Red Mountain Pass - Colorado

  • February 01, 2011

Claiming the Landscape

mr-redmountainpassWhether you're skiing, hiking, climbing or driving, the vistas are breathtaking. Rocky crags, alpine meadows and lush forests in Colorado's Red Mountain Pass appear vast and uninterrupted. But looks can be deceiving. Over the years, the 1872 Mining Law has allowed the sale of millions of acres of public lands, creating a checkerboard of ownership that allows development in the heart of some of the nation's most scenic terrain. 

In 2000, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared an area between the Colorado towns of Ouray, Silverton and Telluride as one of the nation's most endangered places.  The threat? Nearly 11,000 acres of patented mining claims scattered through national forest land. Under the nation's mining law, this land could be used to construct mines, condominiums or virtually anything else. The sprawling, erratic pattern of new development threatens the integrity of the landscape, destroys historic structures and puts new and costly demands for services on local communities.

Thanks to an ambitious collaboration between conservationists, historic preservationists and civic and business leaders, there's hope that the Red Mountain area can be protected. But, with more than 20,000 new claims staked in Colorado since 2000—and over 10,000 in 2007 alone—other special places may not be so fortunate.

Side Trips:

Next, visit Taos County New Mexico.