News Letter: Spring 2002

Building a road ...

first cut with the backhoe

It may not seem like a very exciting thing, but for us it was a project we had wanted to work on for the past ten years. Our farm has an "east forty" and a "west forty" with the sometimes river called the Little Thompson dividing the two. We haven't ever had a good way to get to the west forty acres and so haven't ever done the fencing over there. Oh no! more fencing?!?

It's very rugged, and for the most part the sheep haven't ever crossed the river, even when it's just a dry bed. Nevertheless, we needed some sort of road so as to be able to haul the generator, post hole digger, posts, rolls of fencing, etc. over to the other side. TAH-DAH!!! We got our road ...

Easy to say those words, but quite another thing to do. When you look at the ground where the road will go: the rocks, the scrub bushes, the rocks, the trees, the rocks ... did I mention the rocks? Seems more than impossible. A large backhoe can achieve amazing things. This is how it looked as the operator began the road. The idea was to descend down into the river bottom, cross the riverbed and then go up the far hill.

In fact, our farm address is on "Stagecoach Trail" and there really is an old stage road that did once upon a time go down to the river bottom and cross over and go up the west hill. This stage road was once the way that folks went from the town of Lyons up into the foothills to another tiny town called Pinewood Springs.

This same stage road branched off with the north road going up the north fork of the Little Thompson river to Estes Park. When you look at the old stage road you wonder how folks ever traveled anywhere by stage or carriage?
Walking or riding a horse, yes, but a stage would have been torture. Then remember that those roads would have been cut and filled, dug by hand with shovels and picks by a crew of men working very hard. It's a wonder any roads were built at all.

In a wet spring, they wouldn't have been able to cross the river at all. The river can run from canyon wall to wall when in flood levels and then the road would have had to be rebuilt. Colorado Highway 36 wasn't built until around 1917 and at first was a dirt, toll road. So, until that time the stagecoach and mail carriers used this old stage road.

To make this first cut down into the river bottom, we had to remove a young pine tree. It wasn't a very big tree, only about 10 inches in diameter. I counted the rings of the stump just to see how old the tree was and to see how many good years the tree had to grow. There were about 25 rings and none were more than 1/2 inch apart; none in the past five years were even that wide.
I don't think the tree had any good, wet, growing years.

cutting down to the river bed

cutting down to the river bed

The backhoe cut across the river where the beaver dam used to be. The original crossing was further north, but that area is grown over with cottonwood trees now. For the most part he was cutting through rotten granite. That is what gives the ground that red colour. It isn't that we have dirt ... we just have some areas where the granite is less hard.

cutting down to the river bed

After cutting across the riverbed to the west side we found that there actually was some real soil. Silt that had washed down the from the hill sides over the years.

The next part was the most difficult. Trying to drag enough of the rotten granite back up the west slope to replace the nearly 100 years of washing down the old road.

This is what was left of the original stage road.
It was a good deal steeper than roads are cut today and so the washing had been considerably straight down the hill. And yes, the pine tree was growing right in the middle of the old road. If you didn't know that it was the old road, you might not have guessed. The new road has been cut around the trees and as it curves, isn't quite so steep.

up the old road

looking up the new road looking down the new road

Here is a look at the new road from east to the west. You can't see the road going down into the river bottom. On the right is a photo taken from the top of the west end looking back to the east. On the left you are looking up the road to the west. So now, we can begin the fencing on the west side of the farm.

I haven't said anything about the drought and the heat, which continue on relentlessly. (It was interesting to look back at these photos from early spring, knowing it was so cold.)

We are into the longest number of days above 90 degrees since 1901 (a very hot year) and the worst drought the state has seen. The fires continue to burn in southern Colorado.

Aside from the threat of fire, we are most concerned about where to get enough hay to carry the flock through the summer and winter. The drought has caused extreme hay shortages and it is hard to be optimistic about how we can provide enough food for the flock. We haven't anything left for the sheep to eat in the fields. An end to the hot dry winds couldn't come too soon. We hope for slow, gentle rains and grasses growing.

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