We pulled in to the County Line parking lot and let the dogs out to run. It was the first snowy weekend in November and lots of people had come up to cross-country ski and/or snowshoe. It was a popular place for dog owners and everyone here knew, and was OK with the fact, that there would be many dogs running free, in the parking lot and on the trails.
We didn’t ski all that long, maybe an hour around the Dog Trail. Back at the parking lot, we opened up the back of the Sequoia, climbed in, and had some black bean and corn salsa with chips.
Looking out the back-end, I said, “Gosh, to think that last year the highway was right there.”
We were all thinking of last season. Not November, January. We were up here skiing for my birthday. We had done the trail to the overlook and back. As we came into the parking area, not this one but the old one, ready to have lunch, we could tell that something was not quite right. There were too many people, not getting ready to ski or just finishing with their skiing, but standing in groups talking; too many cars in the parking lot, not parked, just sort of there in haphazard fashion.
I listened for a few minutes but couldn’t get a handle for what was happening. Finally, I just asked. “What’s going on?”
“Two people were just hit by a car,” a guy said. He nodded his head toward the end of the parking lot. “They were killed. Just five minutes ago.”
What? I started to walk in the direction he indicated. Surely, he was mistaken.
But no. He wasn’t. As I got closer, I heard a man on a cell phone identify himself as a doctor. He described the victims – a man and a woman in their 60s – and told whomever he was talking to that the coroner was needed.
We – all of us who were up there that day – hung out in the area (I will not call it a parking lot for it wasn’t, it was just a clearing along the edge of the highway where people parked, often double parked, as the area got smaller and more cramped as more and more snow was plowed and piled up along its edges) until the authorities arrived. It took a long while. Should an ambulance be sent or not? Should this county or the other respond? The ski area is called County Line because it straddles the line between two counties, two different government entities.
I tried to comfort the driver, a young man, too young, in shock, lost, not knowing what to do with himself, saying over and over, “I should have just hit the car. I shouldn’t have swerved. If only I’d hit the car…”.
What had happened was this: A car coming from one direction was turning around in the middle of the highway, trying to park. A truck, coming from the other direction, at highway speed, crested the hill and saw the first car in the middle of the road. The highway itself wasn’t icy, but the parking area was, and that is where the driver of the second vehicle chose to go to miss the car in the middle of the highway.
It was a heartbreaking day for so many people, a day that both counties and the Grand Mesa Nordic Council and the highway department knew was inevitable, in one form or another. They knew that parking area was dangerous and had to be changed. But who was going to foot the bill? County one or county two or the highway department or the U.S. Forest Service or who? Deciding, or cooperating, just hadn’t been a priority.
We sat in the back of our vehicle and enjoyed our lunch and the great view out of the back-end. The view of a parking lot. There was no sign of the highway. We couldn’t see it or hear it. The parking lot was well off the road, in a new clearing. There was nothing going on there except for people walking around or skiing to the trail head and, of course, lots of dogs running free, socializing, rolling in the snow, just having a dog party.
We decided that the one of these times when we came up, we’d have a party ourselves, a barbecue, maybe a fire, offer bratwursts to others who are hanging around, even if it’s just the dogs. A celebration! A celebration of a new parking lot!
This post is in memory of Glen and Linda Eyre who were preparing to ski in a gorgeous, sunny winter wonderland Jan. 5, 2013.
Randee Bergen is a single mother of two teenagers and an elementary school teacher. Read her Fridays on Healthy Mesa County.