A combined effort by Canyons of the Ancients Monument and Montezuma County could boost parking at the Sand Canyon trailhead from the current 20 spots to up to 60.
There is a dire need for additional parking at the popular trailhead, which 18,000 people visit every year.
During busy times, the current parking lot quickly fills, with up to 50 overflow vehicles parked along the narrow County Road G, and it creates a hazard.
The monument and the Bureau of Land Management have proposed a new parking lot and trailhead a quarter-mile east of the current one on County Road G. It would include a connector trail to Sand Canyon.
But because of limited space pinched by cultural resources such as ancient ruins, the lot has enough room for only nine passenger vehicles and three oversize vehicles.
To make it larger, the county proposes using its wide right of way along County Road G to accommodate up to 30 more passenger cars, with space designed for oversize vehicles.
“The BLM proposal is not sufficient for current or future use, so the county is figuring out ways to help out by taking advantage of space we have next to their proposed new parking area,” said county federal lands planner James Dietrich.
County schematics show there is enough room to install a long row of angled passenger parking, plus pull-through parking areas sufficient for buses, RVs and vehicles with horse trailers.
“The advantage of using the right of way is that we have room to bring in large vehicles and buses and park them parallel to the road,” Dietrich said. “Larger vehicles struggle to park at the current parking lot.”
The county’s parking proposal is offset from the roadway, and there is enough room to install guardrails to help separate it from traffic.
The combined BLM-county parking area is not a done deal, and there was no estimate on when it would be built. The BLM’s portion is in the environmental and public review process.
Improving parking for the trailhead is a priority for public safety and to accommodate outdoor recreation important to the local economy, said Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla.
“It’s the first trail to dry out in the spring, so it draws people from all over,” he said. “It will continue to get more and more popular and needs improved parking. The way it is now, with cars parked on the shoulder, it is going to cause an accident.”
Nearby resident Judy Lane wondered whether more parking was the correct solution.
“Is there any way for the monument to funnel people into other areas, rather than down the most dangerous road in the county?” she asked.
BLM and monument staff said they have been working to divert recreationists to other nearby trails, including Mud Springs, to spread out users.
But the reality is that it is hard to compete with scenic red rock canyons, standing ruins, and single-track mountain bike trails of Sand Canyon, the main attraction of the monument.
“As a special recreation management area, this is one of the sites we actively send people to,” said BLM planner Keith Fox. “Having cars parked on the roadway is an unsafe situation and is the impetus of the proposed parking project.”