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Jonathan Thompson, arguably the most prominent Journalist in SW Colorado, recently visited my current home town, Telluride. At 8750', Telluride is most definitely a hypoxia suffering 'crazy town'.

This particular short piece, originally published in the High Country News in February of 2015, is my favorite of his. At the time of this classic Thompson was based in Silverton, Colorado, his 'crazy town'.

This is not just fun and games, in this related longer feature piece Thompson analyzes the link between altitude and suicide.


Crazy Town

Jonathan Thompson

February 16, 2015

Recent research suggests that living at high altitude can affect brain chemistry in such a way as to induce either euphoria or depression. Lack of oxygen to the brain, or hypoxia, might explain both your “Rocky Mountain High” and the Interior West’s high rate of suicide.

Witness Silverton, Colorado, population 500 or so, elevation 9,318 feet. During the long winters, when the influx of tourists slows to a trickle, snow piles up in the streets and avalanche danger sometimes closes both routes out of town, tensions run high. Residents pack town, county and school board meetings, and engage in late-night, spittle-heavy debates, arguing endlessly over whether the county or town should pay for the ambulance or ATVs should be allowed on town streets. The latest fracas, simmering for months and now at a rolling boil, might be the most heated in recent memory, seemingly drawing in every resident and then some. It’s also one of the oddest. Tired of the long-running feud between the town administrator and the longtime public works director — who wields great power, since he’s in charge of the snowplows — the town board forced the two to publicly pledge to be nice to one another. The public works director then broke the promise at a local watering hole, allegedly warning folks that “you’re either with us, or against us.” The town board launched an investigation, and both employees were ultimately fired.

That’s when the hypoxia really kicked in: The public works director’s supporters launched a campaign of nastiness, boycotting businesses owned by those who favored the firing, pelting The Silverton Standard & the Miner with vitriolic letters and trying to recall one town board member. In January, after the polarized town board failed to agree on a replacement for another member — who had left town for lower elevations and higher sanity — two infuriated residents started screaming at officials. Local law enforcement had to extricate them, and town hall was closed to the public so that those employees who hadn’t quit, been fired or gone crazy could get some work done.

“It’s easy to look at what’s been going on in Silverton and see it as an implosion,” San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad told the Durango Herald. “But divisions like this are cyclic. We go through it, time to time, and we’ll be out of it shortly.” Some hope that the Feb. 10 recall election will end the fight. The less optimistic suspect it’ll simply jumpstart the next wacky cycle. Stay tuned.


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