There are many small communities in the Colorado Rocky Mountains that are gateways to adventure. Some of the gateway communities cater to summer tourism, while other towns focus on the winter sports crowd. A few Colorado gateway towns welcome hunters during the autumn rut, so this third Rocky Mountain tourist season is also something to consider.
Lake City happens to be one of the few gateway to adventure towns that is active during all three of the high elevation tourist seasons. Lake City borders upon the Rio Grande National Forest and the Gunnison National Forest in central Colorado, so as can be imagined, there are plenty of wide open spaces to explore. Lake City also borders upon the San Juan National Forest and it is an access point for the famous Alpine Loop 4×4 trails, which connect Lake City with a few other historic mining towns in the San Juan Mountains, like Silverton and Ouray. During the summer season, Lake City is a primary destination for Jeep and ATV enthusiasts. Jeep and ATV rentals can be found in this town and Lake City offers all the amenities that a visitor could possibly need for setting up a 4×4 adventure basecamp.
The Alpine Loop 4×4 touring season only runs from late spring through late summer, because the treacherous mountain dirt roads are impassible after the first snow, which usually arrives in mid autumn at this high elevation. The change from summer to winter can be like night and day, but there is usually a short period of cold dry air before winter begins, which makes for perfect hunting conditions during the autumn rutting season. Fly fishermen have a longer period of time to work with in this region, because most anglers are active from late spring till the water ices over in winter.
It does get icy cold in the high elevations of central Colorado and there is very little hope for a warm day once winter begins. What this means is the snow pack builds up from late autumn all the way through early spring. The winter snow never really melts from sunlight on the mountain slopes, but it does get packed down. A typical snow storm can drop over two feet of snow, so the layers of different snow textures can be thick and this increases avalanche danger. Avalanche dangers are important to realize, especially when visiting Lake City during the winter sports season. The same 4×4 roads and hiking trails that are popular for Jeeps and hikers during the summer season are used by snowmobile drivers, cross country skiers and snowshoe hikers when winter arrives. In gateway towns like Lake City, it is easy to find out which winter trails are safe and which are not, because the local winter sports businesses have all the answers.
Just like in the nearby town of Ouray, the town of Lake City also has an ice climbing park. Ice climbing is one of the most challenging winter sports in Colorado and it is quite a thrilling spectator sport as well. The towering ice walls in the designated climbing parks are usually man made, so the ice consistency is supremely solid.
Lake City is set in a remote location in the Rockies, where relatively few mainstream tourists pass through. There are no flashy high price ski resorts in this section of the mountains, so those who venture to this area tend to be a bit rougher around the edges. Other than the abandoned mines in the mountains, Lake City has very little claim to fame, but there was an odd incident that occurred long ago which has immortalized this town in a macabre way. Lake City is the home of the Alferd Packer Massacre, which happens to be one of the darkest events in the history of Colorado or the entire west as far as that goes.
There are dinner parties and then there are Donner parties. The Alferd Packer Massacre lies somewhere in between, because the cannibalism in this case was committed purely out of personal taste, rather than to overcome a desperate survival situation. Alferd Packer was a prospector that killed and ate several victims in the Lake City area back in the late 1800s. The prospector later admitted that surviving the winter was not the reason for his cannibalistic culinary quest. Alferd Packer simply enjoyed the taste of human flesh and it was easy for him to acquire an ample supply back in the days of the wild west. Several victims fell prey to Alferd Packer’s culinary aspirations before his secret ingredient was unveiled.
The Alferd Packer Massacre Site is an official memorial for the victims that were invited into the kitchen as the main course. Alferd Packer confessed to his crimes, but very little evidence remained and information pertaining to the identification of his victims still remains sketchy. The Alferd Packer Massacre Site is the only tribute that the victims have and this odd roadside memorial has become one of the weirdest tourist attractions in the Rockies. In keeping with the theme, there is a restaurant in Lake City that sells Cannibal Burgers and Alferd Packer memorabilia can also be found in the local gift shops.
Lake City certainly is an interesting gateway to adventure in the Rockies, because there is so much to do in this region year round. The majestic Rocky Mountain scenery is reason enough to visit this neck of the woods, but of course, there also is the Alferd Packer Massacre Site to lure folks in. This memorial park does have a peculiar flavor of its own that appeals to modern tourists that like taking pictures with selfie sticks. Weird and wild, Lake City quietly awaits way off the beaten path in a part of the majestic Rockies where some peace and quiet can still be found. This is reason enough to get up and go!
Leave no trace!
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