The Alpine Loop Back Country Byway in the northern San Juan Mountains of Colorado is a spectacular 65-mile tour of some of North America's most magnificent scenery. The byway boasts two 12,000+ foot passes that require a high clearance, four wheel drive vehicle. Drivers on the route take a slower pace, allowing time to soak in the scenery rather than watching the mile markers whiz by. For those with an adventurous spirit (and an appropriate vehicle!), the area offers an opportunity to look back to a time when early miners struggled in a rugged, often hostile environment. Remnants of the hard rock mining past -- historic structures, old rail beds and tramways -- dot the landscape, telling a story of a bygone era and a different way of life.
While the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) manage the majority of land along the Alpine Loop, an unseen legacy of the mining past is the jumbled pattern of private patented mining claims. Large-scale hard rock mining has become less and less economically viable in the area. Backcountry development, particularly the construction of second homes and vacation cabins, has replaced mining as the preferred use for many landowners of these private inholdings. Managing this mosaic of public and private lands to maintain their outstanding natural and historic values is ever more challenging within this new context. Large-scale development of these private inholdings threatens the very qualities that have led to national recognition of the Alpine Loop.
The Alpine Loop Spatial Analysis and Mapping Project is an effort to inventory natural and cultural resources and identify important areas where overlapping resources occur. The results from this project will provide an opportunity for area stakeholders – landowners, outdoor enthusiasts, surrounding communities, federal government agencies and local preservation groups -- to come together to find solutions that maintain the Alpine Loop experience for future visitors and residents, while working within the framework of landowner objectives as well as local and federal government goals.
|Group portrait of miners in front of a wooden mining building at the Golden Fleece mine, Hinsdale County,Colorado. Between 1870 and 1890. Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.|