A Landing a Day

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Lake City, Colorado

Posted by graywacke on August 4, 2013

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now moving to an every-other-day blog), I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”  I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location.  To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean in the first paragraph), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.

 Landing number 2040; A Landing A Day blog post number 458.

Dan –  Breaking an 0/3 with this USer (now PSer) landing in CO; 69/69; 3/10; 6; 151.2.  Here’s my regional landing map:

 landing 1

My closer-in landing map shows a definite boonies landing, with Lake City the only civilization anywhere close (and it’s 14 miles away):

 landing 2

My Google Earth (GE) shot is very interesting.  I’m starting out with an oblique view, to give you an idea of the topography:

 ge 1

Wild topography, eh?  A flat table top, with an internally-drained low spot (the gray area).  This whole region is part of the San Juan Mountain volcanic field, so I suspect that this is a remnant volcanic structure of some sort.  I spent some time with Google, but couldn’t find any information about the geology of this interesting feature.

 It sure would be cool if some geologist with local knowledge stumbled on this post and enlightened us all . . .

 Moving right along, you can see that I landed on a steep slope that heads down to a valley.  There’s an unnamed tributary in the valley that flows south to Mineral Ck, that flows north to Cebolla Ck; continuing north to the Gunnison R (5th hit, making the Gunnison the 146th river on my list of rivers with 5 or more hits); on to the Colorado R (163rd hit).

 While I won’t be able to expound on the extremely local landing geology, it turns out that this post will be of geologic interest.  Read on . . .

 So, Lake City is yet another former mining town (pretty common for my western landings), but one that has managed to survive as the mines shut down.  Here’s some history from the town’s website:

Reacting to news of the discovery of ores, prospectors and speculators flooded to the area, and in 1875 the county seat of Hinsdale was moved to the swiftly growing community of Lake City.  The town quickly became a supply hub and smelting center for individual prospectors and mining operations in the region.  The area developed so quickly that in just a few years more than 500 structures had been built.  The mining industry and the population of Lake City and Hinsdale County peaked around 1900. Over the next decades, however, mining activity decreased, as did the number of people claiming Hinsdale as their year-round residence.

While mineral production around Lake City continues, the resources that are proving to be the mainstay of Hinsdale County are its pristine beauty, its diverse recreational opportunities, its down-home hospitality, and a well-preserved history that is highly visible in the Lake City National Historic District.

But of more interest is the reason Lake City is named Lake City.  The town is located just a few miles north of Lake San Cristobal (you can see it on my landing map) which happens to be the second largest natural lake in Colorado.  I would normally show a GE shot of the lake, but some pesky clouds are in the way.  So, alternatively, here’s a Bing Maps shot of the lake:

 lake bing maps

Astute readers (and that includes you, Cheryl) may recall my McHenry IL post, where I waxed geologically about lakes.  What the heck, I’ll repeat here what I said (even though it’s from an Eastern perspective.

Let me digress a moment and talk about lake formation in general.  Geologically speaking (at least in the tectonically-stable eastern half of the country), lakes are unexpected interlopers on the geologic landscape, and they’re temporary, at that.

 You can start with any long-term geologically-formed landscape (un-glaciated), be it long eroded vestiges of former high mountains (like the Appalachians), a plateau (like the Allegheny Plateau of western Pennsylvania), or depositional landscapes, like coastal plains.  All of these landscapes have one thing in common:  they all have valleys and streams, but no lakes!  That’s because, as drainage patterns carve and shape the landscape, they naturally develop a drainage system whereby a drop of water continually runs downhill seeking the ocean (no lakes).

 Lakes only occur when something disrupts the natural drainage pattern, like a huge old glacier gouging out rock and dumping debris willy-nilly all over the landscape.  So, in the south, the only lakes are man-made.  But in the glaciated north, the landscape is strewn with lakes:  Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes!  The Great Lakes!  And, of course, the Chain O’Lakes!

 All lakes are temporary, because rivers and streams that flow into the lakes bring in sediment that is deposited in the lakes, slowly but surely filling them up.

 So, something must have happened here near Lake City to disrupt the normal drainage patterns and create a lake.  A glacier that dumped / bulldozed a bunch of rocks and dirt and made a lake?  Not a bad guess (and it is the reason for Colorado’s largest natural lake, Grand Lake), but it’s not what caused Lake San Cristobal.

 No, something very dramatic happened only about 700 years ago at this very spot.  I’m sure the local Native Americans were fascinated when it happened!

 And what was it?  A landslide.  A very large landslide.  Sticking with Bing Maps, here’s an aerial shot of the landslide:

 bing map landslide

The entirety of the landslide (known as the Slumgullion Slide) is outlined.  You can see the headwall to the right up at the ridge; down in the valley, the slide material spread out, dammed up the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, and formed Lake San Cristobal.  Pretty cool, eh?

 Here’s an oblique GE view of the headwall:

bing map landslide headwall


Almost looks like it just happened!  

Here’s some information about the landslide (known as the Slumgullion Slide or the Slumgullion Earthflow) from Lake City town website:

The Slumgullion Earthflow National Natural Landmark is a rare example of an earthflow, a specific type of landslide.  About 700 years ago, an area of Mesa Seco, composed of partially decomposed volcanic rock, slid down the mountain and blocked the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.  This natural dam formed what is now known as Lake San Cristobal.  The earthflow is about 4 miles long and covers over 1000 acres.

A second earthflow began about 300 years ago and is still active today.  The United States Geologic Survey (USGS) tracks the movement of the slide, which in some places moves as much as 20 feet per year.  It covers some of the original slide, and can be detected by observing the trees growing on it that are tipped at odd angles.

 Where Does the Name “Slumgullion” Come From?

The Slumgullion Slide was likely named by early settlers of Lake City who noted that the yellowy color of the soils resembled Slumgullion Stew.  “Slum” as it was also called, was generally a watery stew made from beef, potatoes, carrots, and onions, or whatever leftovers could be found.  Also, miners of the 1800s referred to the leftover mud in gold sluices as slumgullion.  Whatever the source, you might want to try one of these recipes next time you are making supper at your camp site.

 I read somewhere that engineers and geologists have carefully studied the dam to make sure that it’s stable.  They know that sometimes, landslide-formed dams become unstable with time and can catastrophically fail.  They’re not worried about this dam because the landslide went all the way across the valley so that the “spillway” (where water flows out of the lake) is actually on bedrock, partially up the far valley wall.  The bedrock makes for a solid spillway, with no worries about the stability of the dam.  They also noted that the lake is slowly silting in, but will be a lake for another 2000 or so years, before it fills up with sediment.

 Before I move on, my readers obviously need a recipe for Slumgullion Stew.  I found a somewhat official recipe when I stumbled on the blog “Sedimentary Lifestyle,” written by a geologist.  She has a post about a trip to the Slumgullion Slide, where she included a picture of an interpretive sign posted at an overlook of the landslide:

 from sedimentry lifestyle

The Sedimentary Lifestyle post is about the author actually doing field work on the active portion of the landslide.  Check it out HERE.

  I’ll close with a couple of nearby Panoramio shots.  First this, by RiskyRed, of some Big Horn sheep, only about a half mile from my landing:

 pano riskyred less than a mile

And then this, by RSchlaudt, of Cebollo Creek:


pano rschlaudt justnorth


 That’ll do it.




© 2013 A Landing A Day

6 Responses to “Lake City, Colorado”

  1. Once again, you land near “my” Nebraska. How many times it that in a row in this region of the America?

    An informative post today. Enjoyed the new word: slumgullion and the geology lession. If you had
    been the teacher for it, I would have taken the course, the only one I needed to graduate with a B.A. I had lots of credits but not the right ones.

    Whenever I read about dams I remember of friend’s comment on the major Gatineau, Quebec Paugin dam when he learned it had developed cracks. “Hmmm. Interesting news for the valley.” He lived to one side of it in Low, Quebec.

  2. I read your posts with relish, and like their micro-macro, discipline/anarchy qualities, and your enthusiasm of
    discovery — and your wide knowledge, widened over the years by your own spelunking of our alternate brain — the internet —
    which provides us with alternative lives.

    But I know what you mean about being happy to be read. You are read by more than you know, probably, but
    with all the social revelations, blogging and txtg… it just seems people can’t wait for somebody to finished talking so
    they can begin their own sentence — with “I” — and get the attention back to them.

    If it weren’t for the satisfying Zen experience of finding/having a story to tell and getting the words in the right order
    writing would be like pissing into the wind. Nobody would do. You don’t expect attention but it is doubly meaningful when you do.

    And bloggers are getting thinner on the ground, partly because of that inattention, but maybe because they don’t Reply (like you do)
    when somebody DOES Comment. It’s a conversation across cyberspace – mind to mind. Delicious.

  3. […]  A fairly recent post (Lake City CO) featured Lake San Cristobal, the second-largest natural lake in CO.  The story of the lake is fascinating (it was formed by a landslide).  If you didn’t read the post, I highly recommend it (of course).  Click HERE. […]

  4. […] the stranger the reason for their creation, the more I like it.  (Check out my Lake City CO post HERE, and my Clear Lake CA post […]

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