NATURITA — The flashing lights bounce off the rusting water tank as the DJ’s thunderous bass resonates across the desert. A couple dozen well-spaced revelers, young and old in wigs and glitter and outrageous costumes, frolic beneath the glowing Milky Way.
A friend leans over to Natalie Binder as they absorb the scene from the back of a pickup truck and asks if she ever expected all these colorful characters would be dancing on a remote desert bluff that 60 years ago was home to one of the largest mining camps in Colorado.
“Absolutely,” says Binder, who with her architect partners, is developing 120 acres above the San Miguel River into a boutique retreat they hope will spark a long overdue renaissance in the struggling West End of Montrose County.
Since buying the property in 2018, Binder, a longtime Telluride local, has spent many weeks in the West End, where the Vanadium Corp. built a company town called Vancorum. Her grandmother was secretary to the company president. Her dad grew up in one of the cabins she is remodeling. Her mom and dad met on the property.
“I’ve spent a lot of time here alone in the last two years, and I always kept thinking about how much I want to share this place,” she says the morning after the dance party near the hulking tank that once provided water to mine workers. “I know this will become a very special space for a lot of different people. That’s what I thought last night. This is happening because this is what we manifested.”
Binder’s Camp V, with campsites on the river, luxury cabins on the hill and an eclectic emphasis on art, history, architecture and outdoor recreation, is a big deal for Naturita and its sister community Nucla. The project — one of Colorado’s first recipients of an Opportunity Zone investment — marks a definitive turn toward tourism and outdoor recreation in an area that has spent decades hoping for a revival of uranium and vanadium mining.
Camp V is the latest example of economic sparks promising to revitalize Montrose County’s West End, which joins a growing list of Colorado’s overlooked rural enclaves embracing innovative entrepreneurs who are tapping the surging outdoor recreation and tourism industries as economic drivers.
And the sparks couldn’t come at a better time. Hope for a new uranium mill in the nearby Paradox Valley has died. The promise of a resurgence from the exploding hemp industry has not materialized. The local Tri-State power plant and coal mine closed two years earlier than planned. As hopeful winds from new residents, investors and projects again fill the West End’s sails, locals are hoping this is Nucla and Naturita’s long-overdue moment to shine.