LONGMONT, Colo. — When Sal Paradise, the narrator and main character in Jack Kerouac‘s quasi-autobiographical novel On the Road, was on his way to Denver, he hitched a ride near Cheyenne, Wyo., from a guy from Connecticut driving cross-country in jalopy and painting along the way.
Keroauc wrote in On the Road:
Under a tremendous old tree was a bed of green lawn-grass belonging to a gas station. I asked if the attendant if I could sleep there, and he said sure, so I stretched out a wool shirt, laid my face flat on it, with an elbow out, and one eye cocked at the snowy Rockies in the hot sun for a moment. I fell asleep for two delicious hours, the only discomfort being an occasional Colorado ant. And here I am in Colorado! I kept thinking gleefully. Damn damn damn! I’m making it!
That On the Road gas station is still around according to Brian Butko’s Lincoln Highway Companion. It’s at the corner of Ionosphere Street and Neon Forest Circle at the edge of a mixed-used development near the junction of U.S. 287 and Pike Road.
It was moved here from its former location nearby at the intersection of U.S. 287 and Colorado State Highway 119. As I discovered, the Art Deco-inspired gas station sits vacant, is surrounded by a chain-link fence and does not yet sit on a permanent foundation.
Modern-day U.S. 287 is a six-lane divided highway that runs along Colorado’s Front Range and along the eastern flank of the gas station’s new home. According to the Lincoln Highway Association’s official map, the Lincoln Highway’s Colorado Loop through Denver follows today’s U.S. 287 or parallel roads nearby.
This is the way Kerouac (and Sal Paradise) would have used traveling between Cheyenne and Denver. This route passes through Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont and Broomfield, but stays to the east of Boulder.
While there’s still some rich agricultural land and open space in this corridor, the greater expanse of Front Range suburbia encroaches along the route. During Kerouac’s time here, this area would have been considerably more rural.