Shell Road snakes in and out among trees riddled with bullets. Ruts swallow half a tire as a Jeep Cherokee forges a small pond, and 21 minutes tick by while the SUV traverses a mere 1.8 miles.
Shell Road lies south of Jamestown and connects Rawhide Road to Peoria Flat Road, crossing private and public property and forking into two, three or even four winding paths that sometimes braid together.
On Dec. 15, the Bureau of Reclamation halted vehicle access to the almost 2-mile stretch of road that crosses its property near New Melones Reservoir.
The closure doesn't stop Shell Road residents from getting in or out, and is necessary, said Jeff Laird, natural resource specialist with the bureau, because the path needs restoration. It is scheduled to reopen April 15.
"We felt if we let it go this winter, we wouldn't have a passable road at the end," Laird said. "We barely have a passable road now."
Reclamation bureau officials are developing an interim plan to regulate the road until the New Melones Project a master plan to manage the reservoir and its surrounding land is done. That should be in three to five years, Laird said.
Shell Road overlooks New Melones Reservoir, surrounded by rolling foothills smattered with oaks. Table Mountain rises behind the path, a murky backdrop for the bright green and blue mosaic.
The road remains open to travelers on bicycle, foot or horse, Laird said. But the closure gives Mother Nature and New Melones rangers time to seed grass and mend ruts and to keep out undesirables who cut fences, blaze four-wheel-drive paths and use oak trees for target practice.
Shattered scraps of bright-orange clay pigeons litter some spots on the ground.
"Most people in Tuolumne County don't want their trees to look like this," Laird said, standing next to a blue oak tree with dilapidated bark and lead bullets lodged in its trunk. "These kinds of things happen all the time."