"In the spring of 1880 two hundred and twenty-five exhausted persons reached the San Juan. First they build a little fort, and then their homes: one-room cabins of crooked cottonwood logs. There were no doors in the doorways, no glass in the windows. The sun seared the flats, lanced off the cliffs. Sandstorms whipped the town…Time has made a cruel mockery of the town's heroic founding."
"One Man's West"
Advertisements ran in the Salt Lake Deseret News in the late 1800s recruiting farmers and settlers to come to southeastern Utah. Hardly anyone came. Mormons settled in the area and tried to make something of the desolate land, but few remained for long.
David Lavender wrote of this area from his experiences in the 1930s and of Paradox Valley, just north of Disappointment Valley, across the southwestern border in Colorado. As a cattle herder, he experienced the paradoxical existence between the lush spring and summer fields at the base of Lone Cone and the desolate, dry brush in the landscape around the San Juan River.
It is here where the town of Uravan was abandoned with most traces of the town buried after its uranium boom went bust in the 1960s and the town was declared a Superfund site in 1986.
"When they bury your whole town, they bury your history," Jane Thomas told The Guardian. Her parents were second to last to move out.
It is also here where the town of Nucla became famous for passing an ordinance a few years back which requires every household to own a gun. And it's also here where Tri-State New Horizon mine closed in 2017, according to the Denver Post, and the power plant near Nucla that runs off the stockpile of remaining coal may or may not make it until its planned 2022 closing.
Yet hope swirls around these parts like a monsoon wind, whipping up dreams of boom times and what could be again, if only uranium mining was at the fore. The San Miguel Basin Forum newspaper, serving Nucla, Naturita, Norwood and surrounding areas, to this day runs the current market price for uranium on its front page each week.
So it must have been another in a long, long series of defeats for the hearty souls in this basin to hear last week's news. The Denver District Court ruled that the application of Energy Fuels Resources Corp. for the Pinon Ridge Mill license should be denied. In 2009, EFRC applied for a radioactive materials license that is required in order to begin construction on a proposed uranium mill in Montrose County. It was to be located about 12 miles west of Naturita in Paradox Valley.
Over 500 tons of ore per day were to be processed in what was to be the first uranium/vanadium mill built in the United States in more than 25 years.
I'm reminded of a small town in northeast Texas near where we used to live called Pittsburg, and of Pittsburg Steel. If the company was up and running and demand for steel was high, you couldn't find an unemployed person for miles. If demand was low or the metalwork factory was shut down, the unemployment rate would drop to 60-70 percent and stay that way until the factory opened again.
It's this mindset that sends those around the San Miguel Basin to odd jobs in Telluride, anywhere in the area really, whiling away the days until uranium is king again.
But for now, yellowcake fever is an incurable symptom for many who live just north of Disappointment Valley.
It looks like a foregone conclusion that the City of Ouray will pay Citizens State Bank $25,000 this year and another $25,000 next year to aid its construction of public bathrooms on the 6th Avenue side of its Ouray building. As we've reported, the arrangement is proposed for 10-15 years, depending on whether the city opts to renew after 10 years.
Thus, with the Ouray County Courthouse always offering bathrooms to the public and City Hall doing the same, and now with more bathrooms just across Main on 6th, I think we should rename the street.
How about Yellow Brick Road?
I foresee a book in the future, called "Ouray's Yellow Brick Road," perhaps written by I. P. Freely, edited by Willie Make-It and illustrated by Betty Wont.
Moving our office to Ridgway has been a curse on my sore knee but a blessing for clearing the clutter. Every newspaper office I've ever been around has been one big organized mess. Our Ouray office, admittedly, looked like a bachelor pad at times.
No wonder Beecher stayed away so much.
What can you expect from an industry that calls the place it keeps old newspapers "the morgue." When things go there to die, they just get buried under the next thing, and the next.
But things will be different in our Ridgway office. We took the opportunity to toss a bunch of stuff, and some of it ended up in our basement at the house, our morgue away from our morgue, you could say.
A politician was extolling his virtues during a meeting, and a reporter took advantage of the snoozing crowd to sneak off to the local brewery. An hour later, others from the meeting joined the reporter, who asked them, "Is he still talking?" One answered, "Yes."
"What on Earth is he talking about?"
"I don't know, but by the time he finishes there'll be no one left to second his motion to adjourn the meeting."
Alan Todd is co-publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.