04 August 2013

Weatherford Road

Yesterday, I rode my fat bike up the old Weatherford Road.
The Weatherford Road, which begins just above and a little to the west of the Schultz Creek trailhead, and the Weatherford Trail, which begins up higher on the Pass near Schultz Tank, aren't really the same thing, although eventually they do rejoin one another, at the Wilderness boundary above Schultz Pass.
The old Weatherford Road used to be our primary bike-access from town to the trails above Schultz Pass.  But we hardly ever ride it anymore, probably because most of those trails don't really exist anymore.  Trails like Secret and East Orion were obliterated by the Forest Service years ago in an effort to protect spotted owl habitat.

Today, a couple newer trails, such as Newham (not to be confused with Oldham), Upper Dogfood (a wildcat trail), and The Spotted Owl (which is sometimes mistakenly called Secret or Orion Spring) cross the Weatherford Road above the Pass.  But only one classic trail, The Overlook, still remains accessible from the Weatherford Road, up high in the aspens, somewhat hidden beneath a few rotten logs, right where it always has been.

Much All of the road is now closed to motorized vehicles, so it feels forgotten and remote and, year after year, the trees encroach on it more and more.
When it was proposed as a tourist attraction back in about 1915 by local hotel owner, John Weatherford, he assured the Forest Service that the grade would not exceed seven percent, but here and in several other places it approaches ten percent.
It's pretty obvious that the Forest Service has not put any resources into maintaining the road for some time, even sections like this one near Newham, which technically remains open to motorized vehicles.  Every summer the rains dig the channels a little bit deeper.
The road, called The San Francisco Mountain Boulevard, was originally planned to be operated as a toll road aimed as an attraction at the burgeoning Grand Canyon tourist trade at the turn of the last century.  It cost over $100,000 in 1900s-dollars to construct and it was finally completed to the saddle between Agassiz and Humphreys Peaks in the mid-1920s.
The old toll-house is still standing and appears to have been carefully restored.

Weatherford and his fellow speculators never recouped their investment.  But the road, such as it is, remains to this day, but, since 1980, only horses and hikers have been permitted above the Wilderness boundary.
It must have been quite a  thrill to drive to over 11,000 feet on the San Franciso Peaks, and not altogether without risk, either.  Last time I hiked it above the Wilderness boundary, several years ago, there were still a few old abandoned vehicles wedged into the trees off the downhill side of the road.

In the late 30s, due to a lack of maintenance, the Forest Service canceled Weatherford's special-use permit, closing the Scenic Mountain Boulevard to motorized vehicles forever.


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May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey