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Documenting the change in Colorado's mountain towns

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Leadville, Colorado, at 10,1052 feet above sea level, is the highest city in the United States. This historic mining town is close to many ski resorts and is quickly being "discovered." I wanted to capture some of this town's quirky Colorado mountain town charm before it disappears. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Leadville, Colorado, at 10,1052 feet above sea level, is the highest city in the United States. This historic mining town is close to many ski resorts and is quickly being "discovered." I wanted to capture some of this town's quirky Colorado mountain town charm before it disappears.
One of the things I loved about Colorado when I moved here was the quirky Colorado mountain towns like Leadville, Colorado. There are only a handful of places like that left today.

These towns are kind of backwaters from another time, filled with charming old buildings and colorful residents. The characteristics that attract people to these places disappear over time and are replaced by sprawling homes, Starbucks, gourmet restaurants and Volvos.

It's inevitable. The minute someone "discovers" a place that's seemingly stuck in the past, it's changed forever.

Recently, we joined some family friends for a three-day skiing trip to the mountains. But instead of staying in the over-developed towns of Frisco or Dillon, we opted instead for Leadville.

At an elevation of 10,152 feet, Leadville is the highest city in the United States. It's an historic mining town that was once home to the unsinkable Molly Brown. And it has a reputation among extreme sports enthusiasts for races like the Leadville 100, a 100-mile run at high altitude that takes 24 hours to finish. 

Like so many of its sister mountain towns in Colorado, Leadville is changing. Aspen, Telluride, Breckenridge and now, it seems, even Salida, have already experienced this.

Leadville is still wonderful though. It boasts locally owned coffee shops and some great local restaurants. And even though real estate prices here are on the rise, it still has some of its original character left.

I skipped a day of skiing and I took the afternoon to wander the streets with my camera. I wanted to capture the essence of Leadville, before it disappears (and before the rest of you find it!).

The late afternoon light was wonderful. I felt a little like Eugene Atget, who worked for decades documenting Paris' old-world architecture before it disappeared in the early 20th century.

My walk reminded me of the importance of documenting a changing landscape. Recording Leadville as it is now, before it changes, was a great way to spend an afternoon.


Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.

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