December 1, 2009

Snow, traffic and isolation can't stop CHP officer

Shupe patrols sparsely populated, heavily traveled northern border of county

By DAVID HELDRETH, staff writer
Desert Dispatch

California Highway Patrol officer Larry Shupe stands with his patrol vehicle Tuesday afternoon. Shupe is one of six officers that live and patrol the Mountain Pass area. (Staff Photo by David Heldreth)

MOUNTAIN PASS • Officer Larry Shupe has become the go-to man for people in Mountain Pass.

Shupe is one of six California Highway Patrol officers who are voluntarily assigned to patrol the Mountain Pass area from Halloran Summit Road to the Nevada state line. Shupe has spent the last 17 years living at the CHP residence post off of Bailey Road, 100 miles north of Barstow, or Sandy Valley, Nev. and working the Mountain Pass area.

Shupe’s years of experience in the area were tested during a snow storm that hit the Barstow area on Dec. 18 of 2008. Several motorists were trapped on Interstate 15 when it was closed for 18 hours due to two-foot snow drifts across the freeway in Mountain Pass. Shupe, who has the only four-wheel drive patrol vehicle, made several trips to take the stranded people between the freeway and the Moly Corporation Minerals mine on Bailey Road where a shelter was set up.

“The snow was coming down so bad you couldn’t see anywhere,” Shupe said. “I almost hit a few cars actually. After I found the first people I realized there was more than I could take so I promised them I would come back. I had to mark the spots with my GPS so that I could find them again.”

Shupe received a commendation from the CHP for his work that day. Cpt. Rick Linson said that Shupe often goes beyond the normal call of the job.

“When it gets that cold and people are stuck it can be dangerous,” Linson said. “His efforts may have saved lives that day. He is a great example to any officer.”

Shupe’s knowledge of the area was even useful when the Mojave National Preserve was created in 1994. He said he often had National Park Service rangers visiting him for directions and asking him to show them around the preserve during its first few years of existence.

Hiking and rural living are nothing new to Shupe. He grew up cattle farming in a rural area outside of Twin Falls, Idaho. He now lives in Sandy Valley, a town of 1,800 people about 15 miles west of Interstate 15.

“I kind of always lived out away from people all my life,” Shupe said. “When I got out of the academy I picked to come to Barstow. I’m bilingual so I got a bit more of a choice were I was located. I chose Barstow over a metropolitan area. I prefer the peace and quiet.”

Shupe’s preference has meant that a shopping trip or piano lesson for his kids requires a 50 mile trip to Las Vegas. Shupe’s three children who still live at home — he has five total — go to school in Sandy Valley, but he said that when he lived at the residence post his kids would take a bus 35 miles to Baker to attend school.

“If you get in your car to go somewhere you have to plan for a 100-mile round trip,” Shupe said. “You have to plan things a little bit more, but it works out. The kids didn’t really seem to notice it until they started getting to junior high school and high school and started getting driver’s licenses and things.”

Shupe said despite the drawbacks the post has its upsides, such as easy access to hiking, hunting and off-roading areas.

“After 21 years as an officer there isn’t a spot in the state I couldn’t get assigned to at one point,” Shupe said. “I want to be here and I take pride in my work here. When I first was moving people said I would miss the trees, lakes, snow and water, but over the years the area has grown on me. I think I became a desert rat. I go out hiking and explore the area often.”