September 20, 2014
Over the summer on the Rio Grande Trail, I've spotted snakes, deer, magpies, hawks and a bear. I recently added a less welcome sight to the list: an unmanned aerial vehicle.
When I moved here, I told friends back in New Orleans that I'd taken up "mountain biking." What I considered mountain biking at the time was riding from Woody Creek to Aspen and back on the Rio Grande Trail — the notion of actually riding a bike up and down a mountain was completely foreign to me, and the Rio Grande was about as outdoorsy as I'd ever gotten. Gravel trail, waterfalls, soaring mountain views above and a river below — this was wilderness to my city mind.
These days, I mostly take to the Rio Grande for long runs. I'm training for a marathon, so I've been doing regular jogs over the past month from Aspen down the trail to Woody Creek and back.
Last weekend, I was huffing and puffing on the Rio Grande when I got a sign of just how civilized the Rio Grande is. On the turn of the trail that curves left and downward into Woody Creek, I spotted a small drone hovering above an adjacent home. It was a curious sight — and, momentarily, a welcome distraction from pounding away on a 20-mile run — but then things got a little creepy.
The drone dipped its rotors and zoomed toward me — its rotors buzzing away, its little video-camera eye pointed at me. It held back at a distance of 20 feet or so and then followed me down the trail for maybe 100 yards. I imagined some dude on a couch in the home below, working a joystick and watching me on his video monitor. I wondered why anyone would want to do that. I thought about the NSA and Big Brother and "The Truman Show," and I thought about diving behind some sage brush. I wondered how I'd react if a human being randomly started following me with a camera — would that be creepier? What expletives would I employ to shoo this person away? With this drone above me, though, I was powerless to do anything but be watched and wonder. And after its brief fly-by, it zoomed away back toward the house.
I understand it's not a backcountry trail, but I'm hoping drone pilots will steer away from the Rio Grande and find something more interesting to surveil.