Local wags have dubbed it the Franken Tree. And in truth, it’s real-life title is not much more impressive. It’s a mono-pine.
That’s the term for the camouflaged cell tower looming over all the other, lower conifers, high above Highway 62 between Ridgway and Placerville. Part of what is perplexing about the tower is the way it suddenly appeared. In nature, a tree that tall would’ve taken decades to grow. Yet this one appeared on the upper horizon seemingly instantly, as if by magic.
In reality, it took a heckuva lot of work to install the mono-pine, so named for the single pole beneath its “branches.” Neil Wiser, the owner, builder and designer of Denver-based Fidelity Towers, which installed “the fake pine tree” — as he forthrightly referred to it —recalled the construction process, which took place late last summer. “I end up with a lot of the more challenging” mono-pine placements, he said. “The logistics of getting that 70-foot pole with 107 branches, and concrete; boring under Highway 62, and trenching up 62X … I wouldn’t call it an easy one. Access roads can be a challenge on mountain sites.” And that just describes accessing the site, which is being leased from a local landowner. There was also the digging to place the mono-pine’s pole in the ground. Said Wiser, “They call them the Rockies for a reason.”
Fidelity Towers has installed three mono-pines in this region, all of them in San Miguel County. A second is located on Specie Mesa. “If you look straight up at mile marker 3 on Highway 62, just before you turn left from Ridgway to Placerville on Hwy 62, you’ll see that fake pine tree up there up there if you look closely,” Wiser said. “I built a third tower on top of the Telluride Ski Resort, on Coonskin Ridge, just down from the gondola, last summer.” That tower provides service for AT&T and T-Mobile cellular customers. The Placerville structure “has the sheriff and fire guys’ emergency radio equipment, as well as T-Mobile on it,” Wiser said. The mono-pine above Dallas Divide will be utilized by T-Mobile for voice and data-services later this spring — “All that’s left for them to do is install their antennas and radio equipment as soon as they get a good weather window” — and San Miguel County’s emergency services.
Verizon and AT&T are welcome to utilize the Dallas Divide mono-pine, but so far T-Mobile is Wiser’s only paying customer. “They’ve really jumped ahead” in their cellular coverage, he said. “They’ve made a very concerted effort these last couple of years to try to put as much pink on the maps as Verizon has red.”
“The Dallas Divide tower is an important link for both cell services and emergency communications between all of our responders and agencies,” said Mike Rozycki, San Miguel County’s outgoing planning director. “Mr. Wiser has got to be complimented. He’s come up with stealth towers in remote locations and has tried very hard to comply with the intent of our new land use provisions.”
In short, Rozycki said, “He’s been very good to work with.”
The county’s new planner, Kaye Simonson, has a keen eye for good (and wretched) design. She’s been Mesa County’s senior planner, and historic preservation planner for the town of Telluride. She recalled a soaring mono-pine outside of Green River, Utah. “You’re making that big climb up out of the San Miguel Swell and it was out on a prominent point,” she said. “It was a complete anachronism. The tallest plant around it was sagebrush,” and the species of pine it attempted to replicate “wasn’t even found in that area.”
Her aesthetic verdict: “Really hideous.”
So much of a camouflaged towers’ ability to be convincing “has to do with distance and perspective,” Simonson added. “I have seen that tower,” she said of the Dallas Divide’s “Franken Tree.” “It doesn’t seem too out of place.”