Population, Economy & Lifestyle
Nature, history and adventure define the Mineral County experience.
The full-time population of Mineral County is only about 700, with our summer visitors adding a very substantial seasonal increase (to around 4000). It's an interesting mix of the old mining and ranching families rich in local tradition, and the newcomers (meaning anyone not born in Mineral County, even if you've lived here 30 years), who have added a certain cosmopolitan nuance to an old mining camp.
Roughly half the folks live in Creede, the county seat and the only incorporated "municipality" in Mineral County. Creede is a tiny town with a charming old-west business district tucked into the mouth of a high mountain canyon, site of a major 1890s silver strike. A high-quality grocery, sporting goods stores, gift shops, galleries, eateries and a repertory theatre line Creede's 6-block "downtown." Hardware and grocery stores and other services are prominent. Creede has a reputation as an arts center with a laid-back attitude, and was voted Colorado’s Top Art Town in 2010. A series of festivals and events dedicated to the arts and local history occur throughout the year.
After the silver mining closed in 1985, the primary economy became tourism, with housing construction and various government employment filling the other top payroll slots. In 2011, silver mining returned to the area, and began providing jobs again. Toursism-based employment is highly seasonal. Local wage scales are lower than many other areas. With our limited privately held land, the residential market, especially rentals, is fairly tight. While real estate prices are climbing, they are still very reasonable compared to many other Rocky Mountain markets. Residential development and home building are "major" activities.
Mineral County is in a very rural area. The nearest major “big box” store is about 55 miles from Creede. Nearest large discount chain stores are about 70 miles. Local customs and culture do not place a high demand on retail services; folks accustomed to 24-hour stores and shops will have some adjusting to do. There is only one gas station in Creede. On the other hand, there are no traffic signals! No MacD's or Burger King either. But we've got great local sandwich builders and some innovative chefs who take pride in their work.
The Region: The San Luis Valley & "Big Cities"
Mineral County is on the western edge of the San Luis Valley, the largest, highest inter-mountain valley on the planet. The six counties that comprise the SLV cover an area roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. The regional population is less than 100,000. The major economy of the SLV is agriculture: cattle, potatoes, hay, wheat, sheep, barley, vegetables, and the like. Mineral County is almost all mountain terrain, and has only a very small involvement in the Valley's agriculture.
Population centers include Alamosa, Monte Vista, Del Norte, Antonito, and a scattering of even smaller towns and villages. Alamosa hosts Adams State University. The Great Sand Dunes National Park is on the eastern side of the SLV. Several hot springs dot the area, some of which are open for public use. West from Mineral County, the nearest sizeable town is Pagosa Springs, and then Durango, about 120 miles from Creede. East it's about 190 miles to Pueblo, the nearest "full service" city. We're about 270 miles southwest of Denver, by highway.
A visit to Creede/Mineral County is definitely an excellent way to "get away from it all." Even with our summer tourism, we do not have the crowds and jostling of better-known destinations. No giant neon signs, cookie-cutter franchise motels or chain restaurants, either. And winter is the undiscovered season of hidden delights, adventure, romance, and mountain majesty. Fewer people, lower prices, actually more activities available than in summer...winter is our secret too special to believe—including Wolf Creek Ski Area, acknowledged to have "the most snow in Colorado." And our attractions are real: an auto tour of the old mining district and ghost towns, a mining tour guided by real hard-rock miners, live theatre, friendly folks, and all tucked into a vast and dramatic natural landscape, with tiny Creede the jewel in the crown.
Living here is the ultimate way to get away from it all. The lifestyle is different. Relaxed, less demanding, more attuned to nature and its attributes. Sure, there's a price to pay for our remote mountain sanctuary. But picture this: for us a Whopper or Egg McMuffin is an unusual treat and a trip to Wal-Mart a major shopping opportunity. Talk about cheap thrills! But most folks living in Mineral County are here for that lifestyle. Those "modern conveniences" quickly fade in significance as you enjoy the full moon cresting a snowy ridge, walk through the golden glow of an autumn aspen glade, pause to watch the mountain sheep in their breathtaking scamper up a cliff face, or gather with your neighbors for the county-wide potluck dinner after the Christmas Tree walk.
Access: Highways, Roads & Airports
Year-round access to Mineral County is via both US Highway 160, which crosses roughly northeast-southwest over Wolf Creek Pass in the south part of the county, and Colorado Highway 149, which cuts a southeast-northwest diagonal through the central part of the county. The state highway folks usually make short work of any snow on these roads. Numerous Forest Service roads and 4-wheel drive and hiking trails crisscross the mountains and are popular recreation access summer through late autumn; however, most are closed by winter snows. Quite a few miles of these roads are groomed for snowmobiles, a very popular activity during the winter. Other trails are groomed for cross-country skiing, also pretty big around here. Highway 149, passing through South Fork, Creede, and Lake City, has been designated the Silver Thread National Scenic Byway. And is it ever! Nearest commercial airports are in Alamosa and Durango, both with car rental agents. Creede sports a 6,700+ foot paved landing strip.