” One of Colorado’s first ski areas, the eponymous Berthoud Pass Ski Area, was in business then.

With the Colorado River in the foreground and sagebrush, an RV rolls on Highway 40. Photo/Allen Best

From the pass the highway carefully hugs its way down the steep slopes to Winter Park, also among our oldest ski areas, before continuing on to the valley of the Colorado River. Pioneers called that broad valley Middle Park, a name that lingers even now.

Middle Park is an ear-to-ear smile of beauty in summer, stubborn banks of snow on surrounding 13,000-foot-peaks lingering as meadows lush with tall grasses await the cutting blades of haying crews. It was, in the days when Kerouac and his buddies, among them Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg, traveled through, a place where championship white-faced Hereford cattle were bred.

Then the highway crosses another range, swooping from the gentle glades of Rabbit Ears Pass down past the ski runs of Steamboat Springs’ Howelsen Hill before continuing on into Utah and the outskirts of Park City.

Howard Neville’s mini-statue. Photo courtesy of Howard Neville.

Dawn Mathews is now working on a book about Kerouac and Highway 40, reports the Sky-Hi News. She says, in a Facebook posting, that his words “caress and paint the land” through which Highway 40 runs.. Truman Capote was not nearly so kind. He once dismissed the so-called Beat writers into which Kerouac was commonly lumped as typists, not writers.

But credit Kerouac for distilling the ever-lurking shadow of winter in the fast-blinking blur of summers. Of one of these towns, cowboy-hatted Kremmling, he said it is a place where “cactus had dew on it till noon.”

The Sky-Hi News explains that while Mathews works on her book, Howard Neville is working on a life-size sculpture of Kerouac. Neville and Mathews say the sculpture will be placed somewhere along Highway 40 between Berthoud Pass and the Utah border, but haven’t decided exactly where.

Allen Best