This county, with the mighty Mosquito Range on the east and the soaring Sawatch Range to the west, originated with mining camps on Cache, Chalk, and Trout creeks and the Arkansas River. Chaffee County was carved from Lake County in 1879 and named for U.S. Senator Jerome Chaffee. County government originally sat at Granite, where the gold rush began in 1860. After Granite's mines, smelter, and population played out, the county moved its offices to Buena Vista in 1880 and to Salida in 1928.
The Denver & Rio Grande; Denver, South Park & Pacific; and Colorado Midland railroads all laid track through this crossroads county. Salida and Buena Vista emerged as gridded and gritty railroad towns. The railroads were attracted not only by precious minerals. Fine building stone abounded: Salida granite, Maysville marble, and limestone from the Monarch and Kalbaugh quarries near Monarch Pass.
This montane county contains more 14,000-foot peaks than any other in the United States and also has river valley ranching and farming. Tourists fancy its mining-era ghost towns, especially St. Elmo, Vicksburg, and Winfield. The Arkansas River delights fishermen, kayakers, and white water rafters, while the mountains offer skiing, hiking, hunting, camping, and hot springs. San Isabel National Forest and the Collegiate Peaks and Buffalo Peaks wilderness areas occupy roughly three-fourths of the county. Of some 13,000 county residents, 5,000 live in Salida and another 1,800 in Buena Vista.
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