Tom Ross: Can you saw what I see? |

Tom Ross: Can you saw what I see?

Tom Ross

— I've been running around town this month with an old garden shovel in the Thule box on top of my vehicle, but it's not because I have a plot of snow peas growing in the community garden. It's because shoveling dirt onto the flames is one of the best ways to snuff out a small wildfire that's threatening to spread.

And after this weekend's road trip, I think I'm going to add a folding buck saw to my tool kit along with a 5-gallon bucket in my 4Runner's cargo area.

There's a good reason why the U.S. Forest Service is urging back-road wanderers in Northwest Colorado to carry a saw with them this summer, and I was reminded of it Sunday as we completed the big loop around the northern end of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.

During the 23-mile stretch of dirt and gravel from the picturesque Jackson County ranching hamlet of Pearl to Hog Park Reservoir in Carbon County, Wyo., we lost count of the number of trees that had fallen across the road. Fortunately, all of them had been at least partially removed and we weren't forced to turn back.

Having to turn around and return to Steamboat via Walden would not have been the worst thing that could have happened — we at least would have saved time and gas money. However, what the Forest Service is guarding against is the strong possibility that a motorist will drive up one of the many dead-end forest roads in the region and be trapped by a tree that subsequently falls behind them.

There certainly are trees in the forest you wouldn't want to tackle with a folding saw like the legendary Sven Saw, but most of the dead and dying lodgepole in North Routt would be manageable. Sawing through an 8-inch diameter tree with a hand saw is hard work, but it beats hiking or possibly even biking back to a trafficked road.

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We spent Saturday night in the remote campground at Big Creek Lake, which was busy due in part to Front Rangers who wanted to escape 100-degree temperatures and, in some cases, smoke-filled air at home. Campfires, even within steel fire rings, were forbidden, and everyone was in compliance. Still, there are people who can't resist a cigarette, and it pays to be ready to snuff out an unintended fire.

The towering column of smoke from the High Park Fire became immediately evident as soon as we began descending the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass on Saturday morning. During a stop in Walden, a Jackson County sheriff's deputy reassured us that the blaze was 15 air miles to the east of the Medicine Bow Range that dominates views in that direction.

We headed north to Cowdrey and the left turn away from the smoke plume on Jackson County Road 6W and the easy drive to Big Creek Lake. We paused along the way to enjoy the view of Mount Zirkel itself, which actually appears to be smaller than an 11,648-foot peak in the foreground. It's the only place I'm aware of where one can get an unobstructed view of the 12,185-foot Mount Zirkel from a road. Zirkel is recognizable by its triple peaks.

Given what I know now, I might not drive the full loop from Big Creek Lake to Clark again this summer. But if I return, I'll certainly take a good saw. We passed just two parked vehicles on the trip to Hog Park — there's a lot of lonely country out there.

Be prepared.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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