The county seat (1889, 8,113 feet) was named for the minister who started the handsome First Christian Church, 601 Yampa Avenue. Churches notwithstanding, Craig became a “yee-haw” Saturday night town for cowboys, railroad workers, and oilfield roughnecks, with stops such as the still rowdy White Horse Inn and Popular Bar. Yampa Avenue, the main north-south street, is a fairly intact turn-of-the-century commercial strip starting at the railroad depot and intersecting with Victory Way, as U.S. 40 in Craig was called in honor of U.S. 40's national designation as the Victory Highway. A now rare Ben Franklin dime store, in the original standard Streamline Moderne, is still in business at 6th and Yampa. East of town the U.S. 40 strip offers vintage roadside vernacular—a Dairy King and a drive-in theater, on U.S. 40 at 4th Street, now attended only by tumbleweeds, although the projection booth has been converted to a Wrightian residence.
Craig experienced a boom in the 1970s with the opening of the Colorado-Ute Electric Association power plant and a sharp increase in coal mining. Although originally platted as an orderly grid, it is now a sprawling town, dominated by signs for fast food, supermarket, and convenience chains. The horizon is pierced by the tallest smokestacks in Colorado—three 600-foot Colorado-Ute stacks (1967), complete with blinking red lights. Hillsides to the south are scarred by the Trapper strip mine, whose huge boom extracts coal from open-pit mines. Although topsoil and vegetation have been reinstated over mined-out swaths of the landscape, the spectacle is hardly picturesque.
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