Motorists relying on GPS route-finding technology have triggered a series of rescues on the snowy Dolores-Norwood Road, forcing a winter closure by Dolores County until further notice.
The temporary vehicle closure on Forest Road 526 begins just north of the Kinder Morgan Compression Station and ends at the San Miguel County line. Barriers are being installed this week.
The closure does not apply to on-snow winter recreation such as snowmobiles, snowcats, skiing and snowshoeing.
“This is in response to multiple missions to rescue motorists stuck and stranded,” said Keith Keesling, Dolores County emergency manager. “This is being done to protect the health, safety and welfare of county residents and visitors to Dolores County.”
In many cases, he said motorists were relying on a GPS device or Google map app showing the Dolores-Norwood Road as a possible route to the Norwood and Telluride area. Except there is a problem: It is not plowed in the winter past the compressor station. Signs are posted warning drivers. Dolores County leases jurisdiction of Forest Road 526 under the Federal Roads and Trails Act.
This is the most winter rescues of motorists in such a short time frame officials have seen on the route, Keesling said. Since Christmas Eve, there have been six rescues, including two on Sunday involving one driver trying to reach Norwood and one coming south from San Miguel County.
“Most of the time when the driver sees that there are only snowmobile tracks ahead, they turn around,” Keesling said. “Everybody was OK, and hopefully learned something.”
Dolores Search and Rescue used snowmobiles to reach the stranded parties, and there were no injuries. Vehicles were also retrieved. Cell service is spotty in the area.
In one case, a snowmobiler from Groundhog Lake came upon a stuck vehicle then drove to where he could call for help.
Besides lacking situational awareness, drivers who get stuck also make the mistake of choosing the shortest route suggested by GPS route-finding apps that don’t factor in winter conditions.
One motorist who became stranded was from Cortez, but he had recently moved to the area.
Also on Christmas Eve, a Texas family relying on a GPS route to get to Norwood from Durango ended up lost on a snowpacked mountain road, spending the night in wintry conditions in the San Juan Mountains and kicking off a robust search and rescue mission. The family was delivering furniture to Norwood in a rented truck.
Helicopter rescues skier from Sheep MountainOn New Year’s Eve, the San Miguel Search and Rescue service rescued an injured backcountry skier on Sheep Mountain.
A 50-year-old female skier from Monte Vista took a fall and sustained a leg injury around 1 p.m., according to the San Miguel Sheriff’s Office.
Members of her party skied to the highway and then drove some distance to receive cell service, which took two hours.
The search and rescue team member flew in with Telluride Helitrax personnel to the scene. The injured woman was loaded onto a toboggan and flown to Telluride Regional Airport then transported to the Telluride Medical Center for treatment.
More than 20 deputies and EMS officials responded to the mission.
San Miguel Sheriff Bill Masters said while the group was prepared for the backcountry, they were also very lucky.
“This patient was extremely fortunate that Telluride Helitrax and our team was able to rescue her when they did. Otherwise, this would have been a protracted period of time in the dark, with below-freezing temperatures in avalanche-prone country. It’s a reminder that people who venture into the backcountry need to be prepared for self-rescue.”