Did you know there is an Ouray, Utah just a few hours drive from Ouray, Colorado? How do you even come up with a name like Ouray, and how is an American supposed to know how to pronounce that? I would give you all the answers if this was a post about Ouray, but it’s about towns called Lake City. But, did you know you can drive a high altitude dirt road from Ouray, Colorado to Lake City, Colorado? See, there is a connection after all, but from this point forward i’m done talking about Ouray (which is a super awesome town).
This post is from an even older time than the last one but i really really need to be able to burn all these photos to ash, so it’s time it went up. Way back in the fall of 2015 i took a trip to look at buying a commercial property in Lake City Colorado. I had never heard of that town but it’s up in the San Juan Mountains, which i do like, and 3 hours from Grand Junction, or thereabouts. Ironically i had passed relatively close to the town on a road trip only 3 months earlier, when i drove along the Gunnison River. I happened to also want to look into some things in Salt Lake City, so i decided to make a loop trip.
Lake City is mostly dirt streets one you leave the main paved road through town.
There is a surprisingly large public library, which must be one of the highest libraries in North America.
The miners were winning at the Miners and Merchants Bank.
A nifty old chimney
I’ve been to a lot of Mountain Towns, but not many in Colorado. To be fair, Anchorage could even be considered a mountain town, since there are parts of the city above treeline and it’s surrounded by peaks in every direction. My first impressions of Lake City, Colorado, were definitely mixed. I wasn’t too impressed with the mountains along the way, and it is a heck of a long drive for little payoff. It’s only 20 miles as the crow flies from Ouray, but the mountains are much less dramatic. The town sits at 8,650 feet, so winters are long. In October though the fall colors were at their peak and the air was still warm in the sunlight. The town has a sordid history of kicking Native Americans off their land and eating human flesh, but what’s interesting to me is that today property is bought and sold using the same 25′ x 125′ lots from the town’s founding in 1873. So if you have a house wider than 25 feet you likely own multiple lots.
There seemed to be a real estate scam going on in Lake City where property prices were all over the place. There were a lot of very expensive seeming homes and lots for sale but when i asked some of the locals about it they said those lots had been for sale for years. Also, and this is the ‘scam’ part of it, when i asked about the very high prices i was told they were appraised at those values by the country commission. When i looked that up i noticed that Lake City is the only town in Hinsdale County, so the 400 residents (and even fewer landowners) who live there seemed to be giving themselves very generous appraisals.
These people build their house on top of a lava tube or something.
The scenery gets much nicer just south of town. In the distance in Uncompahgre Peak. It’s one of the highest summits in the lower 48, at 14,308 feet high, but it also has one of the highest bottoms in the lower 48 so it’s not a particularly big mountain. There is a trail to the top.
Lake San Cristobal, the second largest natural lake in Colorado. Interestingly, it’s only been around for 850 years, when a huge landslide dammed the valley.
The Slumgullion Earthflow collapsed from the top of this hill and flowed for 4 miles to the valley floor, damming up the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Another landslide started 350 years ago and is still actively oosing downhill on top of the older one.
I was only in town one night and it took a long time to get there, but i did have time to walk around and then drive up south of town to about 11,000 feet. As soon as you leave town heading south the scenery become much nicer. Lake City is no doubt a nice base camp in summer but the winters sound lonely. The town is on the verge of figuring out how to transform itself into a more popular mountain town destination but has several hurdles to overcome. It has a lot of building and improvements to do. It has to figure out how to overcome the limited access into the surrounding mountains (almost all the nice scenery on the way into town was private property, so why go?), and it needs some good restaurants and shops. It is though, under the radar, and in that regard still offers uncrowded streets and roads. It was nice and quiet when the construction wasn’t going on.
On the way back i decided to take a less used route back from Grand Junction to Salt Lake City. Instead of heading towards Green River i took Colorado State Hwy 139 to Dinosaur, then headed west through nearly a dozen small towns that ate up a lot of road time. The first few hours were very scenic, and travelled a corridor of the Canyon Pintado National Historic District. The long canyon shallow canyon has hundreds of archeological sites and was near the beginning of the 1776 Escalante-Dominguez Expedition. I never would have guessed that a year later i’d be living in Ivins, at the other end of that Expedition’s route. The canyon is full of Fremont and Ute era pictographs and petroglyphs.
The Guardian is from 2,000 to 1,500 years old. Some of the glyphs were placed in areas to mark where birds eggs could be harvested.
Some cool handprints. Tragically nearly all the wall art is ruined by vandals who wanted the world to remember them forever as very stupid jackasses.
One of the tributaries of Canyon Pintado
There are some birds and other animals but to the right is the first petroglyph i had ever seen using multiple colors. It’s of corn.
In Salt Lake City i had half a day to waste before my plane left in the early evening, so i decided to do something that wouldn’t get me dirty. The Natural History Museum of Utah has some cool architecture and a really good dinosaur skeleton display.
They made a cool room with multiple levels and catwalks and ramps that gave you a lot of different views of the dinosaurs and ice age animals.