In the 1950s, the national mood was one of hope. The misery of the Great Depression was a fading memory and the sacrifices of World War II were at an end. People wanted to enjoy life, and many of them got into their cars and went out to see America.
Where to house all those weary travelers? It was inevitable that a cheap, uncomplicated option from the tourist camps that were popular in the ’20s and ’30s would emerge. Thus, the motel scene exploded.
Writer William Kaszynski wrote, “The prosperity following World War II gave the travel industry a needed shot in the arm as millions of Americans took to the highway on family outings. A boom in motel construction ensued, and thousands of individual owner-operator establishments seemed to spring up overnight.”
Previously, during the 1930s, there was a push to improve the roads here. The dirt road that was U.S. 50 between Cañon City and Monarch Pass was oil-paved between 1935 and 1940. In January 1938, plans were made to reroute Monarch Pass over the divide, and the new pass was completed by that summer. Old Monarch Pass remained open as a scenic off-road route.
Families loaded up their kids and set out for, among other places, Salida. Wilbur Foshay, Salida’s prominent chamber of commerce secretary, may have had a hand in bringing them here. In summer 1938, he set up heart-shaped way-finder signs that read “Salida, the Heart of the Rockies” all the way to the Kansas state line.
James Agee wrote a piece on the Great American Roadside that captured our national tendency:
“Whatever we may think, we move for no better reason than for the plain unvarnished hell of it. And there is no better reason. So God made the American restive. The American in turn and in due time got into the automobile and found it good. The automobile became a hypnosis, the opium of the American people.”
These photographs are from the Salida Museum’s negatives collection, all taken during the 1950s and ’60s, the time of the “wish you were here” postcard, and they give a nostalgic glimpse back.
Things moved at an easier pace back then, as observed by a writer for Road and Track magazine:
“No one was in a hurry on the roads in 1960. Why? There was no reason to hurry. When you were driving in the ’60s, no one could get in contact with you. No one could call you and ask, ‘Where are you?’ or ‘How much longer until you get here?’ There was no need to check in, because there was no way to check in. Whenever you got there was whenever you got there.”