Friday, June 23, 2006

Wildfires Threaten La Veta Pass Line

In a little less than a month into its inaugural season, the operator of Colorado's two newest passenger touist trains, the San Luis & Rio Grande, has run into the bane of tourist seasons: wildfires. The Mato Vega Wildfire is just north of US 160 on La Veta Pass, on the other side of the highway. The trouble is that the fire has closed the highway for 3 days. It just reopened 6 hours ago and will only be open for travel at night. During the day, travelers will be escorted due to the heavy fire fighter traffic. This only bodes ill for the SL&RG, which is dependent on US 160 for passengers from the Front Range and the east. There are no convenient parallel routes, with drivers needing to connect with US 285 from 73 miles to the north at Poncha Springs or from 91 miles to the south at Taos, NM. There is no telling when the highway will be back to normal operations although yesterday's weather helped.

Other wildfires are burning in the state, sparked mostly by lightning from clouds dropping very little of the wet stuff. The dry conditions has prompted Governor Owens to ban all fires on state-owned lands except those in fire rings. If these conditions continue, there is the possibility of a repeat of the 2002 wildfire hysteria that caused a total shut down of the C&TS and limited operations on the D&S. Given the limited scope of the Governor's initial ban and the reasonably healthy snows from last winter, however, such draconian measures seem unlikely. The forests, while dry, are not nearly as parched as they were in 2002. Tourists who plan on coming should keep their plans as is for the forseeable future.

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