Monday, September 17, 2007

bad road

This weekend I went out for another try at grouse. Just a day trip, working on getting the dog to work and checking out a couple of places I hadn't been in a while in addition to some new spots.

Fall is definitely coming. The New Mexico locust (one of the rare spiny plants to encounter up high in the southern Rockies) is getting well on to yellow and some aspens are starting to turn. I heard a bull elk bugling a bit, too.

We found one bunch of birds, but didn't score in part due to difficult terrain, but mostly because of a series of brain fades on my part when it came to preparing for the day. I'm not quite in self-deprecating enough of a mood to share those particular errors. Good to see some birds, though. Having blown one opportunity, the dog and I loaded up and went in search of some new ridges to check out. I ended up finding a series of high meadows which were awfully pretty and which look like prime grouse habitat. We didn't find any birds, but that's not definitive. Another three or four dry runs and I'll not bother with them much anymore. I'll bet we get into birds up there, though.

Those meadows were halfway up a pretty bad road. Unfortunately, I've never figured out how to take a picture that does such a thing justice.

My skidplates got a little polishing and, mostly, it took a long time to get up there and even longer to get back, in part due to a probably poorly considered decision to take the shorter, rather than the smoother, route. You just have to creep along and pay attention to where the wheels are going. In this instance it meant nothing more than a late-ish evening.

A few years ago, I spent some time scouting around to find an elk hunting area in southern Colorado. Now, I know that there are elk all over southern CO, but I was looking for a specific place for a group of us to meet, which meant actually spotting elk and trying to figure out where they might hole up once the season started, as well as finding a camp we could all get to. I had been out a couple of days and was going to head home that evening when, around noon, I decided to check out another loop of road across a highway from the area I had been knocking around. In doing so, I broke a pretty strong guideline, maybe even a rule, that I had grown up with; namely, before heading off into the woods or some back road, fill up your gas tank. I had half a tank and figured that would be plenty for the little twenty-mile loop I saw on the map. I headed up and got off the gravel road onto a dirt forest road which rapidly got smaller. Still, there were some recent, as well as fresh, vehicle tracks. Up and around I went, eventually discovering that most people had been taking a little illegal spur up to a lake which showed as a mile off the road on my map. At least I knew I was on the right road.
That road continued to dwindle and get more and more rough, but I jounced along. Eventually, it got darned faint. More distressingly, the tracks I took for another vehicle turned out to be those of two four-wheeler ATVs, which had been traveling abreast. They changed that shorty before they turned around. I hate ATVs. I thought about turning around, too, but figured I was better than halfway along. Then I hit the creek. Not enough water to matter, but some really large boulders presented a very significant obstacle to my Chevy S-10 pickup. It was a great little vehicle, but suffered from a fairly long wheel base and a lack of body clearance. I got out and checked the rocks and couldn't see any way across that wouldn't end up with me high-centered. Worse, I no longer had enough gas to go back the way I came. I got out my shovel and pried at a couple of the worst boulders. Subtle creaking from the handle indicated that, while I might break the shovel, I wasn't moving the rocks. A small aspen had been knocked down by a windfall spruce, so I cut that for a pole and trimmed an end to fit under a rock. That resulted in an impressive bend in the springy green aspen, especially when I hung all of my weight off the end, but no motion in the rock. A similar experiment with a dried spruce used as a pole just resulted in breaking off the end of the wood. Finally, I stacked some rocks in a couple of low places, cussed a little, put the truck in four-low, and eased my way out over it. Nothing else could be done, I had to get home and I couldn't get there by going back.
To my surprise and utter relief, no disaster ensued. My only problem then was gas. Hurrying through the mudholes and washouts wasn't an option, so it was another tense hour before I finally got to the better road. Of course, given that it was now quite late on Sunday evening, no one was up there so I still faced a very long walk if I ran dry. I spent most of the ride trying to figure out the least-embarrassing way to describe my anticipated failure to show up for work on Monday. Amazingly enough, there was a whole half-gallon of gas in the tank when I coasted into the first station I could find open.

I got off easy and the experience was chastening enough that I haven't repeated the failure to gas up. Even if it is a bit more at the pump up in the boonies, you're supporting the rural economy and the peace of mind is dirt cheap at the price.

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