Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Traveling Tuesday: Gunnison, Colorado

Traveling Tuesday: Gunnison, Colorado 

I’m working on my next manuscript, Ellie’s Escape, which takes place in Gunnison, Colorado, so I thought I’d take you on a virtual visit. 
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
dropped out of the fur industry in the 1840s. A decade later, gold seekers flooded the area bringing conflict between the Ute tribes who had called the area home for centuries. Silver would later also be discovered. By the 1870s, Gunnison saw heavy population growth because of the mining surge that occurred throughout the state. The railroad arrived in 1881, and Gunnison quickly developed into a trade center for mining and farming. Also in the 1880s, the cattle industry was established, the farmers had discovered that with less than a foot of annual rainfall and the short growing season, ranching and breeding were better choices. 
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. 
In 1911, Western State College was established ensuring continued growth for the area. During the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918, Gunnison residents isolated themselves from the surrounding area, but the order was lifted in early 1919, resulting in the death of several inhabitants. 
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”
in Gunnison in 1882-1883, with his buddies Warren Earl, Doc Holliday, Texas George, and Big Tip, so I was tempted to set my story during that period, but ultimately decided I didn’t want these guys to overshadow my characters. Another source indicated that the Vidal Ranch was used as the setting for the 1902 silent film The Girls in the Overalls
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. 
The idea is thought to have come from one-time miner Frank Lauzon, and in 1900 a local rancher, John Pelton, set out with a party of four men to determine whether the tunnel was feasible. Their mission was a failure, resulting in the destruction of one of the boats, but the project continued to generate interest. The following year, a team from the U.S. Geological Survey set out with rubber air mattresses and waterproof bags. Nine days later they emerged from the gorge with photographs and locations of the best areas to dig. In 1901, Colorado appropriated $25,000 to start the tunnel, but only 900 feet were driven before the money ran out. Congress jumped in and passed the Reclamation Act of 1902, with the Federal Government handling construction and an association of landowners obligated to pay back the costs. 
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: 

Can a widowed preacher who must marry to keep his job and an alleged thief find true love? 

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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