The Ute Ulay Mine is in Hinsdale County. The long, rectangular Ute and Ulay mine claims are laid over the rugged terrain and represent private ownership, as do all the mining claims in the county. Land ownership in Hinsdale County is unusual in that it is mostly public land.
Public land makes up 95.3% of all land in Hinsdale County; and of that, 49% is wilderness area. Public land is governmentally owned, is managed by federal agencies, and is not taxable.
There are varied restrictions as to what activities are allowed in different parcels of public land. Generally recreational activities of some sort are allowed, though the regulations differ in different types of public land; as you drive along any road, you see signs letting you know that you have just passed from one designation to another. I find it fairly confusing – activities such as camping, horse riding, mountain biking are allowed in some areas – whereas only hiking is allowed in others (wilderness areas).
If you look at private land ownership in Hinsdale County, you can see some patterns:
Of the 4.7% of privately-owned land, there are many square parcels that have been claimed around water (a precious resource here), there are other square parcels that make up ranches – these are often close to roads (but I’m not sure which came first, the ranch or the road), and the long, thin, rectangular strips are mining claims – just like the Ute and Ulay.
In Hinsdale County these mining claims exist mainly around a geological feature called a ‘caldera‘. This is a feature left by a volcano, where a large pocket of larva has erupted, leaving an empty space below that the land falls into. The surrounding fractures in the rock are just the right type of place for mineralisation to occur. Mineralisation in this location often means silver, gold, lead etc. Hence the many claims.
Some things are only really visible to us from the ground; the steep terrain and outline of the horizon, but others only show up when we plot them on a map.