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Bouncing Down the Road to Chaco Canyon


    Some of the best treasures lie at the end of dirt roads. Green River Lakes in Wyoming is one of them. Another is the Horseshoe Canyon annex of Canyonlands National Park. And a third would be Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.
    That last one requires a tooth-jarring ride down 16 miles of dirt road that at times can turn to washboard. So bouncy can the road be that San Juan County officials say it can turn downright "rough and dangerous." Their solution? Pave every one of those 16 miles with a chip-seal slurry that, while not quite as smooth as a thick layer of asphalt, would make the road more passable.
    But is that a good decision? It certainly would lessen the time it takes to reach the historical park, and it could allow much bigger, and longer, vehicles, such as RVs, to make the drive. But workers at the historical park say they already are approaching their upper limit of visitation, with some 60,000 visitors tolerating the washboard drive each year.
    And members of the Chaco Alliance fear easier access could lead to vandalism of the park's ruins.
    Sadly, more and more dirt roads are meeting their demise these days, smeared with asphalt that, while definitely smoothing out the drive, leads to more traffic that demeans the very treasures at the end of the road.
    For more on this issue, check out Ranger X's take on paving this road.


Very interesting that your very next post was about limiting visitation.... After reading Ranger X's post, though, I have to wonder, though, is this really the spirit under which National Parks are publicly funded? He calls the prospects of paving the road a tragic mistake, because of the effects of increased visitation. But why limit visitation through a back-door like keeping a road unpaved. Wouldn't it be better to have an entrance permit system *and* a paved road? Such a system could keep the total number of visitors in the Park during the day relatively constant, as well as those staying overnight, but because more people could visit in a day trip, more people would get the benefit of encountering the wonders of Chaco Canyon that have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site - and wouldn't our country be better off if more people did just that?

I would be curious to know how many people have been turned back from a Chaco visit because of the existing dirt road. I would guess not many. Perhaps large tour operations and their buses which lead organized trips avoid the route for fear of upsetting their clientele on the miles and miles of washboard en route to the park. Chaco is pretty isolated. It isn't on a direct path between other park locations, and I would think that if one had driven miles out of the way to visit Chaco, the dirt road at the end would not stop a visit. I would rather not see that road paved. As well as adding to the adventure of the visit, the dirt road, with its washboards, slows the journey into the park and makes the arrival that much more satisfying. Besides, it is speeding vehicles which create the washboard conditions on a dirt road (your slipping tires create waves in the dirt, which then compound when the next speeding vehicle comes along, which compound further with the next, and so on). Would a paved road slow the aggressive traveler in a hurry to see Chaco? Nope. Does Chaco need more aggressive travelers? That's not for me to say, but by keeping the road in its current primitive form, it is a question that doesn't need to be answered.

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