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Colorful Colorado: Marble, timeless wonder, has been discovered

May 12, 2018 Updated: May 14, 2018 at 6:44 am
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Brushes swallow an old mining truck in Marble, Colo., Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

MARBLE - More homes are in demand, and Mike Yellico will provide, though not without feeling some conflict.

The long-haired, Chaco-footed owner of Grateful Builders is leading construction of a house that seems better fit for Aspen, which is 56 miles away, but a whole world away as far as the people of Marble are concerned.

"Mountain modern" is the look, Yellico says. Gray metal and burned timber will accomplish the aesthetic - an eye-catching edifice here in the woods, where simpler cabins and cottages suit most of the 130 year-round residents.

"Mountain modern" just might represent the new age of Marble.

Mike Yellico, is the owner of Greatful Builders and a city councilman in Marble, Colo. Pictured Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, on a building site in the Colorado mountain town. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

"People don't want growth," says Yellico, a town councilman who's called Marble home for nearly 25 years. "But growth is happening."

The sun is rising on this day before fall, the shadow lifting over the aspen-splashed hills turning gold. Summer is over, so the unpaved roads in the no-grocery store town are getting relief.

The bustle began in May, as it will again, with drivers pulling off Colorado 133 and following the Crystal River, passing ruins from a wrecked trolley that 100 years ago carried Marble's first source of fame: the milky-white rock used for the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

An Italian company still mines the marble, shipping it all over the world. But nowadays the draw is the scenery, such sights as the duck pond that emerges beside the road and shimmering river, in a meadow surrounded by peaks.

From town, a gray-white road climbs to the quarry. Unauthorized personnel stop at massive marble blocks that form the overlook of alpine majesty.

Beaver Lake is the aqua showpiece below, at the end of Marble's main street. Again this summer, vehicles will line the way to its 20 surface acres, and canoes and paddleboards will vie for space.

Traffic drives through Marble, Colo., Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The road, which turns into a technical 4x4 drive only road, leads to the Crystal Mill, Schofield Pass and Crested Butte. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

Silver Street skirts the water, turning into the wicked road increasingly toured by ATVs and Jeeps. At the end is the historic Crystal Mill, the photographic rival to Aspen's Maroon Bells that some locals say has spawned "a zoo."

Marble has been discovered, says Town Clerk Ron Leach, who's been in the valley since the 1970s.

"All the people who come here permanently is because of their desire for solitude, and moving away from exactly what's happening here in the summer," he says.

Marble has had busier days. The population was its highest, nearly 800, in 1910, about two decades after Whitehouse Mountain was proclaimed as storing the finest marble in all the land.

The market sharply declined during the Great War, and World War II again closed operations. Natural forces caused other woes. Destroyed by fire, mudslides and snow slides, many of the town's former buildings are memorialized at the Marble Mill Site Park.

The foundations and walls are enough to constantly pique the curiosity of local history nerds, such as Max Sickels, 18. History was one reason he wanted to move to his uncle's town. The small-town feel was another.

"I've already gotten on a name-to-name basis with the dogs," he says, including Brisket, the black lab greeting guests at Slow Groovin' BBQ, Marble's only restaurant.

The Slow Groovin BBQ in Marble, Colo., Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The local restaurant is open May 1 to Oct. 31. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

It is that quaintness that residents have tried to keep while towns boomed in every other direction, riding the wave of tourism under the Elk Mountains. Marble's population picked back up in the '70s, as valley folks rose against a ski area's development.

A small campground in the heart of town seems to welcome recreation. It was recently developed amid fears of reckless dispersed camping, and there are thoughts of keeping it open in winter for backcountry skiers.

The Marble Museum is open Memorial Day weekend through the end of August and it's hours are Thursday - Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

"Marble has been discovered," Leach says. "Probably a similar story all around Colorado, all these little towns stuck back in the mountains are being discovered. That's good and bad."

Good for business. Bad for the timelessness that makes Marble Marble, that makes Crystal Mill a destination.

Deep in the forest, the wooden structure has been perched above a waterfall since 1893. On this day, one flew a drone while another, Carolyn Ansell, stood back, quietly admiring as she has for years. She used to live in Marble.

"Every time I look at this," she says, "I think how someday, it's gonna go."

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