We waited and waited and waited.  I’d been excited to have my family visit our Nederland home for the first time since we moved here.  They’d flown into Denver and rented a car to make the 1-hour drive to our mountain home.  Living off of a private dirt road, I’d emailed them very specific directions of how to get here from Boulder.  They’d called 45 minutes earlier from Boulder, and yet they were nowhere to be seen.

Finally, the phone rang.  Our landline.  It was my brother.

“Hey, it’s Geoff.  I think we’re lost.”

I could barely hear him as the phone cut in and out, a symptom of the spotty cell service we have in the mountains.

“Where are you?”

“Well, we were on Ridge Road, but then we went down a hill and I’m not sure where we are.  I put your address into my iPhone, but I guess the directions were wrong.”

After a couple more questions, I deduced they had taken a wrong turn and were out by the Peak to Peak Highway.  Once again I repeated those very specific directions.

It’s a scene that’s been replayed many times with friends and family who have come to visit.  In this day and age of smart phones, we’ve all gotten dependent on using GPS to find our way.  Paper maps and following directions have become a thing of the past.  The problem is, that’s a very dangerous way to navigate around the mountains of Colorado.

I was reminded of this recently driving back through Central City today.  As I descended down towards the historic gold mining town, I spied a small sign and laughed.

“Your GPS lied, Central City is straight ahead”

I try so hard to let our house guests know this small truth — your GPS can lie to you and will while driving around the mountains.

“Don’t use your smart phone, you’ll get lost.  Here are the directions, take Hurricane Hill until it dead ends at Ridge Road.  Drive about 2 miles on Ridge Road until the pavement ends, then turn hard right onto the dirt portion and go another 1.5 miles, going left on the second entrance to Cougar Run.  Here’s our phone number just in case you get lost.”

And like clockwork, the phone rings, with said friend explaining they tried to follow their smart phone got lost, and now need help finding our house.

Fortunately, these episodes only cause slight delays and nothing more.  But others driving around the American west have ended up in more dire circumstances, resulting in life and death situations.

Three women unknowingly took their Mini Cooper out into the desert of Death Valley.  They tried to use the car’s GPS to help them navigate, but not understanding what was a road, a 4-wheel drive jeep track or just nothing at all, they ended up stranded for three days in 120-degree heat.

Other have used their smart phones to choose their route, only to end up on local seasonal roads that are snowed in for the winter.

I’d like to say I’m totally immune to being sucked in by technology, but it happened to Bryon and me on a day trip out to the Pawnee Buttes in northeastern Colorado.  After hiking around the Buttes, we were trying to figure out the quickest way back to I-76 and west to Boulder.  My trusty iPhone directed us to turn left into — a cornfield.  There wasn’t any kind of road at all.  Fortunately, we keep a paper copy of the Colorado state map in all our cars and were able to get ourselves back on the right road courtesy of some old-fashioned navigation.

There’s one other reason not to solely rely on GPS — you don’t get the big picture of your journey or see landmarks along the way.  While GPS in the right situation can help you find your way without having to keep looking at a map, it doesn’t give you a sense of your trip in totality — what towns you will pass nearby, what national parks might be along the way, what mountain peaks are directly to your west, and what scenic drives you might take instead.

I love my smart phone, but I realize I can’t solely depend on them as we take road trips of Colorado and nearby states.  Colorado is an amazing place to explore, but don’t forget to tuck in a map as you tour along our many byways.