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Montrose County

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Montrose County (1882) is generally dry, broken tableland, with the notable exceptions of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, Uncompahgre National Forest, and the settled valleys of the Gunnison, San Miguel, and Uncompahgre rivers. After the Ute Removal farmers, ranchers, and miners moved into the county, which is one of Colorado's richer agricultural regions.

The Ute Indian Museum in Montrose commemorates that tribe's presence. Nothing remains of Fort Crawford, an 1880s U.S. Army cantonment on the Uncompahgre River, eight miles south of Montrose, established to police the Utes. Sodbusters prospered after the 1909 completion of one of the nation's first major Bureau of Reclamation projects, the Gunnison Tunnel. The water it carries turned sagebrush and alkali flats into productive croplands. Some pioneer ranches and farms survive, as do distinctive onion cellars, built with heavy ponderosa pine logs and bermed earth. Cattle, sheep, apple orchards, hay, sweet corn, potatoes, onions, and alfalfa have been important to the economy.

Mining continued well into the twentieth century, with discovery of rich uranium and vanadium deposits in western Montrose county. “Uranium fever” swept the county between the 1940s and the 1960s. The fever subsided almost as suddenly as it came, leaving the toxic ghost towns of Uravan and Vancorum, modernera ruins of crumbling asphalt streets and shacks with linoleum floors. Older towns such as Olathe survive, with vernacular architecture in wood, brick, adobe, and local sandstone, as well as pre-fabricated construction. In this rural county, only about a third of the 25,000 residents live in the county seat and single city, Montrose.

Writing Credits

Thomas J. Noel

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