Rivers, mountains and valleys define Eagle County. The early exploration of the County by trappers followed the valleys and the lower mountains, avoiding the high peaks and steep canyons. Later transportation routes for settlers and railroads took these same paths of least resistance. The Midland Railroad, working its way from Leadville to Glenwood Springs and Aspen, took a southerly route, avoiding what is now the Holy Cross Wilderness Area and the White River National Forest.
A map of Eagle County. Green is White River National Forest, yellow is Bureau of Land Management land. The reddish line from east to west is Interstate 70, running along Eagle River. From Wikipedia
The community of Aspen Junction, at the confluence of the Frying Pan and Roaring Fork Rivers, was established as a railroad town, supporting the construction and support of the Midland Railroad. The name was changed to Basalt with the completion of the railroad from Leadville to Glenwood Springs in 1887. The boundaries for Eagle and Garfield Counties were drawn in 1883 and Basalt found itself at the southwest corner of Eagle County. Transportation to Basalt from the east was quite an endurance contest, whether by rail or by horseback. Jacob Lucksinger, a Swiss immigrant, arrived in Aspen Junction in 1885. He homesteaded a dairy ranch and raised ten children. Son, Jake Jr., was Eagle County Commissioner of District No. 3 for many years. His sense of humor is evident in a letter he wrote: “I was born here at the ranch. I tell people when they talk about how they arrived in this valley that I came here bareback—some came on the Midland, some walked in, some by covered wagon, but me,--bareback!” [Danielson, Clarence, Basalt: Colorado Midland Town, p. 264]
Today Basalt straddles the Eagle County-Pitkin County line and the community of El Jebel, three miles northwest of Basalt, is a census-designated place, not incorporated, in Eagle County. The road over Cottonwood Pass is still unpaved, making it impassable to most vehicles during the mud and snow seasons. With the reconstruction of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon, the trip from Eagle to Basalt takes 1 ¼ hrs., taking I-70 from Eagle, following the Eagle and Colorado Rivers west to Glenwood Springs, in Garfield County. From there, taking Hwy 82 south following the Roaring Fork River, crossing out of Garfield County and back into Eagle County just north of El Jebel.