I think about my grandparents’ old house by the Cherry River a lot: We called it “the camp” since the dwelling, in Richwood, West Virginia, was more of a dilapidated cabin than a vacation home. I only visited as a small child, but I still fixate on the 10-acre property—which my papa sold for a pittance in the late 1980s—because I know the potential it would have today. With its private river access and proximity to Monongahela National Forest, the camp could’ve easily been turned into an adventure resort, a business that could help the former coal and lumber town as it attempts to transition to a tourism-based economy.

West Virginia is widely known for its coal mining—an industry that’s been slowly dying as the world moves away from burning fossil fuels—but Colorado’s Western Slope has rich seams of black gold, too. Today, seven mines remain, but many extraction companies have closed their underground operations and plants, taking critical jobs and tax revenues with them and leaving surrounding communities without an economic driver. In this issue’s “The Newest Colorado Adventure Spot Isn’t Sure It Wants You to Visit,” freelance writer Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan examines how a handful of towns in western Montrose County have been trying to build an economy around the area’s plentiful outdoor recreation opportunities since the local coal mine and plant closed in 2017 and 2019, respectively. It hasn’t been easy, and residents not only disagree about the merits of luring tourists to their sleepy towns, but they also fear how big-monied visitors could unravel the cultural fabric of an area long rooted in mining.

That may sound strange—the idea that a community is clinging to a time when coal was king—but I can tell you that it is neither unusual nor unreasonable. I never worked in a coal mine, but my grandfather and both of my great-grandfathers on my mother’s side lived in the coal fields and took the mantrip nearly every day. I’m certainly aware that burning fossil fuel is antithetical to a healthy global climate, but I’m proud of my family’s mining history and well understand the cultural underpinnings. Even in my home state, however, changes are afoot: The Richwood Convention and Visitors Bureau beckons tourists to plan a trip “to observe the fall foliage or fish in one of our abundant trout streams.” The camp might be gone, but I still daydream about it and know I would’ve happily trained a bunch of former miners to be top-notch fly-fishing guides.

Illustration by Arthur Mount

David Williams
Freelance photographer

David Williams has been earning a living via editorial and commercial photography for 11 years, but the Denver-based creative is so dedicated to his mission of “documenting life” that he can’t help but capture images in his free time, too. “Whether I’m going to the grocery store or on a long road trip, I almost always carry a camera with me,” he says. That passion for memorializing slices of the day-to-day made him the perfect choice to traverse the state for “11 Weird and Wonderful Colorado Roadside Attractions,” a feature that highlights some of Colorado’s quirkiest roadside attractions.

Williams took his four-year-old son along to experience Morrison’s Tiny Town, a spot he grew up visiting, and he was happy to learn that three of the story’s locales are in the San Luis Valley. “My wife’s family is from the town of San Luis, and we spend a lot of time at our cabin down there,” he says. “It’s a really special place to us, and I treasure any time I get to spend in that part of Colorado”—even at Mosca’s Colorado Gators Reptile Park, where he was surprised at how hands-on sanctuary manager Jay Young was with the alligators. “I kept my distance and was happy to leave with all 10 of my fingers,” Williams says.