Thursday, December 17, 2009

Transport by Ski...

I recently finished my term at the Monument and handed in my final report. I also gave a presentation to the managers at the Monument along with all the law enforcement rangers as well. Everyone was extremely pleased with my work over the past six month and hopefully my research will lead to some well timed changes in and around the Monument. Joan, the superintendent, along with others, seemed adamant about making some of my recommendations a reality. Hopefully, the report will be available to the public so that everyone can take a look if they choose. It isn't for the weak hearted though, it is quite long.

But now for the real exciting part, I get to ski for the next three and a half weeks before I head to Washington DC for the TRB conference January 10th. Although there hasn't been much snow yet, I am hoping it will pick up shortly. Do a little snow dance for me. If you want to find me between now and TRB, there is a good chance I will be on the slopes. After TRB, I head back to Berkeley to finish the last year of my graduate degree. I am really excited to get back into academia and prepare myself for the working world upon graduation in December 2010.

And the 4Runner is still going strong, I will actually be driving it back to California. Cross your fingers, but I think it will make it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Please Prepare for Landing

So I just returned back from my thanksgiving vacation back in Boston. It was a blast although I probably came back a bit more tired than when I left. It was full of spending time with friends and family, not to mention eating tons of delicious food.

The Fruita / Grand Junction area has definitely thinned since the season has started to change. A lot of people head out of town for the winter. Definitely a bit quieter, if that is even possible. It seems a bit similar to Cape Cod, back in Boston.

As far as the report, I have finished a draft and am awaiting comments from some of my colleagues here at the Monument. It feels really good to have it all almost complete. Now I get to focus on designing my poster for the TRB conference in January. It should be an extremely exciting time.

I will likely post one more time before I head out of the Monument. I am finishing my term on December 15th and then I get a little time off to ski before heading to DC for the conference. After that I will be back into academia, finishing the last year of my masters program. I can't really say enough about how good of an experience this program was.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deadlines Approaching: Change Lanes in Emergency

Since the last post, I have been diligently working on getting this final report completed so that I can have it reviewed before Thanksgiving, and then have time to edit it during the two weeks I have left upon my return. It is pretty exciting to see all the work over the past six months taking shape in the report, although at the moment it is a bit long. I will be aiming to trim it down a bit, but also want to make sure I include all the necessary analysis.

Outside of work I have begun the process of getting back into an academic state of mind. I recently did my course selection and I have to say I think I am going to enjoy this next semester of coursework. I have also been working towards applying for internships for next summer. The application season starts early.

In other exciting news, it gets dark around 5:30pm now. It stinks. I really didn't notice it that much in more urban areas, since there are a bunch of other things to keep you occupied. But in nature, once the sun sets, most of your options are limited. Still I have found a little time after work to get in a quick run and ski exercises. Sometimes I get a quick game of disc golf in as well.

The weather is still pretty warm here. It still gets into the 60s during the day but it is usually short lived. The neighbors and I have been having more fires than usual. It is quite relaxing.

Also, big news, this weekend we are having the Rimrock Run. It should be really exciting. I will have to see how it stacks up to the Boston Marathon.

Until next time...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Snow in the Desert?

I got my wish! Some snow on the red rocks of the desert. It was extremely gorgeous as you can see in the photos below (it made me really want to ski though). We don't get that much here so I am definitely going to appreciate it while it lasts. And it definitely won't last long since it is going to be at least 60 degrees come next week.

In other news, work has definitely picked up. I finished my last observation period on the road which was really rewarding. Now I have all the data I need to complete my analysis. Over the past couple weeks I have been working mostly in-office to get the final report completed before I head back east for thanksgiving. This will give me some time to have the report reviewed and make the necessary edits and additions when I return for my final two weeks in December. I will also be doing a presentation at the Monument in my final weeks to acclimate all the employees with the work that I have completed.

I also got my truck back from the shop a couple weeks ago and it runs like a new 22 year old car. Still has some slight starting issues, but that is more tied to the coldness then anything else. Should I keep it and drive it back to Cali? Or sell it here in CO before I leave?

In the past week, I also got some new neighbors. About six members of the Teton's trail crew moved down here for a 60 day term assignment. This means that we almost doubled the amount of people that live on the Monument from 8 to 14. It almost feels like I am back in a big city! All of the new neighbors are great and very friendly. We even caught game 1 of the world series together and surprising everyone was rooting for the Phillies. It does seem that everyone hates the Yankees. I couldn't have been more pleased. Now all they have to do is lose three more games.

In a couple weeks, November 14th to be exact, the Rimrock Run takes place. I will hopefully have some pictures to post, but it is essentially a marathon that travels over the 23 miles of Rimrock Drive. It has been going on for years, and leads to some complicated transportation issues as well. So it should be interesting to watch unfold.

OK, I think that is it for now. Until next time...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Greyhound Buses and their Adventures

So I just returned from my buddy's wedding in NC. It was a blast. I got to meet a lot of new people and also catch up with a bunch that I haven't seen in a while. Always good fun.

As far as work has gone over the past couple weeks, I have continued on with my analysis as well as attempting to finish reviewing the 1986 lawsuit filed by some Glade Park residents. (I don't know how all you law students/lawyers do it, the language is just plain DRY!) The report is progressing well and am in a good position to deliver a complete and thorough analysis. Again, you have to wait for the results though!

Public lands day was a huge success here with about 1000 people showing up to walk Rimrock Drive and take part in the other events throughout the Monument. In addition over 800 showed up to our advanced screening of the first episode of "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."

4Runner Update: the beast finally went in for service (tune up, etc.) and I should be getting it back today. Hopefully all of my starting issues will have been taken care of. The car still rocks and rolls though. Such a solid purchase.

As for my trip on the greyhound bus from Denver to Grand Junction, it was one of the most interesting people watching scenes I have experienced in quite some time. I think it helps that I was taking a 12:10am bus from Denver that got us into Grand Junction at about 5:00am. Needless to say there were some character. At least it kept me entertained. We also were awoken on the bus ride to a call from the driver to see if there were any doctors or nurses on board. A car had flipped on I70 at about 4:00am and the bus was essentially the first responder. A couple people went out to check on the occupants so they had to wait for the emergency personnel to get there and then give them statements etc. In all it backed us up about an hour, but again, if you ever want some good stories, take a greyhound bus in the middle of the night.

OH OH, and the first couple mountains in CO opened for the ski season. Can you tell I am excited? It was actually snowing at DIA when I was flying to NC. I love it.

Until next time...there will be pictures, I promise.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Jetsetting myself...

So I have undoubtedly left you hanging after my last post, for over a month. Hopefully mys schedule will become a little more regular and I will be able to compile more exciting and multimedia focused posts.

Today, I don't have any pictures to add, but definitely some updates about work and life.

One of the best pieces of news is that I am almost done car counting! I have a couple more weekend days I need to collect some data for, but otherwise the bulk of the data collection is complete. During some of my time not on the roads counting, I have delved even further into my analysis and have started to come to some conclusions and begun developing some recommendations. This is where all the exciting stuff happens, but you will have to wait for the results until I finish my report.

In other news, I just returned from a good friend's bachelor party. It was in North Carolina and we spent the weekend enjoying various lake activities. Boating, tubing, jet skiing, dock jumping, etc. You name it, and we probably did it. It was great fun, and hopefully I will be able to post some pictures later. I will be traveling back to NC in October for his wedding as well.

I also spent some time in Boulder with friends over the past weekend. The weather was good so I was able to do a little hiking, and just exploring the city in general. I also went to a couple live music shows which were a lot of fun.

All in all, things are going well here, and the weather is starting to get cooler. If you know me, then this is what I was waiting for all summer. Ha. I also just purchased my season ski pass so I am ready to start ripping up the slopes. Can't wait for the mountains to open.

Until next time...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Influx of Jetsetters

I have a little time here and I want to give a quick update, and also to mention National Public Lands day, September 26th.

Since my last post, I have spent most of my time in the office. I have another week or so of data to collect on the road, but I needed a break. Most of my time has been spent analyzing the data I had been collecting, as well as reviewing legal documents about the 1986 lawsuit, learning the ArcGIS application, and firming up my draft outline for the final report.

I have also had a bunch of people visiting over the past couple weekends. One of my friends Alex, from CA, came through with his brother, Ben, while helping him move from Indiana to San Diego. They only stayed for a day but it was a blast. They really appreciated driving a huge moving truck, towing a car, up Rimrock Drive. My mom also came to visit for a weekend. We went to Arches, in Moab, and also up to the Grand Mesa. Obviously, I gave her a tour of the Monument and we did a couple hikes. Lastly, my friends Christian and Sarah visited. We went to Moab and did some awesome off-roading in my truck. It was awesome.

I will have more information and pictures of all this stuff shortly, but bear with me.

So, September 26th is National Public Lands day. We are having a really cool event at the Monument, so if you are in the area (or within 5 hours of the area...) you should definitely pay a visit. Check this site out:

If you aren't in the area check out this for some good ideas:

Also there is a sweet PBS series coming out on the National Parks and Park Service:

Alright, will be back with more next week.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Call me Count Von Count (a.k.a. The Count)

This entry is going to be a brief one, lacking the abundance of informative and fun photos. I have spent most of the time since my last entry counting/observing traffic on Rimrock Drive.

I have basically been collecting traffic data by manual observation at four different locations, the East Gate, the East Tunnel, DS Road (Main thoroughfare to Glade Park), and Devil's Kitchen Picnic/Trail Parking area. Again, all of this data will help in determining the daily/hourly traffic flows at specific points on the road, as well as any potential safety issues that go along with it. In the future, I may need to do more observations to assist in determining the capacity of the road at certain locations. The type of data needed for this analysis would focus on speed and headways (time between vehicles). Also noteworthy, is the number of different looks I get when people see me on the side of the street. Some actually stop to ask me what I am doing, others just keep driving with a confused look on their face.

In my off time (not observing/counting), I have begun to familiarize myself with ArcGIS which is a mapping software that I will hopefully be able to use in my final report/presentation. It is quite a complicated program, and not very intuitive. Luckily there are a couple people here with limited experience, so that should steepen my learning curve. The mapping software will help me create visual aids in describing certain aspects of Rimrock Drive, like accident locations, appropriate sign placement, etc.

With regards to the violations and citations data, I have finally finished compiling that data and will begin the analysis once I finish my time on the street collecting data. This should take place within the next two weeks or so. Once I finish with observations, I will continue my analysis of all my collected data as well as the NPS Public Use, and accident data I had began working on at the beginning of my term.

I have also started drafting an outline of my final report so that I can determine gaps in my information base, and going forward can address those points specifically. It will also serve as a good tool to update Joan and Michelle on my progress and they can make any recommendations or edits according to what they want to get out of the study.

In other news, Obama came to Grand Junction last weekend (August 15th) to hold a town hall meeting on health care, but unfortunately did not visit the park. Joan, the Superintendent, did get to go to the airport and greet him though. It was a big event here in small town USA.

I also took a little trip back to Boston. It was a short trip, but packed full of excitement. I left on a red-eye Thursday evening and spent most of Friday visiting with my adorable nephew (he is walking now!) and the rest of my family. I also got to sneak in some time with another couple of friends of mine as well. Friday night through Sunday morning was a good friend's wedding. It was awesome. It was an Indian ceremony, so it was full of traditional Indian food, one of my favorites, music, and dancing. I was jealous of the Indian formal wear, since it looked a lot more comfortable than the suit I was in. All in all it was a fantastic trip, where I didn't get much sleep, but it was well worth it.

until next time...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Been Stuck in an Internet Traffic Jam

So, it has been about a month since my last post. My internet access has been intermittent at best, since I have not been spending a lot of time in the office recently. I have a lot to talk about, this may be a long one, so try and keep up. I hope not to bore you.

Per the usual format, I will be talking about work stuff first, then getting into all the fun I have had over the past month. Since the fourth of July I have been doing a lot of out of office work revolving around vehicle counts, and other observations, but initially I will cover the things I have been doing in office.

I finally received electronic versions of the Ranger's case logs and started creating sample sets for the different types of violations written. These violations ranged from speeding, to DUIs and everything in between. Once I had created these groups, I determined the appropriate sample sizes so that I could represent the data plus/minus 5% of the actual results. Once the appropriate sample sizes were determined, I went through the individual reports to collect place of residence data. This would be used to determine where the people who were being issued citations lived. Were they locals? Tourists? Commuters? Commercial Vehicles? Currently I have populated my worksheets with data from 2009 and 2008. I will most likely complete 2007 either later today or early next week. This type of analysis should help determine how to more effectively manage the enforcement policies on the roads, and educate users specific user groups about the consequences.

In addition, I have been in touch with Jennifer Proctor, who works in the Park Facility Management Division. She is responsible for compiling motor vehicle accident reports for all the NPS units. We discussed what type of data she had available to her and what may be useful in my analysis. She was able to send me COLM motor vehicle accident data from 1989 - 2005. 2005 is the last year they have records for because they are in the process of switching to a new reporting database that has not been completed yet and have not entered the most recent years of data. This should still prove very useful for me in determining the most dangerous sections of Rimrock Drive and to determine the appropriate actions to make it safer. She also mentioned that her department is preparing a nationwide and regional safety studies, that when completed may be useful in comparing what is happening at COLM with other NPS units.

I have also been continuing my analysis of the NPS Public Use Statistics. Butch Street, who compiles the data for all the NPS units, was extremely helpful in giving me access to the raw data that he uses to calculate visitation. This assisted me in getting strictly vehicle counts for the East & West Gate, as well as the two roads entering from Glade Park. Since acquiring that data, I have been able to determine some high and low estimates of vehicle count growth rates over time, for both recreational and non-recreational vehicles.

Another woman who I have been in touch with is Elizabeth Stolz, who works for CDOT. She has recently completed a survey and analysis of how municipalities deal with Federal lands when conducting traffic analyses. Although I have not had a chance to go through these materials in depth yet, I believe they will be helpful to understand when I begin meeting with local traffic engineers to discuss what is being done in the surrounding communities to understand how the traffic patterns from COLM affect local arterials and vice versa.

Lastly, I have begun vehicle counts and observations to get a better idea of specific safety issues and more detailed understanding of daily/hourly traffic patterns, since the NPS data is only available on a monthly basis. I have started by doing hourly vehicle counts at the East Gate to determine daily traffic patterns. I also broke the vehicles down into two groups, those recreating in the park and those going to/from Glade Park. As you can imagine since the Glade Park vehicles are mostly commuters, the two groups have drastically different patterns. I have also started counting vehicle/cyclist/pedestrian interactions at one of the busier spots on Rimrock Drive. At this location there are trailheads on both sides of the road, a picnic area on one side, and a parking lot on either side. This leads to a tremendous amount of foot traffic across the road, as well as vehicles turning across traffic to enter and exit the parking lots. Below is an image of the area.

The safety issues at this location are significant given the lack of traffic control devices in place to keep everyone safe. In the coming weeks, I will be doing observations and counts at both roads that lead to Glade Park, as well as the East Tunnel, which is the longest at COLM, measuring over 500 feet. The tunnel should be particularly interesting given the low height and the propensity for larger vehicles to cross of the center line. Again, another safety issue that will need to be addressed in my final report. Although the days are long and hot, in the end the data will be extremely useful in my final analysis and recommendations.

Now on to the fun stuff!

Can you believe that during work they actually let me hike? Well believe it. It was another amazing hike, this time through Ute Canyon. I was accompanied by Eric Sandstrom, one of the interpreters at COLM. He has a great understanding of wildlife in the area and we got to see a number of different lizards, birds, and butterflies on the hike. Although the end of the hike, back out of the canyon, was dreadful. The elevation gain over such a short distance really tried me, I guess I wasn't as in shape as I thought. It was gorgeous though, and definitely worth the effort. A couple of the views can be seen below.

As I mentioned before, the days are hot here, even weirder is that it keeps getting warmer until about 6pm. Something I am just not used to. And if you don't believe me, check out the picture below.

And due to these hot and dry conditions, it is also fire season around here. Luckily the Monument has not had too many serious issues. The picture below is just one of the many fires that have erupted in the surrounding areas. This one was located just south of the Colorado river between Fruita and Loma, but there have been others in the Bookcliffs, and in Glade Park.

Even though, there is such intense heat, there is a rainy season and it seems to have started a bit earlier than normal. About a week back, we started having some really cool thunderstorms. They even cause a mild rock slide on Rimrock Drive and the section of road had to be closed for awhile until it was cleaned properly. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of the rock slide, but below is a photo I took during one of the storms.

When I was doing my observations in the East Gate, a lot of people kept saying they were going to the "potholes" in Glade Park. They said it was some sort creek and swimming hole with a couple cool cliffs to jump. My neighbor, Palma, and I decided to go up there one day and see what all the fuss was about. It was a really cool spot and the jump was a good twenty feet. It took me a couple minutes to get up the confidence to jump, but once I did there was no stopping. And in the picture, you can't see where you land, you follow the arrow another 10 feet down. Although, this time I wasn't doing any backflips. The pictures below are looking downstream.

It was also my birthday a couple weeks back, nothing too exciting though. I spent most of the day counting cars, but was able to go out a bit later with co-workers and friends to Pablo's. They have fantastic pizza, and cheap beer on Tuesday nights. Quite fitting that it landed on my birthday. All in all, a very quiet and low-key 28th birthday. Yikes, I can't believe I am 28! I guess the important part is I don't feel 28, right?

Until next time...

PS. For those of you that love to drive and text, or drive and talk on your cell, check this article/video out:


Monday, July 6, 2009

Resuming the Speed Limit

Since my last post things have started to slow down a bit, and my handle on the transportation project and life in a small town have grown. Although I have resumed the speed limit, there is still a ton of things that have happened over the past week and half.

One of the more exciting and nerve racking things to take place was the 2009 Bicycle Tour of Colorado. Over 500 cyclists were on Rimrock Drive on 6/23/09. This is more than a third of the average monthly total cyclists for COLM in only a days' time. From a transportation perspective, this was a fascinating event to watch take place. To see all the interactions between tourists, cyclists, commercial vehicles, and commuters all on the same road was eye-opening. The level of interaction between all of these groups of vehicles were extremely high and the chance of an incident seemed almost certain. However, due to dedicated staff at the Monument, no incidents occurred that day, although there were a few verbal and written complaints about ability to safely drive on the road due to the unusually high number of cyclists on the road. Below are a few pictures I was able to take of the event taking place.

The picture below illustrates one of the many safety issues when dealing with cyclists and vehicles sharing the road. This van is passing a group of cyclists entering an uphill switchback with little visibility of oncoming traffic.

This last photo is shot as a cyclist exits the longest tunnel on Rimrock Drive. Note how dark the tunnel is and the shadows of a couple cyclists still inside the tunnel. This is a major safety issue since drivers' visibility is so low when traversing through the tunnels. Several months ago, front and rear bike lights became mandatory for cyclists while in the tunnels helping to alleviate this issue somewhat.

In the office, I have been continuing to dedicate myself to reviewing current transportation documents in place, and those that are being worked on, throughout the National Park Service ("NPS").

Initially, I started pouring through the data on the NPS Public Use Statistics website. This gives a breakdown of many different classes of data. I was using their monthly statistics on total visitation, which is also bifurcated into recreational and non-recreational use. This data has been helpful in determining visitation growth rates and the proportion of recreational versus non-recreational users. I am also in the process of adjusting these visitation figures into vehicle counts to get a more accurate understanding of the number of vehicles on Rimrock Drive during the year.

To build on my understanding of the visitation data I was able to go on a ride-along with Joel. Joel is a park ranger and has been with COLM for over six years. He is responsible for collecting the traffic counter data at the East and West Gates to COLM, as well as the traffic counters at the two Glade Park entrances on Rimrock Drive. COLM also has pedestrian counters on many of its trails, which help to determine overall visitation to the Monument, not just vehicle visitation. Going through the data collection process with him was extremely helpful in understanding the locations of these traffic counters, the electronics' capabilities, and any issues that may arise from the location of placement.

I also had an opportunity to go on a ride-along with Clint, another park ranger at COLM. This ride-along was more focused on violations and law enforcement. I had opportunities to view routine traffic stops, general patrol, and the interface with local authorities. During the ride-along, Clint and I discussed the overall safety of the Monument and some very unusual stories. But after I was through, it got me thinking about analyzing the violations that have been issued in the past.

Based on these thoughts, I met with Phil Akers, Chief Ranger, to find out if they had records of past violations. Phil was nice enough to make these records available to me, and to also explain the procedures the rangers go through to document the violations on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. I believe this type of analysis will be helpful for me to review and sample so that I can have a better understanding of who is violating the law most frequently, out of those being issued citations. Are they typically commercial vehicles? Commuters? Cyclists? Are the violations most frequently related to speeding? entrance fee evasion? parking? All of this information should be extremely helpful in addressing some of the safety issues present on Rimrock Drive.

Lastly, at the East and West Gates of the Monument, cyclists counts are collected in addition to the number of bus tours, and commercial vehicles. This manually collected data will assist me in building off the vehicle counts collected from the traffic counters. Although, this data has only been collected for approximately a year and a half, it should still be helpful to sense trends and possible growth rates.

Simultaneously, I have been spending time reviewing documents and plans prepared for other jurisdictions and NPS units. Mesa County has put together a long range transportation plan ("LRTP") for the year 2035. This will assist me in understanding the traffic patterns on the feeder roads that lead to Rimrock Drive. In addition, there has been an effort to begin a LRTP for the Inter-Mountain Region of the NPS. I will hopefully be able to add value to this process through the information I am gathering and analyzing about the Monument. In addition, the resources that are being used to spearhead the LRTP can be of use to me, so I understand the larger realm of transportation issues facing the NPS. Lastly, there are several reports that I have begun to read through on specific NPS sites. The most recent of which is Saguaro National Park. Reviewing these materials assists me in developing a thorough work plan and gives me ideas to leverage in my analysis. Also, seeing the outcomes of such studies is helpful when identifying if certain actions were a success or not.

When I am actually through with work for the day/week, I have begun to explore the area and take a quick trip here and there. It has been unusually rainy here for the first couple weeks I have been here. Year to date, we have received between 4 and 5 inches of rain. It may not seem like a lot to you, but in an area that gets only 9 inches annually, and a usual "rainy" season around September and October, we are way ahead of schedule. Not that I am complaining, the rain has ensured somewhat cooler temperatures, which is nice. I am normally not one for extreme heat, but the dryness of the air makes it tolerable. Also, the increased rain gives way to beautiful rainbows. Like the view from my apartment?

I also got to do a fair share of hiking as well. One of the more secluded trails was No Thoroughfare Canyon. This trail starts inside the monument and ends just outside the Monument near Glade Park. It is approximately 7 miles one-way, but part of the trail is not designated and there is a bit of way-finding after the first waterfall. In total, the trail has two waterfalls that hikers can enjoy, although at the time I hiked it, there was no water flowing. It was unfortunate, but I am sure I will have another chance. I also got up close and personal with a yellow-headed collared lizard.

This second photo is at the base of the second falls. Eric, who I was climbing with, was working his way to the top of the second falls, one benefit to there not being a lot of water flowing at the time.

Last week, my neighbors and I had a little potluck BBQ. It was a chance to sit around, talk, enjoy some good food, and play with the pooches. There was also an impromptu music session, which, as a non-musically inclined individual, is always appreciated.

For the 4th of July I went down to Crested Butte to visit a couple of friends that live in the area. It was my first time there when there wasn't snow on the ground. I think I prefer the snow better, but it was gorgeous nonetheless.

While I was there, we got to enjoy the Crested Butte parade which was quite enjoyable, and afterward there is a HUGE water-fight downtown. A good number of people show up for this, and my friends and I kept a fair distance away, but figured launching water balloons from a couple blocks away was a good idea. We got ambushed a couple times, but all in all it was a good time. Their fireworks show was up on Mount Crested Butte this year, but we still got a good view from the town since we decided not to brave the traffic and drive up to the mountain. And last but not least, we did a little off-roading. It ended well, but could have been disastrous. We got this bright idea to try and drive through a rather sizable puddle. Little did we know, it was WAY to deep.

This is a view from the front seat with the door open, when the door closed it skimmed water into the truck. I couldn't believe we did not get stuck and waterlog the engine. There ended up being a couple of inches of water in the front seats, but luckily we were able to reverse out, since we definitely weren't going forward anymore.

And last but not least, I have had to do some work on my 4Runner. It being a '87 and all, some things were bound to happen. I had to replace the starter, which was a relatively easy job. Now that works fine, but there is some sort of fuel issue that I have not been able to troubleshoot. If you have some car knowledge, let me know.

Oh and for all you that know me well enough, I finally finished watching the Star Wars trilogy (the originals) for the first time. Return of the Jedi was my favorite I think. I have to let is sink in for a bit, but I am glad I can now say that, nearing my 28th birthday, I have finally seen all three movies in full.

Don't forget, just because you get to read all about me, it doesn't mean I don't want to know what's going on in your neck of the woods. Keep in touch.

I think that is it for now, until next time...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Zero to Sixty in One Week Flat!

A lot of you may be wondering why I will be living at Colorado National Monument ("COLM" or the "Monument") for six months. I will try to briefly explain my project and goals, then get into my first week at the Monument. If you already have a good idea of what my project entails then you can skip the next paragraph.

My project revolves around the historic Rimrock Drive, which is a 23 mile stretch of road connecting two points which are only 8 miles apart as the crow flies. Rapid population growth in the Grand Valley (Grand Junction, Fruita, and other towns) and Glade Park has led to numerous challenges with commuter and commercial traffic. This is due to the fact that the main thoroughfare for access to Glade Park is a 4 mile section of Rimrock Drive which exits the East gate of the Monument. This 4 mile section of road has numerous switchbacks, a tunnel with low clearance heights, and steep grades. All in all, not the greatest for commercial traffic, especially when cyclists are also part of the landscape. In the past, the Monument has attempted numerous methodologies to reduce road conflicts between visitors, cyclists, commuters, and commercial traffic, such as restricting access, issuing resident permits, and others. Ultimately, a lawsuit was filed by Glade Park residents and they were granted public right-of-way on the 4 mile section of Rimrock Drive in 1986. Now, not only is visitation increasing, but commuting and commercial traffic to and from Glade Park is also. I have been tasked with studying and quantifying the traffic volumes on Rimrock Drive to assist in future planning efforts for the Monument. In addition, I will be interfacing with Mesa County and the gateway communities to determine the transportation needs of the communities. Ultimately, I will use all of this information to make short-term and long-term politically and economically feasible design and management recommendations to preserve the public access, visitor experience, and safety of all who travel on Rimrock Drive.

I arrived at COLM on Monday June 15th. Over the first week I have been trying to acclimate myself with the elevation, approximately 6000ft, the organizational structure, and all the gateway communities and Monument have to offer. As I imagined, one week is definitely not enough time. Joan Anzelmo, Superintendent, and Michelle Wheatley, Chief of Interpretation, have done an amazing job at keeping me busy and assisting me in building a well-rounded understanding of the Monument. Below is a view from the Visitor's Center.

My work began by reviewing the General Management Plan completed in March 2005. It helped me understand the overall goals and mission of the Monument with respect to the visitor experience and preservation of resources. It also gave glimpses into the Monument's history. Another extremely valuable resource was the book "A Classic Western Quarrel: A History of the Road Controversy at Colorado National Monument." This book is of specific importance because it delves into the issues surrounding the main aspects of my transportation work. Moreover, the book gave a succinct overview of the 1986 lawsuit decision which, in short, granted the local community of Glade Park public access to Rimrock Drive. In the near future I will be reviewing the actual court decision for more details about the arguments presented and litigation process.

On top of all the informative reading I have been doing, I have been lucky enough to get driving tours from Joan, and Hank Schoch, a former Chief Ranger and a person all consider the man with the most institutional knowledge of COLM. Joan drove me in and around the adjacent communities of Fruita and Grand Junction to give me a brief lay of the land and show me where all the important municipal buildings were, along with some leisure opportunities along the way. Moreover, she was able to drive me to most of the trail heads that can be accessed from outside of the Monument, which eventually join up with trails inside the Monument. Hank's tour was more focused on Rimrock Drive and the history behind the road itself. He was able to point out the last portion of the road that was completed, along with the location of one of the more severe accidents that happened while constructing the road, where nine local resident workers were killed. In addition, he took me through the community of Glade Park and also down the only alternate route to Glade Park, Little Park Road. Both of these experiences were extremely valuable in understand the history of the Monument and the current climate for visitors and local residents.

Since the visitor experience is paramount, it was also suggested that I take part in many of the programs that COLM offers. Over the past week, I have watched two short films that are shown in the visitor center, one about the geology of the area (jeez, I know very little about rock formations), and the other, a slide show of the park with narration. I have also been able to listen in on Porch Talks which cover a variety of topics, such as All about the Rocks, Desert Wildlife, and Monumental People. It is also interesting to see how the visitors respond to these films and Porch Talks as well.

As I began to get more comfortable with the Monument, its history, and purpose, I have been trying to accumulate any data about visitation patterns that is readily available. Luckily the NPS keeps track of these types of statistics on its intranet which makes accessing them quite easy. In addition, I was able to observe the East gate operations during one morning rush hour period, where they collect cyclist and commercial traffic data as well. All of which will assist me in developing a better understanding of the traffic patterns on Rimrock Drive. I am sure there will be more observation time in my future.

Lastly, I have begun to get in touch with contacts at the NPS and Federal Highway Administration. There is a safety audit that may be taking place while I am here, which will be important for me to understand and coordinate with. Moreover, there was a recent transportation study done for Saguaro National Park which may prove helpful in my analysis. Michelle has also supplied me with a contact in Mesa County to try and get exposed to the Mesa County transportation plan.

Even with all that has been going on, I have been able to enjoy myself and meet some really awesome and interesting people. The Monument employs approximately 15 full time employees, but that increases to approximately 65 when all the summer seasonal workers are included. I live in an apartment in a building with four units. All of my neighbors are fantastic and close to my age, which definitely helps with the rural lifestyle. It's new to me now, but I am sure I will get used to it. BBQing at night is common, as is playing with my neighbors' dogs. Did I mention I love dogs?

Ok, so this isn't one of my neighbors' pups, but my friend from Steamboat was dog sitting and I got to hang out with this adorable guy, Paxton, for a couple days before I got to the Monument.

Outside of meeting so many people, I have been trying to get settled in my apartment. Unpacking, buying all the necessities, and the most important (ha), setting up my Netflix account. It has and will continue to be my savior since I don't have TV reception in my apartment. Yeah, I know, I am surprising myself. I have also started doing some trailrunning, and I thought I was in shape. Boy was I wrong, the air is a bit thinner up here, but after a couple days of running I regained my momentum and am now back to my pre-elevation speeds and distances. The picture below, is from one of the runs I did earlier in the week...going down?

Once my camera gets here I will be sure to take some more detailed pictures, but for now the pictures I have included from my phone will have to do. Also please leave me some comments if there are certain things you may want to hear more/less about. It will help me tailor these posts to be most helpful for those of you trying to keep up with my project and life while I am here. Take care until next time...