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Maglogging along, or is it C-Clogging?

Essay by Ed Quillen

Mountain Life – June 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine

EVERY NOW AND AGAIN, someone tells me I should take up “blogging.” The term comes from “web log,” wherein somebody posts relatively brief observations and invites comments. Readers add their comments, then there are comments on comments, etc. Some blogs are pretty interesting, while others are tedious or worse, and many degenerate into ranting and name-calling. But the “blog” concept has its charms — since there are so many topics which seem to deserve some commentary but hardly seem worthy of a long essay.

Yet every day already seems to demand more work than I can get done in a week, so I’m reluctant to take up any new projects — at least until I can get a handle on what I’m already doing.

Thus I thought I’d try magazine logging (or C.C. logging) here and see what happens.


From time to time, I sit on our front porch swing. We may inhabit the only house in Salida which does not have a splendid view of mountains. About all I can see from the swing is Tenderfoot Hill.

(Newcomers often give themselves away by calling it “S Mountain.” But according to the U.S. Geological Survey, there is no “S Mountain” in Chaffee County. Officially, it’s Tenderfoot Hill and nothing else.)

And to be honest, Tenderfoot generally isn’t all that interesting. So sometimes I watch the cars come down the street.

Our street, like many others, took a beating last winter, and it teems with chuckholes. So when cars turn down our street, they go slowly, which is a blessing. We get the benefits of a low speed limit without the drawbacks of having cops out there writing tickets. Cars may speed down the better streets, but they don’t speed here.

Unfortunately, though, the vast majority of the vehicles on our street also weave all over to avoid the chuckholes. I can understand that if they’re driving tiny cars like our Geo Prizm, which can really bounce around when a wheel drops. But the vast majority of them are driving big spewts (that’s a word I’ve tried to get people to use for “sport utility vehicles” ) or large pickups.

These Trail Blazers, Pathfinders, Explorers, F-150s, Durangos, etc. are supposed to be stout vehicles capable of taking on our rugged back roads. And yet their drivers are treating them like wimpy little cars that can’t handle a few dips and bumps. What’s the point of driving a hearty four-wheel-drive vehicle if you feel compelled to coddle it?


By and large, chuckholes come from small cracks in the pavement. Water seeps in during the day. It freezes and expands at night. The expansion makes pieces of pavement pop out. It’s the same process that causes spring rockslides in the mountains.

But where does the term chuckhole come from? The American Heritage Dictionary says it is a regional term, so if you’re in another part of the country, I’d like to know what you call a place where the pavement is missing.

That dictionary is pretty good on word origins, and it offers only a guess that the word comes from “chuck” in the sense of “to throw out or discard.” The pavement throws out a piece of its surface?

I suppose that’s possible, but my guess is that it derives from “woodchuck hole.” Woodchucks, groundhogs, gophers, and our own yellow-bellied marmots (also known as “whistle pigs” ) are all fair-sized rodents from the same Marmota genus, and they burrow into the ground leaving notable holes on the surface. You can imagine someone complaining about a “woodchuck hole” in the road long ago, and theorize that this descriptive term got shortened to chuckhole.

And where does woodchuck come from? The dictionary provides a “folk etymology” (i.e., speculation similar to what I just wrote) that it derives from the Cree word for the critter, ocek. And one thing I learned in this process is that the word “chuck” sure covers a lot of territory, from “chucking” someone under the chin to the mechanism that holds a drill bit in place.

And what about potholes? That’s a whole ‘nother story.


Back to Tenderfoot Hill. I’m kind of a pedant about geography, so I get annoyed when I hear someone talk about S Mountain.

Another common annoyance is “Collegiate Range.” Whenever I see it or hear it, I want to shout, “There is no Collegiate Range. There are Collegiate Peaks in the Sawatch Range, but there’s no Collegiate Range.”

The Collegiate Peaks, after all, are not exactly a geologic formation. They’re more an accident of nomenclature which started in 1869 when Josiah Dwight Whitney, professor of geology, led the four students in the Harvard Mining School on an expedition to Colorado Territory. Part of their mission was to establish the altitudes of the high peaks, which are now in the middle of Colorado Central territory.

They named one peak Harvard, in honor of the expedition’s sponsor, and christened another peak Yale, for Whitney’s alma mater, which started a trend that also resulted in Mts. Columbia and Princeton. And as we pointed out in an article which ran in the spring of 2006, Sewanee Peak was named for someone’s alma mater as well, even though it’s some distance from the others.

If Whitney’s name sounds familiar to mountain buffs, that’s because it’s on a 14,505-foot peak in California, the highest mountain in the 48 states. In 1864, before he took the Harvard job, Whitney was director of the California Geological Survey, and the peak was named after him.

Colorado’s highest peak, 14,440-foot Mt. Elbert in the Sawatch Range, is named for a territorial governor. And that makes Colorado something of an oddity among western states, where many highest peaks are named for surveyors, not politicians.

King’s Peak, 13,528, in Utah is named for Clarence King, a surveyor. (And in checking this, I learned that if you average the highest point of each county in the state, Utah ranks as the highest state, and Colorado the second.) In New Mexico, the high point is 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, named for George Monague Wheeler, a surveyor. Henry Gannett was a surveyor (he was part of Whitney’s Colorado party), and his name is on Wyoming’s highest mountain, which tops out at 13,804 feet in the Wind River Range.

And for that matter, the world’s highest mountain is named for a surveyor, George Everest.

Here I am getting distracted by surveyors. Back to the Collegiate Peaks, which are part of the Sawatch Range. But where does the Sawatch Range begin and end?

Its northernmost 14er is Holy Cross in Eagle County, and you might put the northern terminus at New York Peak there, too. But geologists say the same formation extends north across the Colorado River to the Flat Tops by Meeker, even if nobody considers them part of the Sawatch Range.

And on the south: Does the Sawatch Range end at Marshall Pass, or maybe Antora Peak, the last notable peak before some high rolling country often called the La Garita Hills? And how far south can you go in the La Garita Hills before you get to the San Juans and their ancillary ranges?

The Sangre de Cristo Range seems to start quite distinctly at Methodist Mountain south of Salida, but where does it end in New Mexico?

The Mosquito Range rises between Fairplay and Leadville. But when the same mountain formations extend north into Summit County, they make up the Tenmile Range, and farther north, the Gore Range. South of Trout Creek Pass, they’re generally called the Arkansas Hills (or just “Ark Hills” in the Salida dialect), and they seem to terminate at the Arkansas River. Or do they reach beyond the river canyon, stretching southeast to merge with the Front Range?

Colorado’s Front Range may be famous, but where does it start and end? The peaks to the north are sometimes called the Never Summer Range or the Medicine Bow Range, and to the south there are the Wet Mountains. So is the Front Range just the stretch from Pike’s Peak to Long’s Peak? Or is there more? (And cities like Fort Collins and Denver should be on “the Front Range Piedmont,” not “the Front Range.” )

The point? It’s pretty hard to establish where mountain ranges start and end. Geology, politics, and culture are all factors, but I haven’t found anything definitive. Still, I prefer Collegiate Peaks or “the Collegiate Peaks of the Sawatch Range,” and try to make sure we follow that usage in Colorado Central.


Another thing that I see often, and which perturbs me every time, is a reference to Alfred (also spelled Alferd) Packer as “the only man in American history ever convicted of cannibalism.”

Packer was convicted of murder. That was overturned on a legal technicality. He was retried and convicted of manslaughter. He was never convicted of cannibalism because cannibalism has never been a crime in Colorado.

I checked this with Chaffee County Judge Bill Alderton some years ago. He searched the statutes and called me back. The only relevant offense on the books, Bill said, was a misdemeanor that prohibits something like “treating a corpse in a disrespectful manner,” and Packer was never charged with that.

So even if Packer killed his companions and ate them, he was convicted only for the killing, not the eating.


As I write this, a gallon of gas costs $3.33 in Salida, and after I spent $48.28 filling the Blazer with that pricey liquid, I mused that I once owed a car that cost less than that — a 1953 Ford I bought for $35 in 1967 — and that was off a dealer lot.

I got a lot of good use out of that Ford. It even got decent mileage, since it had a six-cylinder engine and a three-speed with overdrive. Not that anyone worried much about mileage then. Gasoline prices fluctuated from 22.9 to maybe 28.9, depending on gas wars and how much service you wanted, and so a $5 bill almost always produced change after a fill-up.

Now gas is at its highest price ever in Colorado, even adjusted for inflation. And this is before the usual jump in prices around Memorial Day when people start driving more. A lot of people expect it to go over $4 a gallon this summer.

Since the economy of Central Colorado these days relies heavily on “auto-based tourism,” what does this bode?

I remember well a gasoline squeeze in the summer of 1979, and the major issue seemed to be availability, rather than price. People weren’t worried about whether they’d be able to afford gas in the mountains, but whether they’d be able to buy gas in the mountains. The Denver papers ran travel stories about one-tank places — destinations which you could get to and back from on a tank of gas.

Not long thereafter, Ronald Reagan became president, and he wisely dispensed with Jimmy Carter’s “energy plan.” Gasoline prices fluctuated a lot, but there were no shortages, and that continued through the presidencies of George Bush the Elder and Bill Clinton.

Then came George Bush the Younger whose vice president, Dick Cheney, convened a secret “energy task force” in 2001 that concocted an “energy plan.” And now gas is expensive. You’d think that Republicans, who often tout the virtues of free markets and Ronald Reagan, would want to repeal any and all government “energy plans.” As far as my pocketbook can tell, these things don’t work.

Anyway, the high gas prices will likely cost us some day-trippers from the Front Range Piedmont. But I doubt they’ll deter too many vacationers from Texas and the Midwest, our major sources of out-state tourism.

For one thing, you expect to spend money when you’re on vacation. For another, when you look at meals and motel rooms and admission fees and the like, vacations are expensive regardless of fuel prices.

Although high fuel prices may bring slightly fewer visitors, they may be better-heeled, out-of-state tourists. That could be a blessing if there’s just as much money coming in but fewer people using your favorite trail or fishing hole.

OTHER POSSIBLE EFFECTS are more doleful. Since just about everything we buy is trucked in, higher fuel costs will be reflected in everything from paper to groceries. In the long run, that might mean we’ll start making more stuff ourselves or revert to fuel-efficient rail transportation, which could make for considerable improvement down the line. But in the short run, life here might get harder.

Aside from tourism, the other major local industry is second-home construction. My first thought is that people who can afford a $400,000 or $800,000 house, especially one they inhabit only a few weeks a year, probably don’t care whether gasoline is $2 or $4 a gallon. But I can’t claim that I know all that many people who can afford such houses, so I can’t trust my response. Still, I think that phase of our economy will probably continue to thrive for a while.

I’ve seen proposals to boycott the gas stations on a given day in the hope of driving prices down. But successful boycotts rely on disrupting sales enough to threaten profits, and you’ll likely buy the same amount of gasoline in a given month even if you avoid the pumps on a given day. Besides, such tactics are more likely to impact the local station owner who’s just getting by, than to influence the major corporations which control distribution and prices.

Given the likelihood that meddling politicians, foreign wars, and the peak in oil availability which most environmentalists predict is coming soon will probably keep gas prices hopping in the future, I feel fortunate to live in a compact place like Salida, where I can walk for most of the necessities of life.

Most of America, though, drives to work, and to the supermarket, and to the big boxes. We built a country that absolutely relies on cheap gasoline for daily life. It took about a century of zoning and freeways to accomplish this, and it won’t be turned around overnight. But higher gas prices might inspire a return to a more sensible arrangement, one where kids walk to school and parents walk to work and to the store, and that can’t be an entirely bad thing — even if Exxon-Mobile racks up record profits in the meantime.