Road Trips

The view from Polish Mountain

This map shows three alignments of US 40 about 15 miles east of Cumberland, Maryland. The newest dates to 1991, when I-68 was completed and US 40 was moved to it. The next, which dates to 1958, is now Maryland Route 144. The oldest, now called Gilpin Road, is actually the National Road.

GilpinRoad

My flatland Hoosier sons and I were very surprised to turn onto Gilpin Road and find ourselves going sharply uphill. My little car struggled all the way, never besting 45 miles per hour. That’s probably just as well, not just because the road is also winding and very narrow, but also because we wanted to enjoy the breathtaking view as long as we could. Check this out:

The view from Gilpin Road

Clearly, the map doesn’t show the differences in elevation among the three roads! We found one spot along Gilpin Road wide enough for us to pull over and looked over the landscape, agog. We said “Wow!” over and over for several minutes before we realized we should get out our cameras. A bit of Maryland Route 144 is visible in the lower third of the photo, and beyond it I-68 stretches across the Maryland countryside on its way to West Virginia. I took several photos from here which Autostitch linked together into this panorama. It looks best in its largest size. (I didn’t notice the semi as I was clicking off shots from right to left, and I managed to get it into most of the shots. Isn’t it interesting how Autostitch made it fade progressively away?)

The view from Gilpin Road

Extending the National Road east from Cumberland to Baltimore required building over and around this rugged terrain, creating the steep climbs and hairpin turns of Gilpin Road. Some of those turns were made slightly less harrowing in the 1920s and 1930s; Christopher Busta-Peck shares some vintage photos of that reconstruction in his excellent National Road blog. Those realignments were minor compared to the cuts and fills in the 1958 alignment, which have been called the meanest feats of road engineering in Maryland to that time.

I-68 soundly trumps both roads, cutting deeply through the hills. Notice the deep cut on the panorama’s right side. I-68’s most amazing cut into the terrain is a bit east of here at Sideling Hill, from which a 340-foot-deep wedge was removed. This page shows the hill shortly after the road was completed, before the rock’s colors darkened to shades of brown.

I actually haven’t seen the Sideling Hill cut in person. Maybe one day. Given the short time I had to drive through Maryland, I chose the National Road all the way. Given another opportunity for a short trip through Maryland, I’d choose the National Road and Polish Mountain again.

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