Date of Award

August 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Robert Wilson


Colorado, Environmental History, Infrastructure, Interstate 70, Landscape Studies, Vail Pass

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Constructed between 1972 and 1978, Vail Pass is a 16-mile section of Interstate-70 that crosses the continental divide in the Central Mountains of Colorado. It connects the ski resort communities of Copper Mountain and Vail and has played a significant role in the development of tourism in the Colorado High Country. The design and planning of Vail Pass occurred at a time of increased public concern over environmental issues, and was built following a series of significant pieces of federal environmental legislation. Within this context, highway designers and engineers sought to harmoniously integrate the highway into its natural setting.

This thesis tells the story of Vail Pass through the perspectives of environmental legislation and politics, roadway design, and human-nature relations in Colorado. A personal bicycle journey over Vail Pass serves to introduce the central questions of this project. Chapter one discusses scholarly work within environmental history and landscape studies in order to contextualize this project within broader academic debates. Chapter two addresses the environmental politics and legislation that arose around the Vail Pass project and considers the impact of federal legislation on a single landscape. In Chapters three and four, Vail Pass is placed within broader histories of road and landscape design, providing a deeper understanding of the meaning and significance of the Vail Pass landscape. In the concluding chapter, Vail Pass is used to discuss broader questions of infrastructure, tourism, and the environment in Colorado as climate change alters the landscape.


Open Access



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