Then Gunnison just might be the answer for you.
Nicholas A. Fischer / Staff Writer
Snow from an epic storm delayed the start of the spring semester by two days, making the campus a winter wonderland for almost a full three months. As warm weather fights its slow return to the Gunnison Valley, the spring semester rapidly approaches its end. With snow storms possible through May, snow on graduation is tradition at Western, it leaves little time for Mountaineers to enjoy the valley before summer break.
While Mountaineers are finishing their last papers, projects, and presentations of the year, some are preparing for their summer plans, while other’s plans are still up in the air. A majority of students will return to their home towns, while others will set out on adventures across the world. However, a few students will stay in the valley and mountains and get to enjoy the wonders of the short Gunnison summer.
Three factors tend to keep students in Gunnison over the summer break: summer classes, internships, or work opportunities. However, the beauty of the wilderness around Gunnison provides a bounty of relaxation any student or professor needs after a long year.
Students staying as students over summer tend to have a need to take a class over summer to stay on track or are looking to get ahead of schedule. Several classes offered over the summer take students into the mountains to study flora of the land or the stars in the sky, while others allow them to have a hands-on exploration of the past.
Over the last 25 years Western has offered an archeology field school around W Mountain. The Mountaineer Site, located on top of W Mountain, a Folsom archeology site that has the earliest known structures in Colorado, has been the focus of the field school since its discovery by archeology professor, Dr. Mark Stiger and Western students. During the field school in June, anyone can come up on a free ride, being offered through Gunnison’s Parks Department, and tour the site.
Further up the valley near Gothic mountain, Western Students will be interning over summer at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab. The area is a pristine wilderness area that has been under scientific studies for 89 years. Research done at the lab as led to over 1500 publications that have played important roles in expanding our understanding of long-term changes on ecosystems. The lab offers public programs over summer and host a 1/3 marathon on July 4th from Gothic to Crested Butte. The public can stay overnight at the lab, but space is limited.
Staying and studying in Gunnison over summer is not everyone’s ideal summer break, but Gunnison County does offer great employment opportunities for the college students in need of money. Over summer, events like the Cattlemen’s Day, the Wild Flower Festival, and various wine festivals and music events bring in tourist. In addition to abundant wilderness activities, businesses across the county are always looking for help. From inside jobs at restaurants and shops to outside jobs at Crested Butte Mountain Resort and Three Rivers Resorts, there are a variety of jobs that will put cash in a student’s pockets over the summer.
For students who decide to stay in Gunnison, whether it be to study, work, or just relax, the mountains and valleys do not fail to provide an abundance of activities to ensure it is enjoyable.
The trails around Gunnison and Crested Butte are heralded as some of the best mountain biking trails of Colorado. Those trails are just a small part of the extensive network of trails that allow anyone to hike, bike, or four wheel across a vast amount of Gunnison County. These trails take people to some of the most beautiful and remote views in state and are topped off as the wildflowers begin to bloom in June and by July. Crested Butte is known as the Wildflower Capital of Colorado because the meadows and fields are painted with the varying colors of flowers that highlight the lush, green foliage and are backdropped by mountain peaks.
Of course, camping under the stars is one of the unique treasures of Gunnison. Gunnison County is far enough away from big city lights that the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an International Dark Sky Park, which is a designation for parks that have exceptional starry nights. However, one does not have to camp or travel outside of Gunnison to get a great view of the stars. The Gunnison Valley Observatory, located on the way to Hartmann’s Rocks, offers anyone a chance to see the stars and planets even more up close than the peaks around town.
While 100 days on the mountain is a common goal for winters in Gunnison, 100 days on the water becomes a goal for summer. The East, Slate, Taylor, and Gunnison rivers along with Blue Mesa and Taylor Reservoirs and the many streams creeks and alpine lakes provide plenty of fishing, swimming, boating, rafting, paddle boarding, and yes even surfing opportunities within an hour of Gunnison.
A summer in Gunnison is an experience every Mountaineer should have. While the town and surrounding country is amazing during the months of the normal school year, Gunnison becomes a special place from May to August that makes surviving the bitter colds of its winter, all the worthwhile.