The short fiction writer Antonya Nelson wrote that Telluride is “a beautiful place in which to wander.” In today’s increasingly fast-paced and technology-laden world, simply wandering is becoming something of a dying art. The information age has brought with it an incessant focus on productivity, and for many of us the idea of exploring with no purpose or destination is one that rarely if ever crosses our mind. Nestled within the western San Juan Mountains, the breathtaking peaks cradle the small Colorado town within them, encouraging even the most active of minds to stop seeking and start living.
Such has been the case for Greg Blatt, a tech executive who first visited Telluride in his early 20’s. Blatt had just earned his undergraduate degree but was unsure what direction he wanted to travel in his life next, and so he decided to travel the world for a few years to try and figure it out. Adventurous by nature, he traversed the globe going everywhere from Budapest, Hungary to Reims, France to San Francisco, California before arriving in Telluride for what he thought would be just another stop in his travels. However, he quickly fell in love with the town’s perfect harmony of adventure and tranquility and settled into the town. Living out of a tent and making a living bartending and performing odd jobs such as painting, Blatt soaked up everything the town had to offer, from its many festivals to stellar skiing.
Although deeply enamored with the town, Blatt was still young and restless. On a whim he applied to Columbia Law School, and when he was accepted he knew that for the time being his love affair with Telluride would have to end. Moving to New York City, Blatt went on to have an accomplished career in the corporate world. He served as general counsel for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and led its debut on the New York Stock Exchange before becoming chief executive officer for some of the most successful online dating companies in the world. However, he never forgot about the small town and the short period of time there that changed the way he viewed the world. In an executive interview when asked what advice, if any, he would give to his younger self, his immediate answer was to spend one more year in Telluride before going to law school.
After nearly three decades away, Blatt has returned to the box canyon village and like an old friend it’s as if not a single day has passed since they last met. Although a popular skiing destination in its own right, Telluride has managed to avoid the trappings of other ski towns in the area such as Aspen who made deals with developers, forsook their roots and sold their souls for a hefty check. Even as commercialization swirls around them, most of the stores in Telluride remain locally owned, and there are no traffic lights, strip malls, box stores or massive parking lots to be seen.
The origins of Telluride, like many other towns in Colorado, lay in mining. Although originally called “Columbia” when it was founded in 1878, post office confusion with a California town of the same name saw it forced to change it nine years later. The general consensus is that town is named after tellurium, a non-metallic element associated with rich mineral deposits of gold and silver, but lore for the town says that it comes from the phrase “to-hell-you-ride” due to the treacherous mountain journey miners embarked upon to reach the remote town and its already boisterous reputation.
Indeed, for nearly a century the town was a bustling center for activity in practically every aspect. Working with George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla, American entrepreneur L.L. Nunn built the Ames Power Plant which produced electricity that was transmitted over rugged and at times inaccessible terrain to provide power for Telluride’s nearby mine. This was the world’s first long-distance transmission of alternating current electricity, and laid the groundwork upon which the Westinghouse plant at Niagara Falls was built four years later.
Thanks to the mines, by the turn of the century the town had more millionaires per capita than in New York City. The Tomboy Mine was one of the world’s greatest gold producers and contributed to more than $360 million dollars of gold pulled out of the area. The area’s wealth was so well known, famed bank robber Butch Cassidy chose the town’s San Miguel Valley Bank as the first he would ever rob, walking away with $24,580 that was never recovered. Along with the town’s prosperity came beautiful classic Victorian homes and the historic Sheridan Opera House theater, as its residents thrived in their newfound wealth.
Unfortunately, by the 1960’s the decline of the local mining industry saw the town fall on harder times. Thankfully, the mountainous region’s abundance of snow that had previously been the bane of many a miner’s existence would soon become its own form of “white gold.” As economies were recovering from World War II and the middle class was quickly growing in the United States, leisure time was no longer an unobtainable luxury. The town underwent a renaissance as those hungry for the ideal combination of picturesque views and adventure sought to visit it, and a local ski industry quickly began booming. Today, Telluride has managed to maintain the character and authenticity of its mining roots while adapting for the future.
Telluride’s historic district was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961 due to its well-preserved late boom-town architecture, and according to Blatt it is an oft-overlooked but essential part of the Telluride experience. The district holds everything from early cabins and shacks to rows of elegant Victorian homes and stately brick buildings, each visually representing the many different iterations of the small town. Surrounded by such rich history, one can get a better perspective on life as a whole and for a small time feel transported to a different era. Although most commonly known for skiing, there are a plethora of beautiful hiking trails around Telluride in both the summer and winter season. It was the stunning beauty of the San Juan Mountains that first stopped Blatt in his globe-trekking tracks, and just a short train ride can take you on trails that pass by lakes, waterfalls, creeks and even take you into an old mining area. In particular Blatt recommends the Bridal Veil Falls hike, which takes you to the tallest free-falling waterfalls in the state.
For Blatt, his tranquil time in Telluride has served as bookends to the hustle and bustle of his time in New York. While the city that never sleeps has an undeniable energy of its own, it is the crisp air of the mountain town that truly sparks his imagination and inspiration. Greg Blatt’s own career could be seen as one that was inspired by the beauty of Telluride: through wandering, one can find purpose.