Tom Ross: A Nitty Gritty ditty |

Tom Ross: A Nitty Gritty ditty

Tom Ross

— In the same minute that I read Thursday's news release announcing Independence Pass would open a couple of weeks early on May 11, I had a flashback to one of my favorite Nitty Gritty Dirt Band songs, "Sarah in the Summer."

Former Dirt Band (nobody ever called them the Nitty Gritties to my knowledge) member Jimmy Ibbotson wrote the song, and I always thought it was one of the most romantic lyrics I ever had heard — in a mountain-man, mountain-woman kind of way.

The song describes a musician (Ibbotson, I guess), coming off the road in Denver and making a beeline for his home in Aspen and the girl he loves. And if he was lucky, Independence Pass, representing a shortcut to Aspen, had shed its snow and was open for the season.

The key verse goes like this:

"I've driven this road as a stranger

I've driven this road as a friend

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I've driven this road as a slack-jawed tourist

And I'm drivin' on it once again

It might be cold and long and lonely

But she's waiting on the other side

And I'm an hour closer to Sarah in the summer

And joyfully I ride."

Although the song always has struck me as being romantic, there's a good chance Ibby was singing about his daughter, which makes it touching.

So, anyway, here's the deal with Independence Pass. Aspen is at the end of a dead-end road, Colorado Highway 82, all winter when the road over the 12,095-foot pass is closed. That means it's possible to travel to Aspen much faster — an hour faster, according to the song — in summer when it's possible to go over the pass from the Arkansas Valley and drop abruptly into Aspen's east end.

Most years, Independence Pass isn't cleared of snow and ready to drive until the Thursday before Memorial Day, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. This year, that would have been May 24.

Opening the pass this year is no big deal. The CDOT news release sources the Colorado Avalanche Information Center as reporting that snowpack on Independence this year is zero percent of average.

I'm not certain, but I think that means there's absolutely no snow next to the road.

Last year, the snowpack on the pass was 452 percent of average in late May, and CDOT employees worked overtime to get the pass open before Memorial Day.

You might recall that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played a couple of notable free concerts at Howelsen Hill in the past 15 years, and the band has a full touring schedule this spring and summer. However, the band photos seem to confirm Ibbotson still is missing from one of Colorado's all-time favorite country bluegrass bands.

No matter — I'll always have a soft spot for Ibby's Nitty Ditty about Sarah and Independence Pass in the summer.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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