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Publish Date: 4/11/2005

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Boulder County Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Rosales talks to a motorist during a routine traffic stop on the Peak to Peak Highway on March 29.Times-Call/Joshua Buck

Mountain officers battle monotony


ALLENSPARK — For three months each year, Deputy Ken Rosales has what he thinks is the most exciting job in the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office.

Rosales helps people stranded on remote four-wheel-drive trails, enforces camping rules in Roosevelt National Forest, breaks up parties at isolated picnic areas and tackles anything else that goes wrong between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

He earns the privilege of working summers in the mountains by slogging through nine months of lifeless campsites, empty roads and bitter cold.

“Do you see how clear a night it is? In the summertime, it’s just amazing up here,” he said late March 29 as he climbed into his patrol car after pulling over a speeder somewhere near Allenspark on Colo. Highway 7. “But in the winter, the wind is blowing and it’s cold. ... I’m lucky if I see a car when I’m driving from Nederland to Allenspark.”

Rosales patrols almost everything west of Boulder from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., covering half the county and almost 200 square miles in a worn Dodge Durango with the heater cranked.

He is the only deputy in the mountains during his shift, while 13 deputies cover more populous areas around Lyons, Niwot, Superior and Boulder at night.

With one deputy covering such a large area, help may be 30 minutes away in an emergency, sheriff’s Lt. Phil West said.

“There’s no quick way from one place to the other,” West said. “There’s nobody else there, unless it’s the officers in Nederland or the on-call town marshal in Ward.”

Mountain deputies might struggle with boredom in the winter but they need to be quick on their feet in the summer, he said.

“In the summer, it’s hopping until 3 or 4 in the morning because of all the campers and the transients,” West said. “And we’ve got tourists coming through. And you’ve always got the fear of a big wildfire or search-and-rescue.”

Rosales worked the mountains for two years before patrolling “the flats” for a year. He asked to be placed back on mountain duty again in February because he missed the summers and wants to improve the relationship between the sheriff’s office and mountain residents.

“I try to make myself visible in the subdivisions and towns,” said Rosales, who lives in Loveland. “In a lot of communities, like Jamestown and Gold Hill, the people just love us. It feels good. You drive there, and people wave at you.”

Maintaining a presence is often Rosales’ main duty in the winter, if only because nothing is happening.

Sheriff’s deputies on the flats might answer three or four dispatch calls each night. During the winter, a night-shift deputy in the mountains might handle three or four calls a week, Rosales said.

Most calls in the winter involve burglaries or trespassing at empty summer cabins, he said.

Tuesday’s shift was relatively busy.

At around 7 p.m., Rosales hiked a mile off the road in waist-deep snow to check on a burglar alarm that had gone off at a summer cabin near Eldora. He found nothing suspicious.

At 8:30 p.m., he knocked on the door of a red cabin in Lefthand Canyon near Ward, searching for a woman dispatchers said violated the terms of her probation. He found the woman’s husband, who answered the door and told Rosales the woman had been in a Boulder safehouse for a week.

Like many of the people Rosales calls on, the man in the cabin appeared to be startled by the visit and kept a gun handy when he answered the door. Even if nothing eventful happens on a shift, the job isn’t necessarily boring, Rosales said.

“Your awareness is so much higher because you’re alone,” he said. “In the mountains, at nighttime, they can see you coming. And you’re probably out-armed. Almost everybody who lives in the mountains owns a gun.”

Rosales saw six drivers on the roads between 7 and 11 p.m. March 29 and issued two of them warnings for speeding. He spent the rest of the night making his rounds at a leisurely pace.

“This is downtown,” he said sarcastically, cruising past the deserted general store in Raymond, an unincorporated hamlet just off Colo. 7, at 9:45 p.m.

Driving on the Peak to Peak Highway, Rosales pointed out every four-wheel-drive trail he passed and rattled off stories about the people he encountered there.

In a remote meadow near Nederland, he once broke up a 400-person rave, complete with two DJs and a light show.

In Lefthand Canyon, Rosales fielded a complaint from a man whose ex-wife had secretly rented out his nearby cabin to make extra money.

At a shooting range just off the road near Raymond, he once checked out an abandoned car and discovered the body of a missing man who had killed himself.

Rosales doesn’t gather many memorable stories in the winter, though.

“When there’s people around, you can find stuff, and up here the people just aren’t around,” he said. “It gets monotonous. There are times when I go home and say, ‘Man, I got nothing accomplished.’”

Mountain deputies also deal with isolation. On an overcast night, the woods are pitch black. Spotty radio reception in the canyons reduces Rosales’ police scanner to crackles at times.

Around midnight, Rosales worked his way back to the flats via Sunshine Canyon and looked for speeders on North Foothills Highway. He bumped into his supervisor, Sgt. Jim Chamberlin, in a parking lot north of Boulder and jawed about the evening.

Other deputies handled domestic violence incidents and violent mental patients, Chamberlin said. Rosales mentioned the burglar alarm near Eldora and the probation check near Ward.

“There’s never anything happening in the mountains,” Chamberlin said, ribbing Rosales.

Brad Turner can be reached at 720-494-5420, or by e-mail at bturner@times-call.com.

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