What Ever Happened To Colorado’s Historic Needle’s Eye Tunnel?
During the early 1900s, dozens of trains traversed across the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railway, chugging their way through the Needle's Eye Tunnel, 11,660 feet above the ground in Gilpin County, Colorado.
The railway itself was established in 1903 by Denver banker, David Moffat. At the time, it was the highest non-cog railroad in America. The route traveled above the tree line, through the scenic Rollins Pass, and over the Continental Divide.
The Rollins Pass route had three tunnels on it, numbered 31, 32, and 33. Tunnel 32 was also known as Needle's Eye Tunnel. The tunnel was given its alternate name based on its resemblance to the eye of a sewing needle.
Needle's Eye Tunnel is situated above the tree line roughly one mile from the pass on the east side of the Divide. When train passengers looked down 800 feet below at Jenny Lake, it felt like they were on top of the world. The particular location was chosen after the first tunnel that was built was deemed unsafe because of crumbling rock.
With the completion of the nearby Moffat Tunnel, the railroad was no longer needed. The railway was abandoned in 1935 but the road still traveled through the Needle's Eye Tunnel.
The ironic part of the story though, is that multiple rockfalls ultimately led to the demise of Needle's Eye Tunnel regardless. The first incident occurred in 1979 when falling rocks caused significant damage to Moffat Road. The road to the tunnel was closed until 1988. Then, another significant rockfall happened in 1990, which caused the tunnel to permanently shut down.
Boulder County and the USFS sealed Needle's Eye following its closure.
Several years ago, efforts were being made to restore, repair, and reopen Needle's Eye Tunnel. Locals had hoped that doing so would reduce congestion along the I-70 Corridor, and a few surrounding counties were in favor of this plan.
Nowadays, people can hike or bike across and around the collapsed Needle's Eye Tunnel and get a glimpse of Colorado's historic past. However, the trails around the area remain snow-covered for many months during the year, so access usually isn't available until late June or early July. Remnants of other railway buildings and trestles can also be seen in the area.
This video shows what the area on Rollins Pass looks like in modern times and provides a look back at how Needle's Eye came to be.