Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Down at the Drive In (We Love the Drive In)

Yes, that is a mesa. More importantly, it's a mesa in western Colorado. For all the glitz and glamor of the ski resort towns like Vail, Aspen, and Steamboat Springs, I will take the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains any day of the week.

Maybe it is because the sheer size of everything is amplified by the dramatic landscapes. Or, maybe it has to do with the fact I was raised on more John Wayne movies than I care to mention...pilgrim.

Really though, it's because a lot of the interesting parts of nuclear history in Colorado happened on the Western Slope. Take this campaign by the town of Naturita, Colorado to restore their iconic Uranium Drive-In sign:

Now, Naturita completed that project, as planned, and had that barbeque (once again, as planned) two Sundays ago.

Refurbished Uranium Drive-In sign (Telluride Daily Planet)
For as long as uranium mining has existed in the United States, Naturita has been central to the business. But, as Tami Lowrance, the Mayor of Naturita said, things haven't been so easy on the community for the last few decades. Since the uranium industry collapsed during the early 1980s, Naturita and the rest of Montrose County, Colorado have been on an unemployment roller coaster.

Let me give you an idea of how bad it has been: since 1990 the unemployment rate has bounced from as low as 3.1% in May of 2007 to as high as 12.8% in March of 2010. In addition, since 1990 Naturita's population has shrunk from about 800 people to just around 550, even when Montrose County's population has doubled to around 41,000.

So you see, the Uranium Drive-In sign isn't just a cultural artifact, it is, like Tami says, a "monument to the hope of our future." That future includes not only uranium mining, but potentially the first uranium mill licensed in the United States since the White Mesa Mill in 1980.

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