San Juan snow study progresses

The search for dust in the San Juans will continue in coming months. Chris Landry, of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, is working to determine whether a regional phenomenon is accelerating the effects of global warming.

Landry set up shop in Silverton in 2002 with a vision for a research station that could assist scientists. To that end, he got permission from the U.S. Forest Service to establish what amounts to an outdoor laboratory. Throughout the winter, he takes measurements at two sites in the San Juans relatively unaffected by localized sources, such as roads or snowmobiles.

One of his first major clients and collaborators was Tom Painter, now of the University of Utah, who wanted to test the proposition that dust blown in by storms affects the rate of runoff. Thanks in part to Landry’s observations, Painter is concluding that the dust has a significant impact, noting that the dirt in the snow absorbs heat and melts the snow. Pure snow reflects the sun’s rays to a much greater extent. Painter’s study found that runoff may come several weeks earlier because of the dust.

Landry and associates now have contracts with eight major water agencies in Colorado – from Durango to Denver, and from Glenwood Springs to Loveland – to look for layers of dust in the snowpack and better predict the runoff. In coming months, they will be sampling sites in the Front Range at Loveland and Berthoud passes; at Taylor Park Reservoir near Crested Butte; along Wolf Creek Pass and Slumgullion Pass; at McClure Pass; and in northern Colorado near Steamboat Springs.

“We’re quite excited about how this has evolved. It has gone from basic research to a fully applied science,” Landry said.

Already this winter, a layer of dust was deposited in the San Juans and other areas of Colorado in mid-December. However, the dustiest months are in spring, when storms lift dirt from the deserts of the Southwest and carry them several hundred miles.

In line with these advances, the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies recently held a grand-opening for a new headquarters in Silverton. At 4,400 square feet, it’s more than big enough for the office, with space for workshops and even living quarters for Landry. In the past, Landry sometimes held workshops in a shed that was neither heated nor lit. “Looking back, it’s amazing how much we got done in that shed,” he said.


Rescue Waggin’ rolls into Durango

Twenty down-on-their-luck La Plata County residents are getting a life saver this week. Homeless dogs and puppies from the La Plata County Humane Society are going for a ride that will literally save their lives.

The shelter dogs will be boarding PetSmart Charities® Rescue Waggin’ – a unique transport program funded by the nonprofit charity that moves adoptable dogs from shelters with high areas of pet overpopulation to shelters where adoptable dogs and puppies are more in demand and can get adopted into new homes. The local dogs are on their way to greener pastures at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley on Feb. 12. Sixteen local dogs have already taken a ride on the Rescue Waggin’ and drove off to new homes in January.

“This program is saving us from having to euthanize dogs every day,” said Chris Nelson, director of animal services for the La Plata County Humane Society. “It was so wonderful to know these dogs will get adopted and finding a loving home.”

Last year, 1,500 animals were adopted at the La Plata County Humane Society. However, the number of homeless animals is skyrocketing in the county and the shelter is dealing with 50 percent more volume on average.


Bridal Veil reopened to public access

An iconic Southwest Colorado climb has reopened to public access, and two extraordinary athletes with disabilities are tackling it this week. Erik Weihenmayer, who lost his sight at age 13, and Chad Jukes, an Iraq war veteran who lost his right leg to an explosive device in 2007, will climb the frozen Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride on Feb. 12. At 365 feet, Bridal Veil is Colorado’s tallest free falling waterfall and one of the most difficult ice climbs in the country.  

This classic climb, which has been closed to climbers for the better part of the last two decades, reopened Dec. 5 through the efforts of Trust for Public Land (TPL), with support from Colorado’s San Miguel County, the Telluride Mountain Club and the Access Fund.  Funding was also provided by The Town of Telluride and Great Outdoors Colorado. The Weihenmayer and Jukes climb will help put the spotlight on the access effort.

“The Trust for Public Land is grateful to Erik and Chad for giving their time to help bring attention to the falls re-opening and for their support of TPL’s mission to preserve land for Americans of all varieties,” said Tim Wohlgenant, TPL’s Colorado Director.

The Idarado Mining Co. owns the land beneath Bridal Veil Falls. In 2004, TPL bought 2,400 acres of mining claims overlooking Telluride from Idarado. TPL then held portions of the property until environmental, planning and other issues could be worked out, including access to the falls. The transaction was completed last September, and ownership of the final parcels was transferred to the Town of Telluride and San Miguel County.  

Climber awareness and compliance with a number of rules is paramount at Bridal Veil Falls, since the new public access license is revocable and contingent on climbers’ personal responsibility. Climbers must sign in and avoid the Powerhouse area at the top of the falls; all descents must be via rappel on the falls, or on the bolted anchors nearby. Top-roping is not allowed.

The ice route was first ascended by legendary climbers Jeff Lowe and Mike Weiss in 1974, an event broadcast on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” That climb is considered by many to be the start of modern ice climbing.


County explores transportation

La Plata County is taking a hard look at alternative transportation next week. Planners are hosting a Feb. 18 open house to discuss ways to improve our multi-modal transportation networks. The public forum will run from 5-7 p.m. at the Durango Recreation Center.

The objective of this study is to develop a plan that evaluates land use and multi-modal transportation options, such as walking, biking, transit, vanpool and carpool, in a coordinated and connected process. This approach will ensure the most efficient use of resources to construct infrastructure, as well as healthy neighborhoods and communities.  

The open house is part of a countywide study of transit needs and services as well as overall land use patterns. At this meeting, participants will be able to review the results of previous outreach efforts and make comments on the preliminary recommendations.

The interactive project website can be found at, where comments can also be posted.  

– Will Sands & Allen Best




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