West Elk Loop
Then and Now
The West Elk Loop derives its name from the West Elk Mountains, which the Loop circumnavigates. Major geological upheavals created the rugged landscape and rare natural beauty encompassed by the Loop.
Aspect, elevation and climate determine the great variety of creatures living along the West Elk Loop, which contains numerous microclimates. Paonia is known as a "banana belt" for its mild fruit-growing climate, while in Gunnison, just across the West Elks, temperatures can dip to 40°F below. Carbondale has relatively scant snowfall, while Redstone and Marble are often inundated. Crested Butte and Kebler Pass receive up to 350 inches of snow a year and are lush and verdant in summer.
Wildlife include elk, mule deer, black bear, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, mountain lion, bobcat, ermine, beaver, muskrat, red fox and pine marten. A profusion of wildflowers includes Colorado columbine, lupine, wild geranium, bog orchids and hundreds more. Lakes and streams are home to trout, kokanee salmon and mountain whitefish. Bird life is abundant with blue herons, Canada geese, bald and golden eagles, American dipper, gray jays, Steller's jays and hummingbirds.
Evidence of human life followed the retreat of the last glacial Ice Age 10,000 years ago. The Utes, indigenous people of the region, were expelled from the area and moved onto reservations by the early 1880s, a result of increasing pressures from white settlement of the area.
Western Colorado. This drive features
stretches of Hwy 133, Hwy 92, Hwy 50,
and 135. Towns of Redstone,
Marble, Paonia, Hotchkiss, Crawford,
Gunnison and Crested Butter