Peaks of Identity in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains



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The glaciated ranges of southwestern Colorado constituting the San Juan Mountains are culturally significant to residents and visitors. As certain mountains are imbued with meaning, they become "peaks of identity," tangible and towering symbolic landscapes representing a distinctive set of community and cultural ideals. This paper explores the symbols and themes of San Juan peaks of identity, with a focus on the mountain amenity town of Lake City and nearby Uncompahgre Peak. Uncompahgre's icon dominates mountain representations in Lake City and instantly identifies the community; its symbolism embodies aesthetics of form and elevation and the sanctity of hallowed ground. Mountain symbolism in the San Juans is mainly projected through land use and the display of icons and names on signs and government seals. Although the San Juans are sacred to the Utes and Navajos and represent a rich mining heritage, they also symbolize idealized natural scenery, landmarks of home, recreation opportunities, and spiritual renewal. Many San Juan communities identify with mountains in a generic sense, but this article focuses on the traits, variability, and depth of meaning of the mountains that are landscape signatures of community identity.



Cultural geography, Environmental geography, Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Mountain symbolism