Pera:Eclipses, Meteors and 4WD Roads | Musings of a Mountain Man
by Jack Pera
Aug 29, 2007 | 229 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
While watching that beautiful pink-tinted fully eclipsed moon at 4:30 a. m. last Tuesday, I also saw a couple of shooting stars. Shooting stars are small solar system leftover dust and rock fragments and burn up very fast. Considering the expanse of sky they cover in such a short time they must be traveling at an extraordinary speed.

Seeing a large meteor, on the other hand, is something else. I speak from experience. Who among you has been lucky enough to have seen a large meteor in your life? I’ve seen two that I can remember. The first was enormous and happened one summer evening at least an hour-and-a-half before total darkness. I would guess that anytime you see a meteor in waning daylight, it has to be large and close. It was the summer of 1954 and I was camped up West Beaver Creek near the foot Lone Cone Mountain while working for the U.S. Forest Service spraying spruce beetle-infested trees. A group of us guys were out in a meadow after shift throwing a softball around when someone pointed to the sky in the west. I just got a quick look at it before it disappeared behind a high ridge adjacent to our camp, but I remember the size more than the speed. It was huge, and as I recall, it also had a bluish tint.

For the other incident, I was parked on top of Lizard Head Pass one late September pre-dawn morning when a large glowing meteor suddenly appeared to the south, above the horizon. I happened to be looking in that direction, so I was able to watch it from start to finish. It was traveling westward and I have no idea how far south it was, exactly, but it might have been over New Mexico. I was able to watch it for some two to four seconds before it broke into two pieces and flamed out.

In recent years there have been a couple of meteors pass near Montrose, one of which was filmed on a security camera.

Jeep Road Maintenance

As proven by the mudslide-flooded highways and mountain roads in the Telluride region, we’ve been getting some pretty fierce rainstorms in recent years. In addition to the mudslides closing the roads until they can be reopened by heavy equipment, some fairly serious erosion damage is taking an accumulative toll on the region’s jeep roads as well. To put it bluntly, as the rain erodes the dirt away – leaving only rocks, in places – some of them are getting rough as hell. This is particularly true of the Barlow Creek and Tomboy Mine roads, and to a lesser extent the Ophir Pass and Black Bear roads.

This presents an interesting dilemma. Should the abovementioned roads be maintained in a manner that allows for a fairly comfortable excursion into the high-alpine country? Or should we give them the bare minimum maintenance necessary to keep them passable for four-wheel drive vehicles? The difference in cost between these two options is huge, while the time and comfort level provided to users by roads left in a “raw” low-maintenance condition may be of lesser importance. As I discuss this, keep in mind that the Barlow Creek road to the top of Bolam Pass is under the jurisdiction of Dolores County, and any decision on the upkeep of that road belongs over there.

As mentioned, if only “passable” 4WD maintenance is the way to go, then costs applicable to these roads will be minimal at the expense of comfort. I have to admit, at my age, being thrown around in the vehicle on these increasingly roughening roads isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I’m sure a lot of paying passengers taking 4WD tours over the high passes feel the same way. Of course one of the reasons it was more pleasant to use these jeep roads in the past is because they were in a much smoother shape. It’s my guess that back when only wagons used the roads they were really in good shape. A lady told my wife a couple of weeks ago that she would never go over the Tomboy Road again because it was so rough. So? Like it or lump it, I guess, because allowing them to deteriorate further until they’re barely 4WD passable is still a viable option.

If, however, public sentiment demands they be upgraded and made smooth, that’s certainly an option. In most of the badly eroded places, fill dirt will have to be hauled into place and packed and graded. In some places, fill dirt can be “pulled” out of the bank and used to fill the eroded places to make the road smooth again. In other places, that isn’t possible, but it could possibly be cannibalized out of the upper side bank from a spot fairly close by. In any event, a lot of fill is going to be required to put those roads in A-1 smooth-as-silk condition again.

Trouble is, if most of the fill dirt used comes from sources alongside the road, it’s of poor quality, because if doesn’t contain enough crushed rock and isn’t of the proper dirt type to make a good road base. Therefore, the erosion problem will manifest itself again in a few short years. Really good road base that won’t erode as readily, with lots of clay and the proper mix of crushed rock, is a manufactured product, expensive, and has to be hauled from a place like Montrose or Norwood. But this too, will eventually erode away.

Is it really worth it to upgrade these roads into primo condition for most of their length, thus creating, in effect, a 4WD “superhighway” so  the multitudes can overwhelm the high country? Or would it be preferable to just let nature continue to take its course and go with keeping the roads 4WD-passable, in whatever condition, which will have the effect of discouraging traffic?

I like to venture into the high country on these roads on occasion, although not as much as I used to, partly because of excess traffic, partly because of rough roads and partly because of long-term burnout.

For me personally it’s a tough call, but I think I’ll vote for letting them deteriorate into an uncomfortably rough, but safe, 4WD road.   

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