The town of Alta lies in a wide meadow just below Alta Lakes in the San Miguel mountains. It sits in a spectacular location, close to timberline, proudly showing off the beauty of the Centennial State. Standing tall in the distance are Mount Wilson (14,252 feet), Lizard Head Peak (13,119 feet), and Sunshine Peak (14,007 feet).
Alta was a company town. The Gold King Mine, located in the 1870s, was Alta's principal reason for existence. It was primarily a one-mine camp and was never formally incorporated as a town, and had no official government. There were other mines, including the Alta Mine, but the Gold King was Alta's raison d'être.
The Gold King was primarily worked through the 1890s, producing gold, silver, lead, and copper. Since then, the town and the mine have been sold numerous times. The mine continued to be worked sporadically through the 1940s. As a result, the site contains evidence of both nineteenth- and twentieth-century structures. Many remain today, including (when last seen) the gargantuan boarding house and the manager's house with its bay window and fireplace.
Three mills served the town through the decades. All of them have burned, the last in 1945, in what is perhaps one of the saddest stories of Colorado's frontier towns. As the mill burned that day, the superintendent seemingly had no choice but to order the nearby shaft dynamited to choke off the fire's source of oxygen, thus extinguishing the fire. Had he not, the entire mine complex would have been destroyed. There were seven men underground at the time, including the man's son. Sometime after that, all mining stopped in Alta, and the town faded into history.
Alta continues to change hands.
In 1999, the United States Forest Service had planned to purchase the site, but funding fell through. Most recently, it fell into the hands of a developer who had planned to raze the site and build a resort community. San Miguel county (wisely) rejected this proposal, and the company is now working with the county and the city of Telluride to preserve the remaining structures.