Downy ayshun? No, up the mountains

Baltimore Glimpses

December 04, 1990|By GILBERT SANDLER

THE STATE of Maryland, responding to its citizens' lust to reach the beach faster, reduced driving time out of Baltimore from, say, five hours to about three. It built a bridge.

But not all Marylanders head east to the sea; many go west to the mountains and the Deep Creek Lake area. Here, too, the state reduced the driving time out of Baltimore from, say, seven hours to four. It cut through the mountains.

With the result that the picturesque winding, climbing, tilting, dipping, roller-coaster route that was "Old 40" (as it is still affectionately known), with its soaring heights and rolling meadows far below, is mostly gone now. The bulldozers have cut through and straightened out and flattened the highway. Over the years, first the new U.S. 40 replaced what would be known as Alternate Route 40. Then came I-70. The world of

Western Maryland would never be the same.

As it is today, the original Route 40 appears and reappears all along I-70. It snakes away, parallels and crosses the main route, then merges. It is a dance that goes on for a hundred miles. The traveler heading into Western Maryland confronts U.S. 40, I-70, Maryland Route 144, Scenic Route 40, Alternate Route 40, U.S. 40 again and U.S. 48.

It's a jumble.

But in the 1950s the way west was straight out Route 40, the same stretch of road that is a part of the historic "National Pike," functioning as early as the 1650s. From Baltimore to Oakland in Garrett County in those days was a long journey, mostly up and down the foothills and mountains of the Piedmont Plateau, beginning at Frederick at about 300 above sea level, winding higher and higher to Grantsville, at about 3,000 feet near the top of Negro Mountain. Along the way, the traveler confronted a dazzling surprise around each turn, the breathtakingly beautiful heights and valleys that define Western Maryland.

These days, more and more Marylanders are vacationing in Western Maryland or buying retirement homes and property there and in West Virginia beyond. Depending on the destination, of course, the 1990 trip takes about as long as the trek to Ocean City. But for Glimpses' money, the trip west is far more scenic. Generally (though by no means always), it has fewer backups.

And it's toll-free.

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