Not every western ghost town is located at the end of a long bumpy dirt road way out in the middle of the desert. Not every ghost town in the west is completely abandoned and in disrepair. In fact, the local residents can be offended when their old historic small town is labeled as a ghost town, because the moniker can lead outsiders to believe that the residents are long gone and no businesses will be open. When entrepreneurs see that an old historic community is listed as a ghost town, they picture a place that has no infrastructure, which presents a poor opportunity for a return on investment. The ghost town label truly can have a negative effect, especially if members of the local community are trying to put the small town back on the map.
On the flip-side, the ghost town designation can present opportunities for tourism related commerce. During the last 50 years, many old abandoned ghost towns have become popular tourism destinations. All it takes is just enough infrastructure and amenities to handle the projected volume of visitors to make it all happen. Offering some kind of an entertainment venue and promoting the old ghost town attraction will get people interested in paying a visit. By offering a venue that appeals to organized group tours, RV caravans, biker rallies and car clubs, nearly every weekend can be a return to the old boom town days. A gas station, artisan shops, restaurant, restrooms and a motel or campground can make the difference between being labeled as a ghost town or a living ghost town, which in turn can result in visitors bringing money to spend or not.
Rico, Colorado, is a good example of an old historic living ghost town that has seen great prosperity and devastating economic disparity many times during the last century. Even though the worst of times occurred when the silver mining industry hit rock bottom in the late 1800s, steadfast members of the local community stayed on and refused to let this town fade away. One of the main reasons why Rico remains intact in this modern age is because a major tourism corridor runs through this town. Being located on the road that goes to the busy ski resorts in Telluride does present many opportunities.
Colorado State Road 145 connects Cortez, Dolores, Rico and Telluride and this road goes through two National Forests. This scenic highway follows the river all the way up to Rico, so it is one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the San Juan Mountains. There are plenty of things to do along the way, which include, white water rafting, mountain biking and trout fly fishing. Several western resort lodges, hunting cabins and riverside campgrounds can be found along SR 145. Every small town along this route has artisan galleries and antique shops that draw the interest of weekend shoppoers and there are a few cool old saloons too. There are also plenty of history places to check out on SR 145 and the little town of Rico is at the top of the list!
The town of Rico was established back in 1879 during the Colorado silver rush. Rico originally was a prosperous boom town and this shows in the Victorian architectural style of the old landmark buildings. As time moved on, the fluctuations in global silver prices took a downhill swing. When the silver prices plummeted, the fast money crowd quickly moved on to other horizons. Rico was never completely abandoned, partly because this town was a link in the supply line for other mountain towns in this region and because the age of automobile touring came to be during this period in history.
Automobile tourism currently sustains the town of Rico, because the income from the local silver mining operations ceased nearly 50 years ago. Rico definitely draws the interest of tourists in Cortez that want to take a leisurely Sunday afternoon scenic drive up in the mountains. Rico also captures the interest of those who venture on to historic Telluride, which has many outdoor music festivals during the summer season. Of course, Rico also captures the heart of folks that simply seek a peaceful retreat at a local bed & breakfast lodge high up in the mountains.
Rico has a small main street area that hosts a few seasonal shops. There is a bar & grill in Rico that is perfect for motorcycle rallies and car clubs that do weekend excursions. Many of the old historic buildings from the peak of the silver mining days still remain intact, but most sit empty. Old rusty silver mining machinery, ore cars and remnants of the short line railroad can be seen around town. There are also several historic markers that have interesting stories to tell. One of the best ways to experience the history of this living ghost town is to visit the Rico Museum, which is only open during the summer season.
The town of Rico primarily is a summer season destination, even though it is located on a ski resort travel route. This is because because the elevation of Rico is over 8,800 feet above sea level and the Colorado winter can be brutally cold in these mountains, so it can be difficult to coax people in, especially since Rico offers no winter sports scene of its own.
The high elevation does take some time to get used to when visiting Rico and even doing light physical activity can cause a dizzy spell. Staying extra hydrated and snacking helps to prevent altitude sickness, which is good to know. There are plenty of great hiking trails that start in Rico and a few National Forest recreation areas are nearby. More mountain biking trails can be found closer to Telluride, so there is plenty to do during the summer season in this neck of the woods.
Rico definitely is an old historic living ghost town that is well worth checking out when touring the San Juan Mountains. Stopping by to take a look around and spending a little bit of money does contribute to the preservation of historic living ghost towns like Rico. The high elevation mountain scenery is as picturesque as can be and there are many great picture taking opportunities at the old historic mining sites. Even though most of the businesses are boarded up, one visit is all it takes to be captivated by the old west charm!
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