Steamboat Springs Horseback riders, hikers and anglers will have to wait until after July 15 to drive to the summit of Buffalo Pass and access one of the most popular trailheads into the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.
But Kent Foster, recreation program manager with the U.S. Forest Service Hahn's Peak Bear's Ears Ranger District, said backcountry users will be rewarded for their patience. Foster said three pieces of heavy equipment, including two very large bulldozers, will begin work Monday on road improvements. They'll remove giant rocks that jut into a 1.5-mile stretch of Routt County Road 38/Forest Road 60.
"Those rocks are like icebergs," Foster said. "Some of them are really the size of Volkswagen Bugs."
The road to the summit is closed at the second gate above the switchbacks, Foster said.
He is up to date with snow conditions on the upper road after making the trip to the summit via truck and snowmobile this week, to collect data from an air-quality monitoring station.
The first 1.5 miles beyond the gate are dry, he said. The stretch remained snow-covered just a week ago and is where the road improvements will take place.
Snowdrifts remain on the road at higher elevation and some of the drifts are 5 and 6 feet deep, Foster said.
Foster is optimistic crews will improve conditions for motorists. The same kind of work yielded dividends on the switchbacks last summer, he said.
The work is due to be completed by July 15. Foster said by that time, the road likely will have dried up sufficiently to allow traffic to go to the summit. However, it's possible two persistent snowdrifts will prevent travelers from continuing over the top to North Park or south to Fish Creek Reservoir.
The road to the summit of Buffalo Pass typically does not open until after July 4, but July 15 is considered unusually late.
The road to the parking lot at Summit Lake opened by June 27 in 2000. That year, former longtime Forest Service Range Technician Cap Kuney said the opening date can vary by 30 days. The earliest he had ever driven up the road in a four-wheel-drive truck was June 1.
"The latest is July 15," he said.
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