Coaldale and the vicinity

Not many people know much about central Colorado, even folks living in Colorado—yet it’s a really wonderful area.  This page has some information about the town of Coaldale (the home town of Sipapu, located in western Frémont County) and Salida, the delightful town just about 20 minutes to the west.

Coaldale proper

With its current population of 255, according to the 2010 Census, Coaldale adopted its current name in 1891, after charcoal manufacturing began in the late 1880s.  (You can still see some of the dome-shaped, red-brick kilns along U.S. 50 between Coaldale and Salida.)  Coaldale was originally called Hendricks, named for the postmaster, but became Coaldale in 1891.  When the railroad did put in a siding eventually, the railroad named the siding Pleasanton.  (The area along the Arkansas River from Howard to Texas Creek is also sometimes called Pleasant Valley.)

Although named for coal, Coaldale would later be known for its large deposit of gypsum.  The 494-acre Coaldale Gypsum Quarry was initially mined from the early 1900s until 1990.  Holcim Inc. bought the quarry in 2006, for use in its cement-making plant between Florence and Penrose.  The large deposit on a hill southwest of Coaldale is the largest single source of gypsum  in Colorado, although other deposits have been worked all the way from Wellsville to Pueblo—a clear indication that in ancient times, oceans covered the land.  In fact, gypsum runs throughout the entire development.  Cedar Canyon Ranch land was originally owned by the Ideal Cement Company, which bought it from the government in 1913 but never mined the area.  The land was sold (eventually) to the developer, Doug Kaess (now deceased; formerly of the Kaess Construction Company in Salida). 

The “heart” of Coaldale lies in the Coaldale Community Building (photos below—click on either to see a larger version), located at the junction of Country Road 6 and County Road 45.  Formerly the Coaldale School, the building was built in 1923 and operated as a school until 1956, when the district merged with Cotopaxi, the next town to the east.   Registered with the Colorado Historical Society in 2004, the old schoolhouse was lovingly renovated—including repointing bricks, a gorgeous new front door, a real furnace with actual vents through the meeting space and the halls—thanks to a grant from the History Colorado State Historical Fund and funds from Holcim, Inc., the Frémont County Commissioners, and many loyal and generous supporters.  You can read more about this historic renovation here (“Restoring Community,” by Julia Michel).  Bringing together people from Howard, Cotopaxi and beyond, this building hosts classes (e.g., yoga, mat Pilates), clubs, parties, community gatherings and fundraisers to support the building, a weekly Gardners’ Market in the summer (where local folks sell the produce they grow, breads they bake, crafts they make, etc.), and a variety of other events.


You can find interesting stories of people, places, and wildlife in our area in the monthly community newsletter, In the Valley.  (Truth in advertising—I am the author of the wildlife articles!) 


Founded in 1880, Salida began as an important railroad town for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.  However, with the pullback (or perhaps more appropriately, the pullout) of the railroad from this area, Salida’s primary business became tourism:  Skiing, hiking, hunting, and whitewater rafting generate the largest revenues.  The county seat of Chaffee County and home to approximately 5,200 people (according to the 2010 census), Salida is located about 18 miles west of Coaldale along U.S. 50.  As such, it win the honor of being the closest “big town” to Coaldale, with grocery stores (including a Walmart, however, you might feel about that), several health food stores, a store specializing in produce and goods from area farms and ranches, art galleries, a theater and event center, a lovely riverwalk, a historic downtown area (photo below), good restaurants and coffee shops, auto repair shops, a ranch store, a lumber yard (well, in Poncha Springs), a 25-bed regional medical center with a 24-hour ER, a hChristmas-Mountainot springs aquatic center, a whitewater kayak course, a ski area just a stone’s throw away, and all sorts of other establishments and services that make life in the mountains enjoyable.  During the warmer months, festivals such as the Artwalk, FiBARK (First In Boating the ARKansas) Whitewater Festival, and the weekly Farmers’ Market fill the streets.  One of my favorite happenings begins the Friday evening after Thanksgiving, when Tenderfoot Mountain is transformed into “Christmas Mountain” (right).  In addition, the area has interesting geological features (in addition to the stunning Sawatch Range and the northern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains) that I wrote about here; click on the link for “the Salida CBC” in the 3rd paragraph to jump to the description of the area.  For more information about fun things to do in the Salida area, check out

salida_downtownIn addition to the official Web site of the town, Salida has one print newspaper, The Mountain Mail, published 5 days a week.  The Salida Citizen, a volunteer project by Salida residents to improve coverage of local issues, offers news on the Internet; you can subscribe to their RSS feed or get daily or weekly e-mail from them with new stories.  Salida also is the home to Colorado Central, a delightful monthly print magazine that features articles about local interests, historical sites, the natural world, and other aspects of life in central Colorado.  (Another truth-in-advertising disclaimer—I write a bi-monthly column for this lovely magazine.  You can read my column in the December 2013 issue here.)  The Web site features 3 articles from the current month’s issue or you can browse through the archive of issues (on the lower right side of the home page) from a year ago and earlier.  Another excellent newspaper, although not limited just to central Colorado, is the bi-weekly High Country News, which features stories covering important issues of the American West.

Salida also has a surprising variety of radio stations.  KRCC (95.7 from Salida or 88.5 from Westcliffe, translators from the home station in Colorado Springs) is an NPR station broadcast from Colorado College; it features NPR news programming in the mornings, evenings, and weekends, with an eclectic mix of music during other hours.  KCME (88.1, a translator for the station in Colorado Springs) offers classic music 24 hours a day.  KSBV (93.7, also known as The River Rat) is a Salida station featuring classic rock.  KRZA (88.7) is another NPR affiliate that comes (surprisingly!) over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from Alamosa in the San Luis Valley; again, morning, evening, and weekend news shows give way to a very eclectic mix of music during the other hours.  Much to our initial amazement, we can get all of these stations at our house in Coaldale, although we make ample use of power antennas to pull them in.  These are the stations we know well and support; you can find a list of other radio stations you might be able to get here.


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