The Alpine Loop

Many folks visit the Lake City area due to the precipitous and thrilling alpine loop backcountry byway. If you have a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle, you can travel over un-metalled, bumpy (terrifying) routes that were carved out by miners in order to access remote work places at up to 12,800 ft. Along the route you will see many traces of mining in the landscape, like the coloured piles of waste-rock and tailings in the mid-ground of the picture below.

You may also see ghost towns, and bits and bobs of leftover mining structures and infrastructure.

Up in Lake City tourism is an important part of the economy. Since the tax base from private land is so low, it makes sense that visitors bringing in money from outside is a great way to boost income. Plus, Lake City is an interesting and unique place – it has a lot to offer the holiday-maker: sublime views, calm and isolation, wilderness, a ski-hill suitable for learners, a whole host of historic buildings, taxidermy galore, friendly mountain men and women, and a cat in the post-office who pops out of the lower PO boxes on occasion.

As a confirmed map geek I love the maps created and shared by the Alpine Loop Spatial Analysis and Mapping project (check out this beauty).

The Ute Ulay mine site straddles the alpine loop, about just outside Lake City. There were 611,000 Alpine Loop user days in 2008 – that means there is potentially lots of passing trade at the Ute Ulay. Click on the graphic below to see numbers of visitors.

Itsy Bitsy

I was thinking about how you can almost drive forever from Lake City to get to any other town, and how you can drive the same distance from Manchester and be unable to count how many towns you drive through. American cars are bigger, the wilderness is bigger, the  food portions are bigger…. is everything bigger?

Well, when I compared the size of the entire United Kingdom (and don’t forget people, that is 4 countries!) to the size of Colorado (only 1 out of the lower 48 states!) it’s fair to say that I was somewhat bamboozled. Was I reading correctly? I checked – not just wikipedia – and checked again – and it seems that Colorado is bigger than the   e n t i r e   U K ! (!)

Click on this picture for more details.

Don’t get me wrong… size isn’t everything. I mean – small is beautiful. It makes sense of my 5.5 hour drive from Denver though.

So having a remote inactive silver mine site, out here in remote Colorado, is really very remote. In fact, Hinsdale County (home of the Ute Ulay mine site) is the county with the most ‘roadless space’ in the conterminous United States according to a paper in Science Magazine (full article). It’s the place to come if you want space to breathe, a little solitude, or a reminder of how itsy bitsy each human really is.