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Strange highway signage
(and a former US route terminus) in Estes Park, CO

Photo credits: Michael Summa; me

Situated at the gateway to one of the most-visited National Parks, the city of Estes Park swarms with tourists during the summer months. For that reason, you might expect the highway signage here in particular to be thorough, consistent, and helpful to visitors. However, that's not what I've observed.

Let's begin in Rocky Mountain National Park, heading east on US 34 at "Deer Ridge Junction", which marks the beginning of US 36:

me, 1999

Either direction will get you to Estes Park: it's about 5 miles straight ahead via US 36, or else a little further if you continue on US 34 to the left. For that reason, as you can see, the National Park Service decided to sign each route as an "Alternate" route for the other. So, let's take US 34 (and Alt 36) by turning left. The photo below is also heading east on US 34, well inside Estes Park city limits, about three miles past the Fall River entrance:

me, Feb. 2005

Here, old US 34 (Elkhorn Avenue, to the right through downtown Estes) is now signed as Business 34, while mainline 34 traffic is routed straight ahead along a newer bypass, known locally as Wonderview Avenue. Pretty straightforward - except there's no mention of which route "Alt 36" traffic should follow here. That's because, as far as CDoT is concerned, there's no such thing as "Alt 34" or "Alt 36". Those designations were simply invented by NPS, and as far as I know they appear only on the one sign shown above. Perhaps not too big a deal, though, because either direction will connect with US 36. However, if your intention is to head back into the Park via westbound US 36, and you choose the Business 34 fork here, you'll have to be on your toes, because the right turn from eastbound Elkhorn to southbound Moraine Avenue is not signed as US 36.

On the other hand, if we continue straight ahead on Wonderview, that bypasses downtown and then curves south to a junction with Elkhorn. I don't have any qualms with the sign assembly there...

me, Feb. 2005

...except the "To CO 7" sign in the distance is a little too late to be helpful - it would be better if it were included with this assembly. Eastbound US 34 continues to the left, via Big Thompson Avenue. Straight ahead the roadname changes to St. Vrain Avenue, which serves as eastbound US 36 (that was actually the beginning of US 36 from 1968-1978). But today US 36 extends westbound to the right, via Elkhorn (along with westbound Business 34). If only all the approaches to this intersection were as well-signed...

Below we're looking the opposite direction (westbound US 36 on St. Vrain):

me, Feb. 2005

That used to be the west end of US 36. Today's sign fails to indicate that the business route is also "Business 34" and is therefore an option for US 34 traffic as well. And what if you want eastbound US 34 (to the right)? In the distance behind the bottom right corner of the "Big Thompson River" sign, you can see an assembly for traffic approaching from the right via westbound US 34 - that sign is even worse; it's shown closeup below:

me, Feb. 2005

First, I think it's a little confusing to have the US 34 info in the center - wouldn't it make more sense to have US 36 in the middle? Also, it's not clear that it's Business 34 straight ahead via Elkhorn, while mainline (or "bypass") 34 is to the right via Wonderview. And worst of all, how do we know which way is eastbound US 36, and which way is westbound?

Anyway, as I've said, US 36 used to begin to the left. But today it continues west: straight ahead from there on Elkhorn, US 36 traffic splits off by turning south on Moraine:

me, Feb. 2005

As you can see, Business 34 at this point is signed as if it's mainline US 34. Below is another perspective of that same signage:

me, Feb. 2005

Coming in from the left (heading north on Moraine), US 36 traffic encounters pretty lackadaisical signage at its junction with Business US 34:

me, Feb. 2005

The city street sign is slightly more informative than the CDoT signage; it's shown close-up below:

me, Feb. 2005

If you turn right there, you observe that US 36 is co-signed with Business 34 for only a few blocks before splitting off on its own again:

me, Feb. 2005

Now we're back to that intersection where US 36 used to begin: that's St. Vrain to the right, and Wonderview to the left. Compare that to the way it used to be signed:


I'm not sure exactly when that photo was taken (sometime in the 1970s or 80s), but that's likely how it appeared when that junction was actually the west beginning of US 36. For more photos of signage in this area (particularly from Deer Ridge Junction), you can view my "End US 36" page.