The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Continental Divide

5685 The Continental Divide is indicated inside the overlook building atop Monarch Pass, Colorado. CLUI photo
THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE IS ONE of the largest, most physical, and most incontrovertible lines in the nation. It runs along the crest of the continent, from Alaska to Mexico and beyond, marking the line where a drop of water falling on one side flows to the Atlantic Ocean, and on the other, to the Pacific Ocean. But of course it’s not that simple. 
In the past, the Continental Divide was one of the primary barriers to breach in order to link the nation, where the resistance in a sense was at its utmost, and costs—human and economic—to get through it reached their peak. The Divide was, however, conquered, surtopped with roads and rail through mountain passes, and undermined by tunnels. The flow of people and goods pushed its way though. The course of the very rivers that once defined the Divide have been altered, too, especially the Colorado, the southwest’s major river, which has been substantially diverted eastward, into the faucets of the expanding Front Range. And some of the largest mines in the nation have been dug directly on the Continental Divide, altering drainage in ways that have not been mapped. 
So where the Divide is, exactly, today, is a bit of a mystery. That mystery was the subject of an extensive research project at the CLUI over the past year, culminating in Continental Divide, an exhibit which opened in December, 2019 at the CLUI space in Los Angeles. The exhibit took in the Continental Divide as a whole, as a cultural artifact of the past and the present, and shows how we collectively, through our built environment, have responded to it, as a divider and uniter of these United States.