It’s easy to be smug coming from unpopulated hinterlands of Southwest Colorado. Take my recent visit to the megalopolises of the American Southwest, where cars, concrete and construction seem to reign supreme. As we passed mile upon mile of impossibly tight cookie-cutter homes, I shook my self-righteous head in indignation.

“It’s just insulting,” I said as we passed one particularly crowded intersection where hired hands waved placards hoping to drive buyers to their overdeveloped slice of sagebrush. “Homes from the low-$190s” screamed one, while on the opposing corner, the lure of “even bigger back yards” vied for our attention, and “gated community” anxiously waved from across the street.

And while I remained disenchanted, I will say the ploy was a shrewd one. With traffic splayed for miles in every direction going at a snail’s pace, the suitors had a captive audience.

“Disgusting,” I clucked in disapproval as we drove on through what seemed an endless extension of strip malls, “lifestyle centers” and housing developments with enticing names like “Mountain’s Edge” and “Wild Horse Estates.”

However, my distaste did not reach its peak until I got to experience, firsthand, that big city phenomenon known as “smog” – the brownish-yellow haze that drapes itself over the landscape like a dirty, old cheap suit.

“We’re not going in there, are we?” I asked as the five-lanes of asphalt fed us straight into the belly of the brown beast. But as anyone who’s experienced an L.A. freeway knows, there’s no turning back.

To be fair, once swallowed by the smog blob, it’s not that bad. You know, sort of like walking into a smoky bar (for those who came of age before the smoking crusades). Once your eyes adjust to the dim light and the cheap yellow beer takes hold, you hardly notice at all. At least until the next day, when your clothes still reek and you can’t seem to shake that rasp from the back of your throat.

(Allow me to interject here, if I may, that aside from traffic, reckless use of water, road rage and tainted air, the greater es really are fine places to visit. Particularly for those in search of surf, sun and Trader Joe’s fixes.)

Anyway, as often happens with trips of this sort, I returned to my remote, backwoods corner of the world with a renewed perspective. As we crested the long climb back to altitude with Joanie Mitchell’s “Yellow Taxi” crooning over the airwaves (no lie), my beloved La Plata Mountains came into view. I breathed a welcome sigh of relief as those familiar peaks drew closer. But as my grateful eyes settled on the sight, elation turned to alarm. Even from a great distance, I could detect something was not quite right. My heart sank as I realized that those typically white crags had taken on a distinctly darker hue, and there, slung low across their flanks, was a faint, murky halo of brown.

Seems the ills of overpopulation, the ones I thought I had left behind in a wake of Mojave dust, had followed me home. Or maybe they had always been lurking.

Perhaps just like those other untold, oblivious city slickers who live within the brown bubble, us rural inlanders have our own bubble of denial to contend with. Sure, it’s easy to cast stones at those greenhouse gas Goliaths, especially once you’ve escaped with your own life. But the fact is, it takes a village to make a city. Blame the “evil developers” and crooked corporations all you want, but we all play a role to some extent.

And yes, I will readily admit to adding to that effort. I regularly burn fossil fuels, water my lawn and am personally responsible for upping the next census numbers by two (three if you count the dog.) The trick is knowing when to say “when.”

Call me a half-empty type of gal, but I’m saying “when.”

Truth be told, I considered saying it back when Three Springs was on the drawing board. But when it was posed as a sacrifice zone, a sensible area to direct growth while providing a home to the hospital, amenities, parks and open space, and affordable living for the working class, it seemed a wise compromise. And when Twin Buttes came down the pike not more than a few years later – with its promise of “responsible” development, community hybrid carpool vehicles and a solar panel for every man, woman and child – well, it, too, was hard to refuse.

But if my rudimentary math skills serve me right (and please correct me if I’m wrong), that now adds up to somewhere around 2,900 new homes for Durango (in addition to the myriad smaller 20- and 30-unit projects that have slipped in under the radar in recent years.) Multiply that by a conservative four people per household, and we’re talking nearly a doubling of size in that 15-year “build out.”

Sure, the economy and the laws of supply and demand could temper this, but I’m pretty sure that a doubling of anything in that amount of time and in such tight physical quarters is neither responsible nor healthy.

So how about a little breather, Durango? Let’s give ourselves some time to catch up with our radically expanding perimeters and grow wisely and not just widely.

Sure, it may not yet be SoCal-Neva sprawl, but at this rate, it’s not much of a stretch.

– Missy Votel



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows