Tom Ross

Tom Ross

Tom Ross: Steamboat and Ouray have hot springs in common

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Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Tom here.

— I’ve always urged that it’s important to visit other mountain towns to gain new insights into the quirky, little burgh we happen to inhabit because chances are Jackson and Park City, Ketchum and Livingston and a host of others already have dealt with or are about to encounter the same challenges with which denizens of Steamboat Springs grapple.

We all struggle with boom-and-bust cycles, balancing our addiction to tourism with traditional land-use practices like ranching, protecting our water from the bigger cities and enduring weather patterns seemingly devised by the devil to make us flee for milder climes.

So when I stumble on a book that turns a mirror toward Steamboat Springs, I like to share it. A good pick is the volume “Old Fences, New Neighbors” by Peter R. Decker, who spent part of his young adulthood herding sheep north of Yellowstone Park in the Gallatin Range and ultimately migrated from Manhattan to Ridgway to give livestock wrangling another try in Ouray County.

If you live in Steamboat and you’ve ever attended the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, chances are you went through Ridgway, but it might not have made a big impression on you. The historic downtown of nearby Ouray gets more attention, and deservedly so. Ouray has a developed swimming pool heated by hot springs like Steamboat’s Old Town Hot Springs.

The Uncompahgre River flows out of the San Juans through Ouray on its way to Ridgway and, ultimately, its confluence with the Gunnison River. And there still are some spectacular cattle ranches in the area, including one owned by that old cowboy Ralph Lauren.

“Old Fences, New Neighbors” first was published in 1992 by Fulcrum Publishing and reissued in 2006. You can find plenty of used copies if you look for them.

Decker devotes much of the text to the increasing difficulty he encountered running a cow/calf operation amid the changes wrought by the growing tourism industry on the other side of Dallas Divide in Telluride.

However, the part of his book that I want to share with you is his retelling of the first wave of tourism to come to Ouray County in the 1890s.

Although I have visited the area, I had not previously heard of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad’s Circle Route, which attracted thousands of tourists.

“Vacationers boarded the train in Denver, traveled south and west to Royal Gorge, on the Arkansas River, and after changing trains in Salida, proceeded south down the San Luis Valley to Alamosa west across the Continental Divide to Durango,” Decker wrote.

In Durango, they spent a night in the famed Strater Hotel (you still can have dinner there) before taking the narrow gauge railroad up to Silverton, which is still one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state. From the little town of Ironton, Decker wrote, the travelers boarded stagecoaches for a sometimes-harrowing trip down the mountain into Ouray. There, they spent another night in the Beaumont Hotel and attended a concert before returning home via Montrose and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The Beaumont is beautifully restored, and we had a fine lunch there in August 2011 after descending Red Mountain Pass in the fog and rain.

One of my regrets is that I never had the opportunity to ride a railroad train from Steamboat Springs to Denver before passenger rail service ended here in 1968.

Maybe what this little ski town needs is a good old coal-burning steam locomotive to take cattle to market and return full of vacationers.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

rhys jones 11 months, 1 week ago

Thanks, Tom, that was a fun read, and quick trip back to a beautiful corner of our State. The San Juans are striking mountains, and I haven't ruled out retiring down there, although maybe a tad farther east, in the Pagosa Springs neighborhood.

One question I still don't know the definitive answer to, even after all these years, I could go either way, have heard it well-justified both ways:

Is it pronounced YOU-ray or OOH-ray?

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rhys jones 11 months, 1 week ago

Now that you don't mention it, thanks for not bringing it up, Tom, but this reminds me of one of our favorite pastimes: Name origins and pronunciations.

Any real local knows Buena Vista is pronounced BYOU-na, not the proper Spanish, much like Du Bois Wyoming is pronounced Du BOYS, not the proper French... I have an ongoing beef with my Colorado History instructor in college (Michigan transplant) who insisted Uncompaghre means Dirty Stinking Water (or variations thereof) while Grandpa said it means Incomprehensibe, referring to the mountain, maybe specifically the north face... Grandpa also pronounced Kebler Pass like the cookie, not the standard German, another controversy around Gunnison, (college) where some friends in sociology researching inbreeding found some LONG-time locals in the hills who verified Grandpa's pronunciation.

Although I have heard lengthy justifications for both versions, I never hung around Ouray long enough to hear which the locals prefer, though even that is no guarantee it is correct. I wonder what the old Chief called himself...

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rhys jones 11 months, 1 week ago

Once late at night, I got lost in Vancouver, looking for Highway 1 to Banff -- a kindly policeman provided directions, concluding with "Oh by the way, it's pronounced Banf-f" saying the f twice... was he just kidding?

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Ben Tiffany 11 months, 1 week ago

Hey Rhys, Most of the native Coloradans and locals in Buena Vista that I know or have encountered pronounce it "Boona Vista." I always got funny looks if I pronounced it in proper Spanish. You can have all kinds of fun with the pronounciations of various places or things in this state. (How would you pronounce Yampa,for instance?) I think the policeman you encountered in Vancouver was actually right,strange as that may seem. I go with YOU-ray myself,but don't know if that is considered "correct" or not.

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rhys jones 11 months, 1 week ago

Yo Ben -- Thanks for the info, I never heard the "Boona" version. Grandpa had all kinds of colorful pronunciations: Pueblo was "Pee-eblo" (verified by many old-timers when I interned there) Picance Creek was "Pee-ance Crick" Rio Blanco was "Rye-a Blanca" just fer instance... I've heard Yampa pronounced Yompa; Glenwood has the Yampah Vapor Caves...

I say You-ray too, even though the most authoritative instruction I have heard supports the Ooh-ray version -- and I always wondered, if that's right, where did the u come from...

And now that I remember, that cop said the f three times -- once at the conclusion of the initial syllable, then twice more independently -- so it came out "banf-f-f" well, the first and second sort of melded together... how funny, huh?

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Ben Tiffany 11 months, 1 week ago

Rhys, I have also heard Yur-ray as a pronounciation,and on it goes. Usually when I go to one of these places where I have no idea how the locals pronounce something,I wait until I hear someone pronounce the name,thus saving me from appearing too "furrin". (Sure does confuse many visitors to these places.)

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rhys jones 11 months, 1 week ago

Ben -- My You-ray was an exagerrated Yur-ray, which I really prefer -- though that guy pushing Ooh-ray also said the spires of rock in northwest New Mexico were the cores of old volcanos, which turns out to be true, so I dunno...

My problem is, I THINK I know how to say it, only to be corrected by knowing locals...

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