Flying Excrement in Durango

Many moons ago, circa April 2014, the City of Durango commenced a major road reconstruction project in town.

This highway reconstruction project is still underway, but the months of April, May, June, and July were the scene of the worst traffic jams I have ever witnessed here.

Durango is the place where highways 550 and 160 intersect, and that intersection is the busiest highway intersection on the whole western slope (the western half of Colorado). That’s according to data compiled by highway and traffic engineers.

The City of Durango, in one of their beautification planning sessions, decided this intersection needed to be more than just a bunch of concrete and asphalt. (It was obviously keeping people up at night, the idea that we had such an unartistic highway intersection in town. Something Had To Be Done. We are a town of awesome, and this drab crappiness of a traffic flow-through was not cutting the mustard.)

There’s a beautiful river walk through town that crosses under the bridge beside this intersection, but there was no pedestrian crosswalk on the highway. So plans were made to add a crosswalk on the west side of the bridge, and on the east side of the bridge, at the highway intersection, a sculpture would be added to beautify the former site of concrete nothingness.

Traffic engineers also decided the lanes of the highway needed to be rearranged into a new pattern, one resembling a preschooler’s attempt to draw the number 6 over a double set of railroad tracks — because this artistic highway design would help with traffic flow. (I can’t tell you how often I’ve thought to myself, “If only this really busy intersection resembled a small child’s picture of the number 6 over a double set of railroad tracks, the vehicular traffic would flow .003 seconds faster! Just think of the time we could all save on the road!”) Thank goodness a fleet of traffic engineers read my mind, drew up plans, and got moving on this, as it was about time this intersection met the space age.

Let the highway reconstruction project begin!

Months of traffic jams ensued. There were so many orange traffic cones and “lane closed” signs everywhere, my sister and I took to calling the turnoff to my house “the fires of Mordor” because all that glowing orange was truly reminiscent of Hell. Plus, sitting in traffic, not moving, for a half hour, just to drive 200 feet, and then spending another half hour to drive 200 feet more, is incredibly frustrating.

But after months of work, the big payoff arrived. The sea of construction cones and “lane closed” signs abated, traffic began to flow again (for the most part), and the intersection received a large statue of artwork– and the first time I saw it, near the end of July (when it was unveiled), Greg pointed through the windshield and said, “Turd rock.”

Because that’s what everyone at CDOT (the Colorado Dept. of Transportation) had already christened the statue: Turd Rock.

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I took this photograph of the city’s new artwork yesterday, while I was out walking. I live on highway 160, so I often walk into the center of town, cross the highway to the river walk trail, and then walk the river. So I pass by this area frequently.

I must admit, I was pretty shocked that THIS piece of artwork was what had caused all those long months of traffic jams. The whole experience of making a space for this artwork was seriously agonizing. I still cringe sometimes leaving my house, anticipating the total nightmare of driving Hell that was this road reconstruction project, because even though the craziness has calmed, the crosswalk isn’t finished yet, and lanes still periodically close.

But anyway. Back to Turd Rock.

What you are looking at is a vertical metal pole attached to a horizontal metal pole with a bunch of thin, squarish rocks strung along it, like beads on a string.

Here is how Neil and Marti Bourjaily described the artwork in a Letter to the Editor (The Durango Herald) on August 9, 2014:

The sculpture at the Highway 160/550 intersection is symbolic in the way all good art is symbolic.

Look at it in a new light to appreciate its value at this major intersection. Consider that each slab of stone represents an individual in Durango. See the unifying construction represented in the shaft that pierces each individual stone, seemingly going where all such shafts go. The sculpture does indeed represent the way Durangoans receive their highway funds and design.”

If you are wondering why someone is writing a Letter to the Editor blatantly saying local residents were “shafted” by this piece of artwork– well, let’s just say, people caught on pretty quickly to the epithet Turd Rock.

Here is what Catherine Crowel had to say in her Letter to the Editor (The Durango Herald) on August 10, 2014:

I would like to know what the city of Durango and the artist were thinking when they put the sculpture of what appears to be a flying piece of excrement at the intersection of Highways 160 and 550. If this is supposed to represent Durango, in my opinion, they all failed with this one.

Bikes, just like the ones at the roundabout at Chapman Hill, a train or even the mountains are a better representation of our area versus this thing. Sometimes, I wonder what people are thinking when they are coming up with ideas, and I’m sure people are having a great laugh at our expense because of this thing. Way to go, Durango!”

Davitt M. Armstrong suggested the scultpure could be thought of as Durango’s “Giant Stone Batman signal” (The Durango Herald, August 10, 2014): “I breathlessly await the arrival of the Giant Stone Batman to put our hapless community to rights. He’ll have plenty to keep himself occupied simply protecting inept drivers around the Hollywood crash-course designed by our fearless engineers.”

Mr. Armstrong is clearly not a fan of the new intersection design OR this piece of artwork that now looms above it.

Plenty of other people wrote in to complain, express horror, and make jokes about this statue. To say there was an uproar in town over this piece of art is putting it mildly.

After an avalanche of negativity about Turd Rock, which is actually named Arc of History, several people wrote in to defend the sculpture and the city. Some call the sculpture an important addition to the city’s collection of art, some compare the Arc of History to wings (representing freedom), or think it looks like a petrified dinosaur.

I just find the whole thing hilarious. The art, the uproar, the constant Letters to the Editor expressing frustration and outrage, and the way Arc of History was immediately named Turd Rock.

I’m also grateful the fires of Mordor have died down to embers, and that there is now a pedestrian crosswalk across highway 160, because I use it every day.

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