Colorado's largest natural body of water is a 400-foot-deep glacier-made bowl of sparkling water that reflects the surrounding mountains. The Utes, awed by its white mists, called it Spirit Lake, or White Buffalo Lake. Its water was perfectly clear and drinkable before the Bureau of Reclamation built dirty, shallow Shadow Mountain Reservoir and pumped its water back through Grand Lake and into the Alva Adams Tunnel under Rocky Mountain National Park to the Big Thompson River and the Front Range.
Founded as a mining settlement, the town of Grand Lake (1879, 8,396 feet) captured the county seat from 1881 to 1888. It lost this honor to the original county seat, Hot Sulphur Springs, after a deadly shootout among county commissioners which damaged Grand Lake's reputation. Nevertheless, hunters, fishermen, and prospectors gravitated to this early mountain resort platted in 1881 as a 160-acre grid around a town square.
Now bypassed by the main highway, this end-of-the-road town retains rustic public buildings and private cabins. Most were constructed before 1929 of the straight, skinny lodgepole pines that still envelop this sleepy summer resort with its sandy beach and a few new summer homes. Many of the finer structures are clustered on the southwest edge of the town and the lake, which is rimmed by log and log slab siding boathouses. Hemmed in by the lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, and national forests, this village of 250 people, with its rough-hewn log and slab structures and wooden sidewalks, seems frozen in an earlier time.
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