On Motorized Vehicles and Wilderness

4x4 Jeep

When we decided to climb Mt. Blanca, we parked at the bottom before the road got really rough. I guess we're a bunch of purists: we were going mountain climbing. So we walked up the seven miles of progressively worse and worse road until we reached camp at Lake Como. The road is rated one of the worst in Colorado and it has earned the rating. However, that makes the road a worthy challenge for some folks.

Saturday morning we awoke to the above scene. The (see below) out of Durango was coming up the hill to do some erosion control work on the highest stretches of the road so that the Forest Service wouldn't close it above the lake to motorized vehicles. They brought with them some generators and at least one electric jackhammer. From early Saturday morning until after we left Saturday afternoon, they were busy working on the road above Lake Como, going to its' end, making one hell of a racket in this pristine environment.

One of the vehicles they were using was "The Sniper," designed and built by Avalanche Engineering of Bayfield and Denver. It's an articulated vehicle, fully operable by a driver standing beside it. The designer/engineer/builder/owner told me there are only 4 in the world (at that time) and it is really designed for rock crawling competitions. If all of the vehicles (and drivers) on the Lake Como Road that day were like this one, the rest of this story would be different.

The scene at Lake Como
Saturday AM at Lake Como
the Sniper (a rock crawler)
The Sniper

We didn't realize how many vehicles comprised this "gathering" until we started packing up to go back down the hill. Then more and more vehicles began arriving around the lake. We started walking out and ran into even more vehicles already camped below the lake. Heading down the hill wasn't too bad until the ATVs they were using to keep track of everybody started going up and down. Then we came to the reason(s) why: 4 wheel drive vehicles, stuck all over the hill. Every half mile or so another clump of them working to get one vehicle or another past something in the road. Then came the guy in the Chevy Blazer, hanging by his winchline with a pretty good crowd watching and directing him. He was pretty stuck and held up another dozen or more vehicles. Some of the other drivers expressed the idea that they might have gotten to the lake sooner if they had walked, like we were doing. We got by him and then the traffic started thinning out. There were only a couple more spots where folks were hanging up on the rocks and then we passed the cabins in Holbrook Canyon. Below there, everybody was moving. Also below there were several kids racing dirt bikes up and down the hill. Almost at the bottom we were passed by another group of ATVs going up.

All along the road we kept passing folks with backpacks walking up. Their sentiments were pretty universal in regards to the folks in the vehicles and what it was like hiking up that hill with all those vehicles occupying the road. However, that road is so bad it can't really be damaged anymore, except perhaps by erosion and that might be stretching it a bit. Still, this was a pristine National Forest at the edge of the Sangre de Cristo National Wilderness Area. I have to drive 23 miles from my home to find that much traffic during Friday's afternoon rush hour (never mind on a Saturday afternoon) and here I was, between 7,500 and 12,000 feet elevation on the side of a mountain. And I was eating lunch next to the wilderness, listening to a jackhammer pounding. I won't share all my thoughts, I'm sure you have your own.

I'll leave you with the guy in the Blazer hanging by his winchline with Furi watching and shaking his head. And notice the yellow Toyota with the driver's side all bashed in. Obviously, these guys know what they're doing.

stuck, and hanging by a winchline
and hanging by a winchline. logo