Traveling Tuesday: Gunnison, Colorado
Located about 175 miles west of Colorado Springs, Gunnison is part of west-central Colorado. Tucked between the San Juan Mountains and the Sawatch Mountain range, the town lies at 7,703 feet along the Gunnison River. Headquarters for the Gunnison National Forest, Gunnison originated as a silver mining camp and is named for Captain John William Gunnison, an Indian fighter and railroad surveyor who explored the area in 1853, who was killed in an ambush a short time later. I was fascinated to discover that Captain Gunnison was born and raised in New Hampshire, attending school about an hour from where I live.
In the early 1800s, Gunnison was mostly filled with fur trappers and mountain men, but the bottom
Brothers John and William Outcalt from New Jersey are two of Gunnison’s earliest (and most famous) settlers. Their ranch, family-owned for more than one hundred years, is located on the southeast bank of the Gunnison River. John built an irrigation system for the ranch and was able to grow hay and other grains. A savvy businessman, he managed to convince the railroad to build the rail through is property, allowing him to ship over 800 carloads of his hay each year.
Gunnison is located at the bottom of a valley, and because of its location in the Rocky Mountains, cold air settles into the town at night, making it one of the coldest places in winter in the United States. The average low in January is -8 degrees. Early fall and late spring snows are not uncommon, and snow can remain on the ground from as early as November to as late as April. The average annual snowfall is slightly more than four feet in town, but the surrounding area receives as many as 300-400 inches.
According to one source I found, Tombstone’s famous marshal, Wyatt Earp, spent a “peaceable winter”
Gunnison is also home to the Gunnision Tunnel, an engineering marvel that was the longest irrigation tunnel in the world when it was dedicated in 1909 by President William Howard Taft while he was on vacation. The 5.8 miles tunnel is cut through the cliffs of Black Canyon, taking water from the Gunnison River and funneling to the Uncompahgre Valley, a semiarid area to the west.
Difficult and much larger than anticipated, the project involved seeping water, poisonous gasses, excessive temperatures, and a fractured fault zone that complicated the drilled. A cave-in took six lives, and an explosion twelve more. Fortunately, before the tunnel was completed, technological advances made the work safer and easier. The finished project greatly impacted the area. By 1923, the population had doubled, and by 1933 the number of irrigated acres rose to 64,180 (from 37,000 in 1913). Gunnison Tunnel is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
About A Family for Hazel:
After the Civil War takes Hazel Markham’s father, and her mother dies of a broken heart, a friend of her parents hires Hazel as a companion. All is well until the woman’s lecherous son takes an interest in his mother’s assistant. When Hazel spurns his advances one too many times, the man frames her for theft, and she is fired. As a last resort she applies to be a mail-order bride, and to her dismay, her groom-to-be is a preacher. Will he believe her claims of innocence or reject her as unacceptable?
Olav Kristensen has no plans to remarry after being widowed five years ago, but when the church elders give him an ultimatum to find a wife or lose his job, he advertises for a mail-order bride. The woman who arrives attests she was unjustly accused of robbery at her last job, but when his daughter’s heirloom locket goes missing, he is hesitant to believe his bride-to-be. Will he lose his church and a second chance at love?
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