The March 7, 1963 Ouray County Herald's top headline blared, "Search continues for victims of snowslide."
The search had been going on since Sunday, March 3, when Rev. Marvin W. Hudson of Ridgway and his daughters, Amelia and Pauline, were swept away in an avalanche at the Riverside slide just a few miles south of Ouray.
Hudson, 39, a rancher/minister, was on his way to the Congregational Church in Silverton to pastor the Sunday service, according the Albuquerque Journal, Feb. 14, 2008. "A good man," his widow, Mary Hudson told the ABJ. "A good man, but he could be stubborn as a cross-eyed mule."
He earned $30 a month as a part-time pastor in Silverton, and surely on this day the congregation would have understood if Hudson didn't show.
The account in the Ouray Herald in 1963 went as follows:
"On that fateful day, three state highway maintenance men began work early Sunday morning cleaning the 22-mile snow-covered stretch of highway between Ouray and Silverton.
"The men were E. M. Lair, the maintenance chief, Preston Hotchkiss and Leo Janes, snow plow operators. Around 5 o'clock a slip on the Riverside slide, 6 miles south of Ouray, was cleared.
"Janes in his rotary plow was later to become the closest witness to the accident. He said he came home to Ouray for breakfast and returned back up the highway around 9 o'clock. He first cleared a small slip on the Mother Cline and then went on to Riverside. There another slide had come down at a point below the early morning slip. Said Janes:
'Rev. Hudson and his daughters were parked in his car below the slide, out of the way. The wind was blowing and it was snowing a little as I made a cut through the slide and backed up to wait until I could see better. The Hudson car went around but stalled and he got out to put on chains. It was hard to see any distance. As soon as I could get better visibility I was going to pull him out. His car had spun out.'
"The slide came down without warning, Janes said. His rotary was so close to it that it was covered with powdered snow and the snow had plastered the windshield. The concussion moved his plow back into Lair’s, which had just pulled up.
"Janes said it was some time before the air cleared and he realized that the Hudson car had disappeared."
On March 10, Rev. Hudson's body was found, and what little hope remained was abandoned for finding the girls alive. More snow had fallen, and fears persisted of another slide while rescuers searched, carving out nearly 600 feet at the river's canyon.
On Saturday, March 16, the body of Amelia, 17, was found along with the family's 1963 Studebaker, 580 feet downstream from where the car went off the highway. The car was crumpled like a wad of paper. There were no doors or top. In the wreckage lay a jar of fresh cream, unharmed. Amelia was found beneath the car's right front wheel.
After six weeks, the search was called off for the final victim. Rescuers would wait until the snow melted.
On May 30, Hudson family members decided to take a trip to the avalanche site and spotted something below. Rushing down the mountainside, Floyd and Vernon Hudson found the body of Pauline, 11.
In 1944, in what the Herald described as "the most disastrous storm in 25 years," Highway 550 was covered in snow from six to 50 feet deep, and 800 feet wide when snow came down the West Riverside slide, filled the canyon and ran up the road.
The road to Silverton was closed for 10 days. Two other slides that winter wreaked havoc at the Revenue and Camp Bird mines, and cut power to Ouray for days.
There is a snow shed over the highway at the spot of the fateful 1963 avalanche now, meant to prevent a recurrence of the tragic event.
Avalanche mitigation efforts in recent weeks show that even a snow shed can be inundated, as US 550 remains closed indefinitely with snow and debris at this and other points along the highway. The snow shed itself is nearly full of snow after CDOT triggered one avalanche after another in recent weeks.
If there's one thing avalanche tragedies remind us, it is that in a battle between us and the mountain, the mountain usually has the last say.
If you haven't heard the chorus of cries cascade over Engineer Pass as some Lake City residents move to ban Off Highway Vehicles within Lake City, then maybe you will, since the real fight has really just begun.
According to the Lake City Silver World's Feb. 8 issue, a petition was received with ample signatures requesting a vote on an ordinance to prohibit operation of OHVs on the town's streets. By August, the citizens of Lake City will, perhaps, settle a contentious fight that has been going on since the town trustees approved a pilot program to allow OHVs on the streets in 2015.
Since then, business owners have advocated for the increased traffic. Other residents, such as Viva Ashcroft, a 20-year homeowner who wrote a letter to the editor in the World's pages entitled "ATV Hell," want them gone.
The complaints range from noise to dust to speed to downright inconsiderate behavior. Property values are also at risk, residents argue.
Lake City residents behind the petition do not see the problem slowing down. And a recent study demonstrates the growing traffic along the Alpine Loop.
Kendall Cox, a Western State Colorado University graduate student, studied traffic on the Alpine Loop as part of her thesis. According to the World, she presented her findings to the Hinsdale County Commissioners in December.
Her 2018 data found that 158,879 vehicles traveled the Alpine Loop, carrying more than 313,000 people, at an average of about 2,048 visitors per day. Vehicle use was split down the middle between OHVs and highway vehicles, such as Jeeps, trucks and SUVs.
Comparisons of traffic clearly demonstrate the growth. From 2015 to 2018, Corkscrew Pass traffic counts went from 9,556 to 19,695. Eureka Pass grew from 43,720 to 61,804 over the same period.
Nearly 55 percent of vehicles observed with license plates had Colorado plates, while Texas plates accounted for 13 percent.
Of four entrance zones to the Alpine Loop that were studied — Silverton, Lake City, US 550 and Stony Pass — Lake City (46 percent) had the highest percent who accessed the Loop, followed by Silverton (37 percent). The entrance south of Ouray off US 550 was the lowest (12 percent).
Clearly part of the appeal is to drive OHVs into town. If Lake City changes the pattern of what at first was a novelty and now is considered a nuisance, will the Alpine Loop be as popular as it has been the past three or four years? If not, is that such a bad thing, since the state's population will double by 2040?
Alan Todd is co-publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.