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Telluride from a gondola ascending to Telluride Village.

The Town of Telluride is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous town of San Miguel Countymarker in the southwestern portion of the U.S. state of Coloradomarker. The town is a former silver mining camp on the San Miguel River in the western San Juan Mountains. A Telluride Historic Districtmarker which includes some or all of Telluride is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and further is one of Colorado's 20 National Historic Landmarks. The town population was 2,221 at U.S. Census 2000.

Telluride sits in a box canyon. Steep forested mountains and cliffs surround it. Bridal Veil Fallsmarker is at the head of the canyon. Numerous weathered ruins of old mining operations dot the hillsides. A free gondola connects the town with its companion town Mountain Village, Coloradomarker at the base of the ski area.

Telluride and the surrounding area have featured prominently in pop culture. The town of Telluride has served as the backdrop for several television commercials, is home to an international film festival, and has been the subject of songs such as "Smugglers Blues" by Glenn Frey, an essay by Edward Abbey, and eponymous songs by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Kate Wolf, and Tim McGraw, and later recorded by Josh Gracin. Telluride is also known for its ski resort and slopes during the winter as well as an extensive festival schedule during the summer.


Only one road reaches Telluride year round, but there are also two off-road routes. Telluride sits in an isolated spot in the Four Corners region of Colorado where the New Mexico, Utah and Arizona borders come together. From the west, Colorado Route 145 is the most common way into Telluride, however there are two alternate passes to enter the town as well. Imogene Passmarker is the more forgiving of the two passes, though it still requires 4x4 experience and should not be taken lightly. Black Bear Passmarker is noted to be Colorado’s most dangerous pass. It is only passable in one direction because of a treacherous stair step section. Telluride is situated at an elevation of 8,750 feet.

On the eastern side of town, or the falls side, Bridal Veil Fallsmarker and the Generator House which sits at the top of the falls overlook the Victorian town of Telluride. The power plant house is owned by Eric Jacobson, who restored the house and the generator inside, which now provides about 25 percent of Telluride with its electricity. The house was originally used to power the Smuggler-Union Mine and requires an aerial tramway for Jacobson and his family to get home. It is the second-oldest operating AC generator in the United States, the first being the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant near Ophir, Coloradomarker.

The town is served by air transportation via Telluride Regional Airportmarker, the highest commercial airport in the United States. The airport is considered challenging by pilots because of frequent adverse weather conditions, high altitude, and the extremely rugged mountain terrain which surrounds the airport on nearly all sides.

Telluride is located at (37.939153, -107.816317) .

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 0.7 square miles (1.8 km²). A small creek flows through the town.


As of the census of 2000, there were 2,221 people, 1,013 households, and 357 families residing in the town. The population density was 3,143.3 people per square mile (1,207.8/km²). There were 1,938 housing units at an average density of 2,742.8/sq mi (1,053.9/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 92.57% White, 0.41% African American, 0.81% Native American, 0.72% Asian, 4.14% from other races, and 1.35% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.20% of the population.

There were 1,013 households out of which 19.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 25.2% were married couples living together, 6.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 64.7% were non-families. 31.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 1.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.19 and the average family size was 2.79.

In the town the population was spread out with 14.3% under the age of 18, 12.2% from 18 to 24, 50.9% from 25 to 44, 20.8% from 45 to 64, and 1.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 122.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 127.4 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $51,938, and the median income for a family was $66,136. Males had a median income of $35,329 versus $30,096 for females. The per capita income for the town was $38,832. About 8.5% of families and 11.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 16.2% of those under age 18 and 6.9% of those age 65 or over.


Bridal Veil Falls

In general the area would have been considered too rugged and difficult to access for the Utes to maintain any long lasting encampments in the general Telluride area.

Mining days

Gold was first discovered in 1858. John Fallon made the first claim in Marshal Basin above Telluride in 1875 and early settlement of Telluride followed. The town itself was founded in 1878. Telluride was originally named "Columbia," but due to confusion with Columbiamarker, Californiamarker, the name was changed by the post office in 1887. The town was named after the chemical element tellurium, which was never actually found in the mountains of Telluride. Tellurium is a metalloid element sometimes associated with deposits of gold and silver. An alternate theory for the naming of Telluride is that it is a contraction of "to hell you ride". Telluride's mines were rich in zinc, lead, copper, silver, and, of course, gold.

Telluride began slowly because of its isolated location. In 1881 a toll road was opened by Otto Mears which allowed wagons to go where only pack mules could go before. This increased the number of people in Telluride, but it was still expensive to get gold-rich ore out of the valley. In 1890 the railroad reached town, which brought in more mines and brought out more ore.

In June 1889, Butch Cassidy before becoming associated with his gang, "the wild bunch", robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride. This was his first major recorded crime. He exited the bank with $24,580, and later became famous as a bank robber.

Around the turn of the 20th century there were serious labor disputes in the mines near Telluride. The Colorado National Guard was called out and there were deaths on both sides. Unions were formed as miners joined the Western Federation of Miners in 1896. 1899 brought big changes as union strikes led most mines to grant miners $3 a day for an 8 hour day’s work plus a boarding pay of $1 a day. This came at a time when workers were putting in 10–12 hour days and the mines ran 24 hours a day. Work conditions were treacherous, with mines above 12,000 ft and a lack of safety measures, not to mention bitter weather in winter months. Even the boarding houses were precariously placed on the mountainsides.

Telluride's labor unrest occurred against the backdrop of a state-wide struggle between miners and mine owners. Bulkeley Wells was one of the mine operators expressing considerable hostility to the union. The leader of the Telluride Miners' Union was Vincent St. John. There developed considerable intrigue and national interest over the disappearance — Wells declared it was a "murder" — of mine guard William J. Barney. The accusations, animosity, gunplay, and expulsions which followed were one part of an ongoing struggle throughout Colorado's mining communities which came to be called the Colorado Labor Wars.

In 1891, Telluride's L.L. Nunn joined forces with Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse and built the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant, the world's first commercial-grade alternating-current power plant, near Telluride. (Nunn's home can be found at the corner of Aspen and Columbia Streets, next door is the home he purchased for the "pinheads" to study hydro-electric engineering.) The hydro-powered electrical generation plant supplied power to the Gold King Mine 3.5 miles away. This was the first successful demonstration of long distance transmission of industrial grade alternating current power. The invention sparked the "War of Currents" between the Westinghouse Electric Corporation and the General Electric Company headed by Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan. At the Chicago World's Fairmarker of 1893 AC current and DC current both had exhibits to appeal to the 25 million people attending the fair. Following the success of the Tesla-Westinghouse exhibit, the Westinghouse Company was awarded the contract to build the power plant at Niagara Falls. Nunn and his brother Paul built power plants in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Mexico, and the Ontario Power plant at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. Nunn developed a keen interest in education as part of his electrical power companies, and in conjunction with Cornell University built the Telluride House at Cornell in 1909 to educate promising students in electrical engineering. Later, Nunn along with Charles Walcott, started the Telluride Association. Nunn founded Deep Springs Collegemarker in 1917. All of Nunn's educational endeavors are going strong today. Each year the Telluride Tech Festival honors Nunn, Tesla, and Westinghouse, along with current day technology and science leaders.

Telluride’s most famous historic mines are the Tomboy, Pandora, Smuggler-Union, Nellie, and Sheridan mines. Beginning in 1939, the hard-rock mining operations in the Red Mountain and Telluride mining districts began a lengthy consolidation under the Idarado Mining Companymarker (Idarado), presently a division of Newmont Mining. The consolidation ended in 1953 with Idarado’s acquisition of the Telluride Mines. Idarado kept the underground workings and mill operations open at Telluride’s Pandora hard-rock mine until 1978. When the mine closed for good; the snow which once tormented Telluride's miners had become the town's new gold,in the form of skiing and tourism. The documentary video "the YX factor" chronicles the transition from mining to skiing and the influx of "hippies" in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the words of local residents and commentators such as Peter Yarrow and Tom Hayden.

A view in Telluride from the ski slopes by Mountain Village

The skiing era

Mining was Telluride’s only industry until 1972, when the first ski lift was installed by Telluride Ski Resortmarker founder Joseph T. Zoline and his Telluride Ski Corporation (Telco). Joe Zoline bought the land for the future resort in 1969 and began to craft the slopes. Along with his mountain manager, Telluride native Bill "Sr." Mahoney, they slowly and thoughtfully put together a plan for sustained development of Telluride and the region. As mining phased out and a new service industry phased in, the local population changed sharply. Mining families fled Telluride to settle in places like Moabmarker, Utahmarker, where uranium mining offered hope of continued employment. Mining families were replaced by what locals referred to as "hippies," young people with a 1960s world view which frequently clashed with the values of Telluride's old timers. These newcomers were characterized as being idle trust funders who were drawn to the town for a casual life style and outdoor excitements such as hang gliding, mountain climbing, and kayaking.

The new population was initially anti-growth and rallied against any economic expansion, including growth due to tourism and skiing. At one point a serious effort was made to ban cars from the city limits and force visitors to use horse drawn carts. Success did not come overnight for Telluride in this environment. The seventies were a time of fluctuating snowfalls and economic recession. However, the town’s now famous music and film festivals were immune from anti-growth criticism and flourished. These festivals exposed hundreds of thousands to the grandeur of the valley for the first time and created iconic associations with elite entertainers. Meanwhile ski area founder Joe Zoline worked hard to put Telluride on the map, developing one of the best mountains in North America for expert skiers and creating infrastructure for tourism which respected Telluride's need to stay small and beautiful.

As the final ore carts were rolling out of the Pandora mine, tourists began to seriously discover Telluride for its magnificent views, expert skiing, and famous autumn color changes. After the brutal snow drought of 1976 which nearly wiped out the embryonic ski and lodging industry the town started to rebound economically. In 1978 a stake of the ski area was purchased by Ron Allred and his partner Jim Wells to form the Telluride Company. The new owners expanded the infrastructure which Zoline had put into place by adding a gondola connecting the Town of Telluride with the Mountain Village.

During the 1980s, Telluride developed a reputation for being "Colorado's best kept secret," which paradoxically made it one of the more well known resort communities. Wealthy skiers flocked to the world class mountain all winter and sightseers kept hotel rooms full all summer. In the 1980s Telluride also became notorious in the drug counter culture for being a drop point for Mexican smugglers and a favorite place for wealthy importers to enjoy some downtime. The town was even featured in the hit song by Glenn Frey from Miami Vice, "Smugglers Blues." For a while the modern Telluride was living up to its Wild West history. This type of attention, as it turned out, was just what the town needed to differentiate it from Aspen. The festivals combined with Telluride's bad-boy town image attracted celebrities like Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey, and Oliver Stone. By the mid 1990s, Telluride had shed both its mining personality and drug image to establish itself as a premier resort town balancing modern culture with fascinating western history. In 2003, Prospect Bowl, an extension to the ski area opened, providing the resort with many new trails and runs. In 2007-08, the ski area opened some of the most extreme, in-bound, hike-to terrain in the country. Most lifts in the area are high speed quad chairs capable of holding four passengers. The highest lift on the mountain reaches an altitude of 12,255 feet.


Beyond the ski lifts, Telluride is now widely recognized as a premier all season resort. Telluride Ski Resort is definitely the main attraction in the winter. But when summer comes around, Telluride transforms into an outdoor recreation hot spot, with tourists visiting to enjoy a wide range of activities including but not limited to mountain biking, hiking, river rafting, sightseeing and more. The Telluride Tourism Board promotes tourism in the region.


Telluride is served by Telluride Regional Airportmarker. However, the scheduled flight options are very limited, due to the airport's short runway and frequent closures under bad weather. Therefore most of the passengers going to Telluride use Montrose Regional Airportmarker, located 67 miles to the north.

Free public transportation is provided in Telluride. The bus system, called Galloping Goose, makes a complete loop around the town and the Gondola links Telluride with Mountain Villagemarker.

Major Highways

Effect on pop culture

Downtown Telluride during the 3rd Annual Jazz Festival, August 1979

Telluride and the area surrounding it has had a notable effect on pop culture. The nearby town of Ouraymarker was the inspiration for Galt's Gulch in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and historic Telluride figures prominently in Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day. Modern Telluride is the setting of Raymond H. Ring's 1988 detective novel Telluride Smile. Telluride is the subject of the song "Smugglers Blues" by Glenn Frey, and two songs called "Telluride", one by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1985 and one by Tim Mcgraw in 2001, which was re-recorded by Josh Gracin in 2008. It was the setting of the 1998 Scrapple movie directed by Christopher Hansen. Local residents and common visitors have included John Denver, Bob Dylan, Daryl Hannah, Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise.

The short-lived but legendary early 1990s hard rock group T-Ride took their name from a commonly used contraction of Telluride. They seem to have chosen this name at least in part because of the theory that "Telluride" is itself a contraction of "To Hell You Ride". The song "Ride" from their album T-Ride includes the lyric "Te-hell-ya Ride".

Originally a mining town, Telluride now is known for its ski resort, Telluride Ski Resortmarker. In the summer, there are festivals almost every weekend, including Mountainfilm in Telluride, the Telluride Film Festival, Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, Mushroom Festival, Nothing Day Festival and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

The town is the influence behind the song "Teleride" by UK rock band Alien Stash Tin

Notable residents


  • Idorado Mining Company (2006). The Idarado Legacy, Denver, CO: Idarado Mining Company, subsidiary of Newmont Mining Corporation.

See also

Telluride in media


External links

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