Your tax dollars at work. Not.


You knew I had to do it. You knew that if Boulder Canyon opened last night, I’d be heading to Estes Park today. I couldn’t tell you why exactly, except that the road was open and the weather was spectacular.

It was sort of a bittersweet trip. I knew the foliage would be past its peak, and it was. The aspen between Nederland and Ward that are so spectacular in late September are bare now. There’s a straggler here and there that the wind hasn’t stripped yet, but if you’re making the drive to see aspen, the best of what’s left are around either Nederland or Peaceful Valley. Estes still looks pretty, but it’s only a matter of days before the gold is gone.


Traffic was heavy all the way up. No delays or lane closures, just lots of vehicles. I was hoping much of it would be tourist traffic, but it wasn’t. After all, the aspen are past their peak and Rocky Mountain National Park is closed. Why would tourists be going? Why was I going?

I had lunch at The Other Side and browsed the gift shop next door. Only three or four tables at the restaurant were occupied, and there was only one other customer in the gift shop. Elkhorn Avenue was actually driveable. Far too much so. I could have had front-door parking at almost any shop in town. The big public parking lots held maybe half a dozen cars each. So sad. Looked like a ghost town in places. Eerie, almost, with places shuttered for the season and leaves blowing across empty streets.

Rocky Mountain National Park

I decided to drive up to the park entrance just to see what a closed national park entrance looks like. And it’s hardly worth mentioning. No armed guards or anything; they’d have to be paid. Temporary barricades in the middle of each lane. Easy to drive between or around them. But I didn’t. The guy ahead of me didn’t either. He turned around and headed back into town. A quarter mile past the barricades, a white car had parked on the shoulder. Some people just don’t believe in signs, I guess. I stopped and took a picture. Yes, indeedy, I thought. My tax dollars at work. Not.

Curious, I went back to the stoplight and then drove west on High Drive to see how far I could get. (It runs parallel to the highway for quite a ways toward the park.) I passed the barricades in the picture, passed park headquarters with its dreary empty parking lot, and passed another barricade. It was more serious than the first — swinging metal gates completely across the road. Padlocked. You might have been able to drive around one end, assuming the ground wasn’t too soft …

I went as far as I could on High Drive, until it dead-ended at a pair of private drives, and stopped by a No Parking sign. (I never left the car. I was not “parked.”) Rolled down the windows and watched and listened. Wind in the pines. A few birds. Zero cars. Zero people. And zero elk. No bugling to be heard and not an elk in sight. I guess when the government closes the park, the elk get furloughed.

I couldn’t help wondering what would happen to people who just leave their cars and hike into the park. What’s the penalty for that? It’s not like there’s a fence around the park. It’s public property! Besides, who’s there to stop you? What would it cost the government to remove a single padlock and let people drive into the park? And don’t talk to me about liability. You can’t sue the federal government without its permission. Or so I’ve heard.

Back to town

Angry all over again at the idiocracy we’re living in, I headed back into town. With the park closed, I had no excuse not to finally visit Erik Stensland‘s gallery. And sure enough, there was ample parking right at the front door. Still, compared to the rest of downtown, the small gallery was crowded. I walked around, trying not to drool on all the gorgeous photos. And, now, because there was a huge (5′-6’ wide) print of it on display, I know there’s only one there I want to buy. Well, actually, I’d like to buy many, but if there’s to be only one, that’s the one. All I need is $1400.

Stensland wasn’t there but I had a nice chat with the young man who was. Ended up telling him I wished I could buy the print, although if I had that kind of money, I should probably spread it around — go down the street dropping a few dollars in every shop along the way. No, even better: I wanted to be Jesse Pinkman and drive down Elkhorn tossing a bundle of bills on each doorstep. Dammit, where’s Pinkman when you need him?

11 thoughts on “Your tax dollars at work. Not.

  1. Hi PT — SO glad you made the trip – for all of us who can’t – and checked out the aspens, the (lack) of elk, the available parking (cannot imagine parking on Elkhorn during store hours), and the actual park closure methods used. Safety of visitors has to be a minimal part of it, since no rangers would be authorized to respond to a call for assistance? (hopefully it wouldnt be me, but i get a mental image of a car stuck hood-high in snow between Rainbow Curve and Forest Canyon & calling to get pulled out….) Like you, though, wondering what, besides honesty, keeps folks from parking & walking in. Bigtime impressed you shopped Erik’s gallery without going broke!! That was the high point of this visit- apart from just being there and soaking up the Estes magic. (great taste deciding on “only” one print, too) 🙂

    1. I guess the barricades are to keep stupid people from getting themselves in trouble (like those who’d try to drive over Trail Ridge in bad weather, or those who’d expect a rutting bull elk to say “cheese” for an up-close photo). But I’d still think that in a pinch, if a signal were available, people could call out for help from rescue groups other than park employees.

      Well, I visited Erik’s gallery and browsed. If “shopping” means “buying,” I didn’t. Not even a $1.00 bookmark.

  2. Glad The Other Side is open. You’d think they would open Fall River down to the meadow and close it there at the overlook as the road heads up. People could still see animals and trees.
    Post a big sign at the entrance “At your own risk” like they do at the ocean or pool.
    Totally unwillingness to work with people (bet there are volunteers who would step up to assist in place of park rangers)
    Great to see a guy showed up at the Lincoln Memorial and mowed the lawn today with his own mower ( from South Carolina). Park police and 3 cars showed up and made him leave.
    And another guy showed up at the national mall with a mower and yard tools trying to keep the landscape in shape.
    People are willing to help out, but not being allowed, to..why? Totally nuts

    1. I went to The Other Side because I’ve been going there for decades, and I wanted to make sure they were okay. I’ve bought groceries and deli lunches and gifts at that corner since I was a kid. I always get to the park via Mary’s Lake Road (if coming from the south) and they’re always on my way coming and going. If I spent any money at all that day, I was determined that it be there.

      Just heard on the evening news that Gov. Hickenlooper is going to call the White House tonight and ask permission for the state to take over control of Trail Ridge Road (highway patrol, snow plow, etc.) to get the traffic flowing into Estes again. Not the the trails, but the highway itself. Makes too much sense. Not counting on the WH to acquiesce. “If we make an exception for you, we’ll have to start doing it for everyone …” Sen. Bennet also delivered a letter to the WH today asking the same thing. Of course, Mother Nature usually closes the road by the end of October anyway. But a couple of week is better than nothing.

        1. Thank you! I feel so damned helpless here. Just one person who doesn’t know anyone locally, who has no strings to pull, no influence, no money to spend. Can’t get to Estes that often. Just here and hurt for that town …

          1. We have childhood friends that are much more well connected than us in CO. Passing along information is important. As good as any coin ( which we don’t have either). I decided a while back doing something is a whole lot better than doing nothing. Good job!

          2. I appreciate your doing that. The post about the protest at the park has been getting some notable traffic. I hope that means a lot of people will show up. Loved your idea about having the CU students go. Imagine the numbers they could generate.

          3. I sent it to Boulder/CU students and to some active outdoors youngsters in Vail area asking them to spread the word. Looks like there may be movement by NPS. Protests all over. Big one planned sat in Smokey mts.
            Some people don’t get this isn’t about recreation – it’s about jobs and the economy in disaster areas. It’s not even handed either as some parks in certain congressional areas are allowed to be partly open.
            Totally stupid plan. Just makes people mad and dig heels in when they all must talk and find a way. Close the ocean? bright idea. Interesting in all the past gov shut down, parks and memorials have never been effected. Just posted some Estes /buffie stuff

... and that's my two cents