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John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature,” the advertisement warned us from our television sets back in the 1960s – and we still haven’t learned.

Of course that commercial was the creation of ad men bent upon the manipulative task of convincing us to eat margarine instead of butter. And the nice lady who suddenly turned nasty when told she’d been fooled, well, what can you expect from a matronly myth with daisies in her hair?

The ad entered the lexicon of American pop culture (you can still see it on the Internet if you’re feeling nostalgic), where it soon was transmogrified into an endless array of variation, most of which are too coarse for young and sensitive readers. My own, toned down for publication, was, “It’s not nice to fool (insert another, more forceful four-letter verb) with Mother Nature,” which reflected my growing belief that humanity had taken leave of its sense and was heedlessly trampling Mother Nature into the dust.

Anyway, back to the present, when we got a glimpse of how not-nice it is to mess around with Mother Nature last week as a virtual storm of boulders came bounding down off the walls of Glenwood Canyon and punched huge holes in the road.

Back in the 1970s, highway planners were fiercely debating over which route to use for I-70 – the river canyon, or the high country to the north called the Flat Tops, or a high pass to the south, Cottonwood Pass.

The canyon won out, despite arguments by doubters that the work needed to build a freeway through the rotten rock that makes up the canyon walls would lead to disaster and continuous instability, meaning the rocks would fall despite all efforts to control them.

But, in their hubris and foolishness, the highway planners decided they would make a showcase of the canyon, a gorgeous length of multi-layered concrete platforms that would become a marvel of human invention.

And they did.

But the price of fooling with Mother Nature became apparent all to quickly.

Not too long after I started working at local newspapers, in the late 1970s, we ran a picture in the old Glenwood Post of a house-sized rock sitting in the middle of the highway. Those who had predicted catastrophic rock falls as a result of the disturbance of the canyon were gleeful, the highway engineers downplayed the incident and, since no one was hurt, it was largely forgotten.

But not completely. Every time rock falls on the canyon road, I remember that picture and wonder if the interstate should have gone over Cottonwood Pass.

At that time, it would have intersected the Roaring Fork Valley south of Glenwood, and probably been routed over the Roaring Fork River, along the base of the steep western wall of the Roaring Fork’s gorge and the Midland Avenue right of way, and then back over the Colorado River to resume the course west.

We would not be constantly haggling over a way for the crush of traffic to bypass downtown Glenwood Springs, because the interstate would have done that. Who knows how things might have turned out?

But things are what they are now, and there’s no turning back.

I noted with interest, though, another example of Mother Nature taking back some of her terrain, and the old ad line came right back to me.

Local papers this week published a photo of a mature, healthy and dangerous looking mountain lioness who apparently is living with her offspring along the Rio Grande bike path between the Catherine Store Road bridge and the Rock Bottom Ranch.

A wildlife expert believes she’s been in the area for some time, has established herself, and is living the high life every winter when the trail closes and the local wildlife has the run of the place.

How long will it be before some bozo decides he wants to check out the big cat, wanders into the closed section and gets turned into kitty feed for his troubles?

Personally, were it to happen, I’d call it a case of just desserts and an example of nature cleansing some unwanted trash out of the gene pool. But someone would inevitably demand that the cat be killed and its offspring carted off to a zoo, or some other typically ill-informed response to the natural order of things.

Nope, we still haven’t learned.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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