HISTORY 101: How the States got Their Shapes is a plain little book full of fairly interesting facts—especially if you are someone who still gets a thrill from seeing that “Welcome to ….” sign at the next state line. We will cross the state line separating New Mexico and Colorado at the 37th parallel, just north of Chama NM on Highway 17. It seems that back in 1850 Congress actually thought ahead, for better or worse. While the territory of New Mexico’s northern border had always been the 37th parallel that became an even more important division when it was decided that three Rocky Mountain states of exactly the same 4° height should be created between New Mexico and Canada. In the future Colorado, Wyoming and Montana would fill that space, (p. 196).  The book doesn’t really explain why that was important but of course we trust Congress to have done the wise thing. Not.

The story of Colorado’s borders is all about GOLD. In the beginning…there was no Colorado. The territories of Kansas and Nebraska originally reached to the crest of the Rockies and Utah and New Mexico comprised the rest of what would become Colorado. When gold was discovered in 1858, over 50,000 people, who would soon need services from their territorial government, came running.


 Unfortunately at the moment, “Bleeding Kansas” was in the throes of the debate over slavery and could not respond. The miners dealt with the situation by electing representatives who gathered in 1859 and created the “Territory of Jefferson.”  The territory’s borders stretched from the 35th parallel in the south (encompassing Santa Fe) to the 42nd parallel in the north, west to the 109th meridian and east to the 102nd meridian.  The eastern and western borders stuck because Congress had in mind western states of exactly seven degrees width. (Why?)


 As for the northern and southern borders, changes would be made; Congress moved the border with New Mexico north, back to the original 37th parallel because it was intended for the new territory’s Hispanic population to remain in the place called New Mexico.

Colorado’s northern border was retracted to the 41st parallel to keep the idea of three states between New Mexico and Canada of exactly 4° in place (pp. 39-43)

THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS BRAVE MAZDA: Let us rejoin the intrepid road trippers who are leaving Salida, Colorado for Fort Collins for a visit with friends. We are going through the seriously high Rockies on this day. I’ve only been through the high mountain country a few times.

     I am remembering we came this way when we returned from being stationed at Clark AFB in the Philippines. My son who is about to turn 50 was approximately two-years-old at the time so please forgive me if this is a little sketchy. We (husband Don, sons Scott and Steven, and me the mom) bought an old car in San Francisco where we landed, and pointed it east. I think we stopped in Reno, Nevada overnight; my first sight of slot machines, and I remember we could not walk through a casino to the restaurant because we had small children.  Reno seemed a shabby place. Went there for a conference years later and cannot remember one thing about the town—well, I do remember the night I arrived, sitting in the casino playing the nickel slots and getting free Baileys on the rocks from the circling waitresses. That’s all.

So much for vivid accounts of past travels that I keep meaning to write. Hopefully I’ll do better when I start remembering Paris.


Steven and Scott on the road.

What I remember about the high Rocky Mountain passes was that our sickly old automobile did not like to climb so those miles on the way up were filled with anxiety. Probably the miles going down also because I vaguely remember the car had ‘mushy’ brakes. But we were young and brave and lived to tell the tale.


After a morning in our Salida motel we will drive north on US 285 for 49 miles then State Road 9 for 8 miles or so to Breckenridge. I haven’t been this exact route before but I am imaging some wide open spaces expertly ornamented with sharp peaks and jagged ridges all of the way. From Breckenridge to Silverthorne is only 17 miles on State Road 9, US 6 and some streets. Then 40 miles to Empire partly on US 6 but here is where an Interstate first rears its ugly,  make that boring, head. The maps I have indicate we cannot avoid about 15 miles of I-70. We will try our best to make this the only 15 miles of freeway between here and Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

At Empire we’ll take US 40 about 44 miles to Granby. Then Granby to Estes Park appears to be 60 miles of US 34 and then 36 through Rocky Mountain National Park  so I am predicting a slow picture-taking gorgeous ride through a piece of the world’s truly scenic landscape. I’ve only seen this from the east side of the mountains except for that one long-ago trip so I am quite excited. Estes Park into Fort Collins will be an easy 42 miles, coming down out of the high country to the sprawl of urban almost-Denver. Dinner with a couple of my favorite people in the universe, Val and John, and we’ll meet the babies for the first time. My granddaughters will get a glimpse into the lives of young working parents who love their jobs, kids and lives. I am a fervent patriot when I am out in the geography of America. Mountains, plains, rivers, lakes, all of it so exceptional, so fascinating, so…mine!


  1. Hey Marj, always nice reading your travel notes and particularly this one by which I learned about US gold digging history …Thanks! Bernard

    PS. just back from warm/sunny Sofia/Bulgaria, a first for me before some dance in Paris, continuing to Alsace this wk-end.

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