John L. Routt, Colorado governor from 1875 to 1879, gave his name to the county created in 1877. Gold initially attracted argonauts and gave birth to the towns of Clark, Columbine, and Hahns Peak. Coal—the black gold excavated at Oak Creek and many other communities—became the prime product after the 1908 arrival of the Denver, Salt Lake & Pacific Railroad (Moffat Road) in a county that often has led Colorado in coal production.
One of the highest and coolest counties, Routt averages a growing season of only about seventy-five days. Cattle and sheep ranching, haying, and a few coldweather crops—wheat, potatoes, barley, oats, lettuce, and strawberries—have flourished. Ranches and farms, generally low-slung masonry or wood structures hunkered down against the weather, fit the rural mountain valley landscape.
Forty percent of the county lies within Routt National Forest, a recreational haven. In Steamboat Springs, one of the state's largest ski areas, over half the population has arrived since 1970, and almost 75 percent of the building stock is equally new. Variations of Alpine and Mineshaft Modern styles prevail around Steamboat Springs. Elsewhere in the county, many of the modest miners' homes and rustic ranches have metal roofs and little insulation, as residents have used cheap local coal not only to heat homes but also to melt heavy snow loads that have collapsed many a roof.
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