The genesis was the spring of 1945. General Eisenhower and his paramour, Kay Sommersby, were out for a Sunday drive. The story is that the General and the lady were cruising the autobahn, watching the Black Forest zip by.
It was an afternoon that Ike would remember years later when he proposed a National Highway, the Interstate Highway System. Eisenhower saw this as a way of linking one coast to the other, a way of being able to transport troops and equipment across the country quickly.
My interest in the system concerns a small section of one of the North South arteries I-15. Interstate 15 between St. George Utah and Las Vegas Nevada traverses the famous Virgin River Gorge; a spectacular red rock canyon carved over centuries by what is now known as the Virgin River. The road was finished in November of 1963 only days before John Kennedy was murdered in Dallas. Every time I travel this road, I tell my fellow travelers the story of its creation.
There are many unique aspects of the construction, I say, including the cost, but let’s save that for later. Mind you explosives played a key role in the construction, holes we’re drilled in the canyon wall. Sticks of dynamite were placed in the holes and detonated. If you look closely, you can see the holes where the charges were placed. If you listen carefully, you can hear the echoes of those mighty blasts. Millions of cubic yards of material were removed from the canyon walls creating room for the eventual highway. It has been said that if you trucked all the material to China you could create a second Great Wall equal in length to the first and a striking red color. I think the Chinese would like that, the Great Red Wall of China.
Sometimes I picture Ike and Kay cruising through the Virgin River Gorge. I wonder if they would picture tanks on the road like those they saw on the autobahn some 20 years earlier, and would one of them point out as I always do that this section of road cost over a million dollars a mile to build. Just imagine, a million dollars a mile.