Naturita—A Community on the River
Founded in 1881, Naturita was a close-knit
ranching community on the Saqn Miguel
River, with a one-room school house, post
office, and church gatherings and socials.
Families trailed herds “on the hoof” to railheads at
Placerville and Montrose for shipment to larger
markets. This quiet lifestyle prevailed until the
1900s when the discovery of copper and camolite
in the Paradox Valley and near Uravan triggered
several mineral booms. At a natural crossroads,
Naturita became a supply center for freighters
transporting supplies and ore between Placerville
and the mines. Prospectors and corporations
made the real money in mining, but some
residents also profited with supply and service
businesses. When the booms busted, miners
disappeared and locals returned to ranching—
until the dawn of the Atomic Age in the 1950s.
The Dawn of the Atomic Age
World Warr II heralded great changes for Naturita. In 1939 a new mill opened a few miles
away at Vancoram, to supply the U.S. Government with vanadium, a steel-hardening
alloy. Secretly, the mill also processed uranium, used to fabricate nuclear bombs. Wartime
needs kept the mill busy, but post-war demands for uranium skyrocketed when the
Atomic Energy Commission unleashed a uranium frenzy on the Colorado Plateau in
1947. Cold War threats and the promise of nuclear energy spurred uranium stockpiling,
and optimistic reports practically guranteed that anyone, anywhere, could stumble on a
fortune. Eager miners and millers flooded Naturita, and soon mining dominated the town.
The mill closed in 1958 due to falling uranium prices, but most employees found work
nearby. Residents rode the industry’s highs and lows until 1983, when Uravan closed
and Naturita had to diversify—to tourism and small business—to survive.
Naturita post office, early 1880s
In 1914 this freighting outfit prepared to
transport mill machinery from Placerville
to the mininng districts.