The Colorado Mineral Belt, which stretches from the San Juan Mountains in the south to Boulder in the north, is a rich source of gold, silver, copper, lead, and other minerals. The area was first mined by Native Americans, and later by Spanish explorers and prospectors during the Gold Rush. Today, the mining industry is still an important part of Colorado's economy.
La Plata County, located in southwestern Colorado, has a rich and diverse history dating back thousands of years. The region was originally home to Native American tribes such as the Ancestral Puebloans and Ute people, who lived off the land and developed agricultural practices. European explorers, including Juan Maria de Rivera and Juan Maria Antonio Rivera, were some of the first non-native visitors to the area in the late 18th century.

In the mid-19th century, the discovery of gold and silver in the nearby San Juan Mountains attracted a wave of prospectors to La Plata County. This led to the establishment of mining camps and towns like Silverton and Durango, which quickly became centers of trade and commerce. The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad reached Durango in the 1880s, connecting the area to the rest of the country and further fueling economic growth.

Durango, the county seat and largest city in La Plata County, thrived as a hub for mining, logging, and agriculture. The town saw significant developments in education and infrastructure, including the establishment of Fort Lewis College in 1911, which played a crucial role in the region's educational and cultural growth.

In recent decades, La Plata County has become a popular tourist destination, drawing visitors with its stunning natural beauty, outdoor recreational activities, and historic sites. The county's economy has also diversified, with a focus on industries such as tourism, healthcare, education, and renewable energy. Today, La Plata County continues to honor its history while embracing a forward-looking approach to development and sustainability.

This timeline provides a glimpse into the major events and milestones that have shaped the history of La Plata County, Colorado.

  • 1871: La Plata County is established, taking its name from the La Plata River.
  • 1873: Durango, the county seat, is founded.
  • 1879: The Denver and Rio Grande Railway reaches Durango, spurring growth in the area.
  • 1906: A devastating fire destroys much of downtown Durango.
  • 1911: Mesa Verde National Park is established, showcasing the region's rich Native American history.
  • 1927: The Million Dollar Highway, part of U.S. Route 550, is completed, connecting Durango with Ouray.
  • 1960s-1970s: Skiing becomes a popular recreational activity with the opening of Purgatory Ski Resort (now known as Durango Mountain Resort).
  • 1990: The Animas River is designated as a Gold Medal Water (trout fishing) by the Colorado Wildlife Commission.
  • 2002: The Missionary Ridge Fire devastates over 72,000 acres of land in La Plata County.
  • 2018: La Plata County experiences a significant drought, leading to widespread wildfires.