Confronting scofflaws

 

There are some places I don't like to write about, since in my experience, that's a quick way to trash the scenery. People read about it, decide to visit for themselves, and whatever solitude and splendor the spot offered has vanished. 

That's one reason I seldom mention an arid valley named Castle Gardens or Castle Gulch. But it has shown up in local trail guides, so I'll blame those authors if it begins to suffer.
 

Castle Gardens sits about two miles from Salida. We joke that it's our low-rent version of southern Utah, with some beehives, hoodoos, spires, goblins and the like, although made of soft gray shale instead of hard red sandstone. It was once promoted by local boosters as a must-see Colorado attraction like the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, but it never caught on. Nor did the city accept it in 1915 when President Woodrow Wilson offered the federal land to the city as a park.
 
Given the terrain and the hobbies of certain elements of our population, it was inevitable that it would be an attraction for dirt bikes, ATVs and SUVs. About two years ago, the federal Bureau of Land Management adopted a new regional travel plan and closed the area to motor vehicles and even to mountain bikes. There are multiple signs which explain that access is limited to foot and horseback.
 
For the first quarter-mile or so, the trail goes through property owned by a local church, which has adopted a sensible access policy: pedestrians are welcome during daylight hours.
 
We walk our dog up there frequently. The scenery is great, and the gulch floor is relatively calm when it's windy everywhere else. But for us, the main attraction is that our dog Bodie is a car-chasing idiot, and there aren't any cars, or even motorcycles or bicycles, for him to chase up there.
 
Or there hadn't been for two years. Saturday, my wife and I were strolling along with Bodie and a friend and his dog when we heard the distinctive buzzing whines of dirt bikes. Soon we saw their tracks, chewing up both the valley floor and nearby hillsides. Finally we saw them, ripping around on the ridges before descending near us, where the two teenaged boys halted and stared down at us.

I was steaming mad. Despite all the whining about "locked-up lands" by the motorized-recreation lobby, there are many places nearby for them to cavort legally. There was a thought of "Maybe I should carry a rifle up here and teach them a little respect for the law."

Or "Could I train Bodie to chase their motorcycles, then lunge for their throats?" I mean, if they can't read the closure signs, do we really need them around?
 
They looked like punks we could take if it came to that, so I just shouted at them: "Don't you guys know it's illegal to drive up here?" They didn't respond, just started their cycles and headed down. Soon they were out of sight and their annoying sounds were gone.
 
But what should I have done? They don't have license plates, so you can't record those numbers. Later I called the sheriff's office, where a deputy explained that the closure is a federal policy, and his office doesn't enforce federal restrictions.
 
So I called the feds -- the local BLM ranger, John Nahomenuk. The BLM doesn't have a crew of enforcement rangers waiting by the phone, he said, "but if you had a cell phone and called to report them, we might get lucky," he said. "We can't really do much unless we catch them in the act."
 
Castle Gardens got that way on account of erosion, which is a serious problem, Nahomenuk said. "Vegetation is very sparse, and when vehicles break the ground, and then it rains, it brings tons of sediment down into the Arkansas River." Plus, it's home to a rare plant, the Brandegee wild buckwheat.
 
 And as much as the BLM wants to protect those resources from motorized abuse, he couldn't recommend vigilante action. So I did what I could, which didn't seem like enough.

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Ed Quillen is a freelance writer in Salida, Colo.

Images of Castle Gulch courtesy of the author.
 

High Country News Classifieds
  • TRANSPORTATION PLANNER
    TRANSPORTATION PLANNER Exciting opportunity to lead the charge on meeting the future transportation demands of our community! This position will develop, coordinate, and implement the...
  • EARNED MEDIA MANAGER WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • WILDLAND FIRE INSTRUCTOR
    Needed: instructor with 5 years *documented* instruction experience, current qualifications, M-410 or equivalent, and able to work as-needed for NM non-profit working with at-risk youth.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • COLORADO PROGRAM MANAGER
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the leading non-profit conservation organization protecting Americas national parks, seeks a Program Manager for its Colorado Field Office located in...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...