May 23 - 25, 2019 · Gunnison National Forest
Had an interesting time in Lake City, I went to Lake City for Alferd Packer Days and some hiking over the Memorial Day weekend. The mountains are beautiful in this area and given the snow this year the Spring Runoff had just started. Lake City has an interesting history. In 1874, the same year that Enos Hotchkiss & Otto Mears founded Lake City, the story goes that in a similarly epoch snowy year a group of men lead by Alferd Packer became snowbound at Lake San Cristobal - a mere seven miles to present day Lake City went in search of food and when he returned to the camp he found all of the men had been murdered by Shannon Bell, one of the five other men in the party.
When Packer returned to the camp, he said that Bell had gone mad killed the other men and tried to kill him as well, and that he killed Bell in self-defense. However, over the course of three different trials the jury found self-defense hard to believe as Alferd had shown up at the Los Pinos Indian Agency looking well fed and carrying cash and goods from the dead men. Packer admitted to eating the flesh of the dead men - but only to survive as he made his way back to Los Pinos Indian Agency.
There is so much more to the story, if you want to catch up on your Alferd Packer reading, go to the Colorado Archives and search for Alfred Packer. It has some excellent reading on Alferd, the massacre, his jail break, trials and his pardon Colorado Governor Charles Thomas. After his parole he lived out the rest of his life in Littleton, became a vegetarian and the children loved to hear his stories of the Wild West. What you may not find in that archive is why Packer used the misspelling of his first name, his given name is Alfred, but went by Alferd.
While he was in the Union Army during the Civil War he got a tattoo of his name. However, the person who gave him the tattoo misspelled his name, transposing the e and the r. Rather than spending his life explaining it and correcting people, he embraced it and used Alferd as his given name. Alferd was discharged from the Army because of his epilepsy, which I would imagine made leading a party of prospective gold miners from Provo, Utah into Colorado challenging. It seems as if their journey to the gold fields in Breckenridge was doomed from the start. They quickly ran out of food after leaving Provo and where found by some Ute Indians and taken to Chief Ouray, who told them it would be unwise to procced at this time of the year, there was simply too much snow. But Packer and five other men decided to make a run for the gold fields and stake their claim.
Aside from the Packer massacre, Lake City was known for its lucrative hard-rock gold and silver mines. There are some mining operations still occurring. As a matter of fact one of the mine owners recently did a prospective precious metals survey on an abandoned mine they own and found there are at least six “very” promising leads for the discovery of more gold. In many ways that is not surprising, Lake City is on the southern end of the Colorado Mineral Belt that was heavily mined for gold, silver, lead and zinc between the 1800's and the twentieth century.
After the mines where closed, Lake City like many mining towns went into decline. In the past few decades Lake City has come to rely tourism, outdoor enthusiasts and a hunting season headquarters - there are Deer, Elk and Moose everywhere in and around Lake City. I would imagine the summer hiking would be exceptional, but the when I was there the weather was still all over the place. It snowed, rained and was sunny. Overall, I didn't get much hiking in, instead I did some 4WD along some backcountry roads. It's beautiful country.
In talking with the locals and driving around, the snow this year has been epoch, there is evidence of many massive avalanches from this winter. They have closed off roads and the most extreme case I saw was a house that was completely leveled by an avalanche. It was an unbelievable site and there was a house right next to it which was untouched. But what was the most amazing part of that house-leveling avalanche was there were three people in the house and all three made it out alive with only scratches despite it taking eight hours to dig one of the girls out who was amazingly stuck in an air pocket.
The big draw event for Memorial Day weekend in Lake City is Alferd Packer Days which includes a 5K Run for Your Life run through town. It's a very small, low-key, non-competitive event with almost all local teams, followed by the Mystery Meat Cook-off. For this year there were four teams for the 5K run. I didn't participate in the run, you needed to be in teams of four or more. The run starts in the center of town and there are four stations along the 5K route, each station is mountain survival oriented.
At the first station each team must build a fire and put out the fire in the presence of the local fire department. At the second station a team member must have their leg splinted and the other team members must carry that person to the next station. At the third station, each team must tie a series of knots. At the final station, each team must demonstrate their knowledge of Alferd Packer and the Packer massacre. The strangest question on the Packer trivia was what did E.V.B. Hoes, the president of the Bank of Lake City keep on his desk? The skull of Frank Miller, one of the massacred victims, he used the skull as a paperweight. The team that came in first in the 5K run and scored 100% at all of the stations was a group of young women. Each team had a name and theirs was The Man Eaters. The group that won Best Costume was a group called the Cereal Killers - yes Cereal, they wore boxes of cereal.
The Mystery Meat Cook-off was one of the main reasons I made the trek to Lake City. Though after talking with some of the locals the night before the cook-off I started to think it was going to be a cooking contest between locals to see who could make who gag. As it turns out it is a very small, family friendly pot-luck type of event. The cook-off is held in the Armory with three dishes that you had to taste and guess the ingredients. The first dish was meatballs made of pork sausage, beef sausage and chicken sausage. The second dish was spaghetti with red-sauce and shrimp. The third dish was the most interesting in terms of taste and contents, it was Yak and Boar; there is a local Yak farm in-between Lake City and the town of Gunnison.
It was a very interesting event and the countryside is beautiful. I'm glad I was able to taste the Mystery Meat Cook-off and got to see the 5K Run for Your Life. It was a lot of fun.