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5280’s 10 Best Longreads of 2021

These are the long-form stories that captured readers’ attention this year.

The Enduring Legacy of Elijah McClain’s Tragic Death

By Robert Sanchez | September 2021

In summer 2020, the nation’s attention turned to the killing of a 23-year-old Aurora man. His death prompted a flood of more than 8,500 letters from outside the state of Colorado—all begging Governor Jared Polis for justice. We read every one.

The Dire Consequences of Pleading Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity in Colorado

By Daliah Singer | November 2021

Illustration by Nazario Graziano

People found not guilty by reason of insanity are sent to Colorado’s mental health hospital ostensibly for treatment. Here, a look inside one man’s three-year-long struggle for freedom.

The Inherent Dangers of Backcountry Skiing in Colorado’s Mountains

By Tracy Ross | January 2021

Illustration by Dave McKenna

What can a fatal backcountry skiing accident on Jones Pass, on the west side of the Continental Divide, teach us about Colorado’s snowcat outfitters? And can these quintessential Centennial State adventures ever truly be safe?

After Two Teen Suicides Last Year, How Will Summit County Address an Ongoing Mental Health Crisis?

By Devon O’Neil | August 2021

A candid photo of Toby Gard on his mom’s phone. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

A tragic stretch in April 2020 shone a light on the mental health issues facing the mountain community. With the new school year set to start, area residents are continuing to heal while asking themselves how they can learn from the past.

Comas, Catfights, and Clothes: An Oral History of Dynasty

By Spencer Campbell | February 2021

Getty Images (mountains, foothills, oil rig, skyline); PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy Stock Photo (Diahann Carroll); Pictorial Parade/Getty Images (Linda Evans); Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archive (Joan Collins, pond fight, Heather Locklear, John Forsythe, Moldovian wedding); Eddie Sanderson/Getty Images (Joan Collins in mud). Photo illustration by Sean Parsons

Forty years after Denver’s most infamous fictional family first rocked the small screen, the stars of the scandal-happy primetime soap reveal the true stories behind America’s guiltiest pleasure.

The Untold Stories of the Denver Hospital that Pioneered “Parentectomy”—and Saved Children’s Lives

By Heather L. Hughes | March 2021

Patients receive treatment at the Children’s Asthma Research Institute and Hospital in Denver. Courtesy of Beck Archives, University of Denver Libraries Special Collections

From 1940 until the early 1980s, hundreds of children who suffered from severe asthma were separated from their parents and lived at the Children’s Asthma Research Institute and Hospital in Denver. Decades later, former patients talk about the life-altering experience.

Inside the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s Bold Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Robert Sanchez | December 2021

The checkpoint to enter the Ute Mountain reservation outside of Towaoc. Photograph by Blake Gordon

How the Ute Mountain Ute tribe’s race to protect its sovereign nation from the COVID-19 pandemic transformed its southwestern Colorado reservation, members, and leadership—forever.

Review: The Holly and Black Life as Drama

By Lisa Kennedy | May 2021

Children play at the Jack A. Vickers Boys & Girls Club at the Nancy P. Anschutz Center, which stands on the site of the former Holly Shopping Center. Photo by McLeod9 Creative

Like The Wire, Julian Rubinstein’s new book The Holly mines Black violence for the sake of drama—rendering the larger Park Hill community largely invisible.

Vaccine-Hesitant Coloradans Could Prolong the COVID-19 Misery

By Daliah Singer | March 2021

Photo courtesy of Marc Tran/Stocksy

Long a stronghold for the medical freedom set, Colorado’s poor immunization rates might make public health officials’ COVID-19 inoculation goals tougher to reach.

A Megadrought Is Hurting Colorado Farmers

By Jonathan Thompson | October 2021

Daniel Fullmer inspects crops at his regenerative farm outside Durango. Photo by Jeremy Wade Shockley

Southwestern Colorado’s Mancos Valley had long been thought of as an agricultural promised land, seemingly resistant to the ravages of climate change. There had been dry years, of course. But, along with acres and acres of crops, the blissful notion of relative immunity perished in 2021.

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