Back in November 2009, we did a segment called the “10 Toughest Tows in America
,” which featured what we thought (at the time) were the most challenging stretches of road found along major U.S. highways. From least to most challenging, the list included Black Mountain (North Carolina), Monteagle Grade (Tennessee), The Grapevine (California), Emigrant Hill (Oregon), Union Pass (Arizona), Vail Pass (Colorado), Siskiyou Summit (Oregon), Wolf Creek Pass (Colorado), Loveland Pass (Colorado), and Atigun Pass (Alaska).
Now, 4½ years later, I’ve got a revision to make. While I can personally attest that both Vail and Loveland Pass in Colorado are 100 percent justified in remaining on that list, one of the original selections needs to be booted in favor of a long stretch of I-70 in central Utah. Referred to as Emigrant Pass on some maps (not to be confused with Emigrant Hill listed above), the route spans an incredible 110 miles, from Green River to Salina, Utah. Eerily enough, this is also the longest distance anywhere in America’s interstate highway system with no motorist services -- you are truly on your own once you begin the climb.
| The western portion of the United States is where you’ll find the most challenging stretches of highway. Mountain grades, unpredictable weather, and sparse roadside services all add to this region’s intimidation factor. After my experience traveling through Utah’s 110-mile, windy mountain stretch informally known as Emigrant Pass, I think it would make the perfect place to conduct towing and durability tests.
I stumbled upon the pass while traveling west on I-70 last November in our ’05 Jeep Liberty
CRD. After an uneventful day traveling through the Colorado Rockies, this flatlander had no idea the road ahead would be so challenging. Trying to navigate through the area late at night while battling snow, high wind, and dense fog proved to be a challenge in and of itself -- and then came the long, drawn-out, winding grades. The most intimidating leg of the journey began after the Hanksville, State Route 24 exit, where it seems you’re forced into a never-ending maze of 7 percent grades. At this point, semis that had joined us at the bottom fell off sharply, their blinking hazard lights slowly fading out.
With the Jeep’s 545RFE automatic locked in Third gear (and going just 45 to 50 mph) for a considerable portion of the drive, I couldn’t wait for the moment when it’d crested its last hill. Unfortunately, that moment didn’t occur until I’d endured 70 miles of 10-and-2 driving. To be perfectly honest, I remember feeding the 2.8L VM Motori under the Jeep’s hood substantial throttle just to accelerate downhill at times. All I could do with each posted 75-mph (and then 70) speed limit sign was laugh at it, as the Liberty wanted no part of it.
Looking back, I wish I’d made my first trip through this grueling terrain during daylight hours, and not just for the sake of better visibility and warmer temperatures. As it turns out, it’s a beautiful area. To quote Wikipedia, it “crosses two major geographic obstacles,” which I can attest to and will go ahead and call natural wonders: the San Rafael Swell and the Wasatch Plateau. The highest point along the drive checked in at a little less than 8,000 feet above sea level (Wasatch Plateau), although the majority of the drive was spent ascending and descending between 5,000 and 7,000 feet.
Something about this intimidating stretch of highway has me eager to go back and try it again, as well as explore other challenging high roads. Maybe it’s the thrill of defeating the mountain, battling all the natural elements, or the desolateness of the entire area that brings out my self-reliant nature, but drives like this intrigue me. It’s the type of unforgiving terrain that makes having a fully functional, well-maintained vehicle a necessity if you want to make it to the top -- and I wouldn’t mind holding tow tests here in the future.
If you have a question or comment about months editorial, please email Mike McGlothlin at Mike.McGlothlin@sorc.com.