Stone chimney all thats left of once-bustling train depot
It is difficult to see the remains of the chimney across the Colorado River at mile marker 51 in De Beque Canyon along Interstate 70 unless you know just where to look. The light has to be exactly right or the ghostly chimney fades into a nearby rock formation.
With the help of Marie Tipping (aka Land Title Search Guru), I learned that the town where the chimney stands was named Tunnel. Her records also show that in August 1902 a post office was opened in Tunnel. From what I can determine, the chimney was in a structure that held the post office and depot. A section house, bunkhouse and three smaller buildings made up the rest of the little canyon town.
Tunnel was a popular train station for the ranchers in the area because it was the nearest access on both sides of the river. According to an interview with Julia Harris by local historian David Sundal, Plateau Canyon people who wanted to board the train would be driven to the riverbank opposite the station and would ford the river in a rowboat.
In the interview, Miss Harris recalled that at one time there was enough room between the tracks and the river at Tunnel for the railroad section men to play ball.
In 1924 a massive landslide on the opposite side of the river from Tunnel created a new channel. Tunnel and the orchard owned by Fredrick Mitchell were washed away. Only the chimney was left.
There have continued to be landslides and rockslides in the area since 1924.
In 1958, a rockslide closed the main (and only) highway through the canyon for several days. However, a picture in The Daily Sentinel showed that the circulation staff was determined not to miss a day delivering the newspaper. The photo shows several staff members packing bundles of newspapers across the slide to cars waiting on the other side. That meant the Sentinel could be delivered to De Beque, Grand Valley (now Parachute), New Castle, Rifle and Glenwood Springs.
By 1998, the highway had changed from the two-lane U.S. Highway 6&24 to the four-lane I-70, but the rockslides continued.
In 2007, a motorist was killed when a rock landed on her semi. And again on Oct. 26 of this year the mountain moved, causing another rockslide.
Henry Rhone, an early-day Western pioneer, started the Roan Creek Toll Road project in 1884. His first attempt had been a year earlier, but he couldn’t generate enough interest to continue the project then.
The Roan Toll road was a big improvement for those traveling from De Beque to Grand Junction. Before the toll road, travelers had to go up Roan Creek, along the back side of the Bookcliffs, to the head of Salt Wash near Fruita, and back east to Grand Junction, a trip of 100 miles. The toll road made the trip only 35 miles.
The toll road ceased operation soon after 1889 when the Denver & Rio Grande and Midland railroads joined together to form the Rio Grande Junction Railroad Company and began building the track from New Castle to Grand Junction.
Soon after this deal was struck, Rhone sold his road to the Rio Grande Junction Railroad Co.
I have heard that the chimney might have been the stage stop on the Roan Creek Toll Road. However, I haven’t been able to find research material to back that.
Today, all that remains of the little town of Tunnel is the ghostly chimney of a once-bustling train stop and post office.
Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many preservation efforts, including the Avalon Theatre, the railroad depot and the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.