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Rocky Mountain Sigh as More People Move In

  • Ted Landphair

A clear day in the Rockies. Not as familiar a sight as it once was.

A clear day in the Rockies. Not as familiar a sight as it once was.

High country life has turned complex and crowded

For many Americans, the “good life” means owning a piece, or at least a view, of the majestic Rocky Mountains. Who wouldn’t be drawn to a land of snow-capped peaks, abundant wildlife, and breathtaking hiking trails and ski slopes?

Did we say “breathtaking”? Perhaps that’s because of the smog.

You see, big cities in America’s high country - like Denver and Colorado Springs and Salt Lake City - have grown so fast that on many days, noxious haze obscures the mountains.

Morning and evening - and on weekends - around many mountain towns, you can watch an endless string of sport-utility vehicle lights snake through what used to be unspoiled hills and ravines.

Gigantic housing tracts cropped up among the ponderosa pines. People built fancy houses and mountain retreats so deep into wild places that local fire departments had to tell them they’re on their own come the next forest fire.

Other folks snapped up meadow parcels with a mountain view - “ranchettes,” as they’re called.

We’re pretty sure that’s Denver in the distance through the smog.

We’re pretty sure that’s Denver in the distance through the smog.

Commuters have no “rush hour” on Interstate 25 between Denver and Colorado Springs because, they say, the highway is one long parking lot.

So rampant was Denver’s suburbanization before the recent U.S. economic downturn that Northern Colorado ranchers by the hundreds sold out to developers and moved operations up into remote Wyoming.

Water, which is scarce in many parts of the American West, seems abundant in frigid Rocky Mountain streams. But new subdivisions and shopping malls are draining aquifers on the prairies beneath the peaks.

Rush hour, not in Los Angeles or New York, but along the Rockies’ Front Range between Denver and Colorado Springs.

Rush hour, not in Los Angeles or New York, but along the Rockies’ Front Range between Denver and Colorado Springs.

And human sprawl is steadily constricting the habitats of eagles, elk, and bears. All because of the western version of Americans’ search for a simpler life, close to nature.

The magnificent Rocky Mountains have inspired songs such as “Springtime in the Rockies” and “Rockin’ in the Rockies.”

Some have suggested a new title for a tune: “Ruinin’ the Rockies.”

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