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Alpine Tunnel On The Continental Divide

Historic Railroad Tunnel In Colorado's Sawatch Range; Visit To Gunnison County Side

Colorado Railroad History At Its Best
During Colorado's settlement era in the late 1800s, a railroad route was needed to cross the Continental Divide in Central Colorado. A remote and mountainous area between the once-bustling mining towns of St. Elmo and Pitkin was selected as a site to build a 1,771 foot tunnel. The railroad and tunnel were eventually abandoned in the early 1900s as mining activity diminished, upkeep was deemed too expensive, and snow removal became overwhelming. But many of the historic buildings and tracks on the Gunnison County side of the divide remain. These are my photos when friends and I visited in 2007.

Alpine Tunnel, CO
Sadly, the Alpine Tunnel collapsed after years of neglect. I'm standing on the railroad bed with the tunnel behind.

Alpine Tunnel Historic Site
One of a few railroad buildings and structures that remain at the Alpine Tunnel site.

Photos and write-up by Steve Garufi in Buena Vista, Colorado. Facebook - Twitter - Pinterest - YouTube

Click any image to view it at a larger size.
Alpine Tunnel Road

Alpine Tunnel Road

Alpine Tunnel Road


July 10, 2007 - I began to take pictures in earnest past the major switchback at the turnoff for Hancock Pass and Tomichi Pass. This is where the road turns north towards the Alpine Tunnel.

This section of road (which was the former railroad grade) is known as the Palisades. The drops and steep rock cliffs were steep! Imagine being in a rickety 1800's train car and looking down the steep embankment!

The Palisades A sign about the Palisades. Fascinating.

"There is scarcely three feet between one and eternity." :o)

Alpine Tunnel Historice Site

Alpine Tunnel Historic Site

It is a short hike to the Alpine Tunnel from the parking area. Some structures remain including this one.
Stone Engine House The remnants of the Stone Engine House built in 1881.
Alpine Tunnel History A sign helping one understand the magnitude of this project, and that does not include all the workers needed to maintain the railroad.
Railroad Tracks Dylan stood out there where the railroad tracks ended. It's just a short walk more to reach the tunnel.
Alpine Tunnel
You can see the tunnel's opening and the ridge above in the top photo.

Along with various piles of wooden debris, the turnstyle for turning around engines remains!

Alpine Tunnel A closer view of the Alpine Tunnel.
Alpine Tunnel Tribute A fitting tribute to the people who worked to create this engineering feat.
Alpine Tunnel

Colorado Scenery

Sadly, the tunnel caved-in from years of erosion and neglect. I included one photo of myself and Jennifer and her son Dylan with a grand mountain behind.

For your information, you can see photos of St. Elmo and Hancock on the other side of the divide here: St. Elmo to Hancock. Hancock is approximately three miles west along the old railroad grade in Chaffee County. Today, one can hike from Hancock to the caved-in tunnel on that side.

My pages in this region and its history:

  • St. Elmo (my website for the town)
  • Tincup Pass 4WD Expedition
  • Mary Murphy Mine
  • Town of Tincup
  • Tincup Pass
  • Grizzly Lake
  • Narrow Gauge Trail (The same train route near Nathrop)
  • Poplar Gulch Trail
  • Fitzpatrick Peak
  • Pitkin Museum

    Pitkin, CO and Lower Section of Road 839

    When we arrived in Pitkin, we knew we were getting close to the spur leading to the Alpine Tunnel. I snapped one photo of the Pitkin Museum. Nice model water tower!
    Colorado Mountains
    Colorado Mountains
    Two views of the mountains and road as we headed along Road 839, a 10-mile spur to the tunnel. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is a very good idea on this road.
    Historic Railroad Water Tower A restored water tower downhill in Woodstock.
    Woodstock Ghost Town We stopped at an area that was once known as the town of Woodstock. Sadly, a deadly avalanche took out 13 people and the area was never rebuilt.
    Sherrod Loop

    Sherrod Loop Area

    Sherrod Loop, another ghost town.

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