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Eagle County

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High on the headwaters of the Colorado River, Eagle County boasts North America's largest ski area and some compelling contemporary resort architecture. The first tourist of note, Sir St. George Gore, eighth baronet of Manor Gore, County Donegal, Ireland, arrived in the 1850s. Jim Bridger, the mountain man, guided Lord Gore's forty-one-man retinue, including his chef, gun bearers, and a trout fly artist, as well as 112 horses, several milk cows, twelve yoke of oxen, six wagons, twenty-one carts, and hunting hounds, into virgin wilderness.

The Utes must have been astonished. Gore is said to have slept in a green-and-white-striped silk tent complete with a carpet and a fur-lined commode. He dined al fresco using his English pewter plate and silver goblet, but barely tasted the vast amount of wild game he and his party slaughtered. The Gore Range, which guards the eastern boundary of Eagle County, commemorates this celebrated visitor, who also gave his name to a creek that flows through what is now the town of Vail. There modern-day tourists emulate Gore's penchant for conspicuous consumption.

Twenty years after the Lord Gore pageant, Eagle County captured America's imagination when the 1873 Hayden Survey led to widespread reproduction of William Henry Jackson's photographs and Thomas Moran's paintings of the Mount of the Holy Cross. Within the shadows of Holy Cross, the ungodly mining town of Red Cliff sprang up in 1879 after silver strikes brought the first wagon road over Tennessee Pass from Leadville. Two years later the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad followed the wagon road into Red Cliff and continued down the Eagle River Valley to meet the Colorado River.

A century later, completion of I-70 opened Eagle County, which is guarded on all sides by 10,000-foot passes. The highway, with its cantilevered curves of earth-toned concrete, spacious median, and Taliesen-designed hike-bike path, is an architectural and engineering gem. This attractive, quick route over 10,066-foot Vail Pass triggered a boom; the county population climbed from 4,677 in 1960 to 21,928 in 1990. New condominiums, multi-million-dollar homes, and commercial development proliferate, binding Vail, Beaver Creek, Avon, and Arrowhead into a lavish mountain suburbia with some contemporary work by nationally noted architects such as William Turnbull, Robert Venturi, and Harry Weese.

Writing Credits

Thomas J. Noel

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