Friday, June 17, 2011

A Look at Lake City, CO

City Park - SJS50 Finish Line
One of many places to eat and drink in Lake City
Tourist Cabins - Lake City's Motels
Cabin in the City
A summer rental!
During the last three days I have been able to absorb a lot of information about Lake City. Here is my interpretation of the things I have read or heard about this unique place. Mind you, I am certain that more perspectives are needed to build a working knowledge of Lake City, but that would take more time than I have. It could take months or even years to know this place intimately.

The area was first inhabited, as were many locales throughout Colorado, due to a mineral discovery. In 1871 a group of men created the Ute-Ulay mine after they discovered silver and lead near Lake San Cristobal. The growth of that mine brought in many laborers and brought out more than $14 million in metals.

A Mr. Hotchkiss formed the $3 million Golden Fleece Mine in 1874. Hotchkiss became the "father of Lake City" after he built the first home here.

Before continuing, I feel obligated to state that many people have told me that Lake City is the most remote city in the lower 48. Though I have tried, I have not verified this. I do know that Lake City is from from anywhere and it has one real access road. In 1889 the narrow gauge Denver-Rio Grande Railroad reached Lake City. It ran until 1933 when the small railroads around the country were outdated with the increase in standard rail and automotive usage.

One of the first stone buildings constructed after
most of the wooden Lake City burned in 1879
Colorado HWY 149 is the main roadway through the area. It was a wagon road which was not completely paved until 1985. Yes, 1985. The meandering mountain and high plains road, which I traveled on yesterday, stretches 117 miles. Lake City is located at mile 74. That road was named the "Silver Thread" in 1990 when it became part of the Colorado scenic byway network. Add a drive along this road to your bucket list.

In 1915 a wealthy Texan named Wupperman built a second home in Lake City to escape Galveston's oppressive summer heat. He started a trend that continues to this day. A drive through the Lake City and Lake San Cristobal area on the Silver Thread is like a parade of homes. There are dozens of modest to high-end homes here. Many are only occupied during the summer months - by wealthy Texans. Observation of auto license plates will verify that.
Mansion on a Mountain
One of several drinking holes found in Lake City
That leads me to point out that the year-round population of Lake City is about 400 while the influx of summer dwellers and tourists bring the population to around 4000 by the 4th of July. There are, of course, many outdoor activities to partake in here. And there are many lodges, cabins, and resort ranches in the area to use as base camps.

I stayed at the Westwood Resort in Lake City. This resort is a collection of small cabins. The proprietors are a couple who drive up from Tucson each summer. They stay with the crowds from June through September. The cabins are moderately priced, clean, quaint, and each has a kitchen and a bath. The hospitality, like the banana bread brought to my cabin(!!), is unbeatable. Check the Westwood Resort out if you plan to stay in Lake City during the summer season.

The year-round inhabitants are a unique breed. Most of them visited the area and simply never left, despite the brutally cold winters which last almost five months while often registering temperatures in the -20F to -30F range and accumulations of snow that stand taller than a man.

Why do they stay? Lot's of reasons, really, but the common draw seems to be a slow life in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

When the RAV picked up a nail my first day here, Rene's Garage fixed it as soon as I walked in. Well, he and his assistant did stop work for about ten minutes to admire and discuss a BLM worker's new truck. Rene and his wife were world travelers hailing from Switzerland before he took a short-term mechanic job here in 2002. He never left and eventually opened his own garage.

Hannah is from Denver, but her parents spend a lot of time here. A valedictorian who was accepted at Harvard, she was drawn to the area. Now, at twenty-three, she is Jean of Mean Jean's Internet Coffee Shop. She has lived here for the last three years. While the winter cold and isolation have tested her, she says that she likes it here. Furthermore, she has exceeded her original business plan. Like Rene, she said that a person who lives here, especially one who owns a business, must be judicial with their summer income since it must last them through the winter. Interestingly, "Mean" Jean is following her own path in a way similar to her relatives "Green Been Jean" and "Clean Jean."

"Mean Jean"
Another year rounder I met was Craig. His big grin greeted me on my first morning in town after he drove down from his yurt. He welcomed me and wished me well in the SJS50 without me even telling him I was entered. I must have a malnourished and psychotic look that can be easily recognized. Craig is in construction and finds himself busy, especially through the brutal San Juan winter. He says that it is actually easy to get a good construction job during the winter months because that is when the wealthy part-time dwellers either want renovations done or expect a new home to be built for summer move in. Craig has been here nine years. He loves what he does. He also works straight through the winter without complaint because that is what the job requires. Many workers start in the Fall and leave in December when the weather turns. They simply do not have the work ethic or the passion for life here in this uncommon place. Craig's genuinely friendly demeanor and his work ethic caused me to like him instantly.

I'll close by writing about the cabins and businesses along Lake San Cristobal. Many of them sit in the path of or directly on, the Slumgullion earth slide. This mammoth fragment of mountain has been liquefied for centuries. The "Slum" has been the focus of studies that indicate it is still moving at a rate of about twenty feet per year.

When the Slum first let loose about 800 years ago it moved violently and swiftly a distance of four miles, blocking the path of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Lake San Cristobal was formed. Scientists believe the upper portion started moving again about 350 years ago. And it is still moving today. Which brings me back to the millions of dollars worth of structures built on the original Slum down by the lake. I call this insanity.

A variety of churches (above and below)
are located in Lake City

Lastly, I have not sped in the RAV since I arrived here - and I am not in the least bit annoyed or pained by this fact. The speed limit in town is 25 mph, but I have yet to reach 20 mph. It is true. Maybe, for therapeutic reasons, I should find a job here for the rest of the summer  . . .

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