Hinsdale, San Juan Road Crews Work to Open Cinnamon, Engineer Passes

Epic work and determination — mirroring an epic snow season with unusually heavy avalanche activity — by Hinsdale County Road & Bridge crew and their counterparts in neighboring San Juan County has resulted in the opening of the counties’ two major high country passes, Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass, as of this week.
Hinsdale Road & Bridge Supervisor JoAllen Blowers reports that Cinnamon Pass was cleared for through traffic as of Tuesday afternoon, July 16.
Hinsdale Road & Bridge’s Gavit McNitt, Nathan Fox, and Bert Schaefer cut through snow drifts 20’ to 25’ depth to reach the 12,620’ elevation Cinnamon pass summit on Tuesday. San Juan County Road & Bridge had simultaneously worked to clear the Animas side of the pass up from Animas Forks, both counties declaring the pass officially open as of Tuesday afternoon.
Blowers states that a two mile section of Cinnamon Pass near the summit remains wet, muddy and the road surface somewhat soft as the result on ongoing snowmelt from drifts which tower on either side of the county road.
Blowers reports that other than the usual snow drifts, little snowslide activity was encountered on Cinnamon Pass other than a snowslide which crossed the county road near CR30’s intersection with the American Basin road.
Hinsdale County Road & Bridge’s Blowers and Breck Thompson worked to open the Henson Creek side of 12,800’-elevation Engineer Pass last Monday, July 8. San Juan County opened its side of Engineer Pass as of Wednesday, July 10.
Four wheel-drive traffic over both Engineer and Cinnamon Passes drops down into Animas Forks on the Animas drainage; the San Juan County road down from Animas Forks to Eureka remains closed as the result of a large snowslide estimated to be 100’ deep or greater which is not melting, according to Blowers, because of minimal sunlight in the steep mountain gorge.
With access down from Animas Forks still closed, intrepid San Juan County Road & Bridge has pioneered an alternate 4-WD route up California Gulch from Animas Forks and over 13,347’-elevation Hurricane Pass to meet San Juan County Road 110 via Gladstone and down into Silverton.
All ancillary roads off Hinsdale County Road 20 on Henson Creek and CR 30, the upper Lake Fork, are now open, including North Henson Creek — a large portion of which was cleared by private landowners in that vicinity — as of last Tuesday, July July 9. Hinsdale Road & Bridge personnel have expended hours hauling in gravel to repair a half-mile section of the Nellie Creek Road which was badly eroded by the creek. As of Wednesday this week, the first half-mile of the Nellie Creek road is now in relatively smooth condition, although the road’s access to Uncompahgre Peak Trailhead from there onward is in its “normal, primitive condition,” says Road Supervisor Blowers.
Wager Gulch has been cleared as far as New Carson but the road on up to the Continental Divide and Old Carson remains closed with an estimated 15’-deep drift on the Continental Divide ridge.
Blowers confirms that the attention of the county Road & Bridge crew is now shifting to the removal of the large scale “super sack” sandbags, many of which will be relocated to the sandbag staging area on town property to the immediate north of Lake City Area Medical Center. There the sandbags will be tarped and stored for eventual reuse; rather than sand, the contents of the super sacks is dirt and some of the large-scale sacks will be emptied and the contents reconstituted as road base on county roads, according to Blowers.
The town/county plan for deployment to remove sandbags from throughout the town was still being finalized as of mid-week. The county road supervisor says Hinsdale R & B crews and equipment may join a largely volunteer effort to transport and relocate the smaller size sandbags to a designated area at Memorial Park.