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Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory – Ghost Town : Gothic, Colorado

Laboratory in a Colorado Ghost Town

Gothic, Colorado was a boomtown in the 1880s. The search for fortunes in silver is what brought people to this town just down the road from what today is Crested Butte. But 10 years of mining proved Gothic was not home to the famed “mother lode.” Things died down. In fact, the town died out creating a true Old West ghost town.

During the 50 Campfires Field Trip: Heart of the Rockies, the team took the opportunity to explore Gothic at 12,631 feet elevation. What they discovered, and what any visitors will discover today, is anything but a ghost town. Today, Gothic is home to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL).

While the silver played out, the unique and diverse ecosystem around Gothic most certainly did not. In 1919 a visiting natural scientist, Dr. John Johnson, came to Gothic and immediately recognized the area’s potential for research and started bringing students there to study. The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory was officially founded in 1928, and still includes several of the boomtown buildings from the late 1800s.

On arriving in Gothic, one of the first things you will notice is the silence. In the modern world, you often have to go out of your way to escape the hum of tires on a nearby highway. Not up in Gothic. It was the most sublime silence the 50 Campfires team experienced the entire time they traveled through the Rocky Mountains. It is in fact so quiet you feel a certain reverence when you step out of your car. It’s a calm, beautiful place, and it’s obvious why people come from all over the world to study there.

So what actually happens at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory?

Well, since 1928 more than 9,000 people have conducted research in the tiny town of Gothic. They study things like pollination, high-altitude ecosystems, wildflowers, invasive plants, and the unique geological features that surround Gothic and Crested Butte.

One of the most exciting things happening there is the youth program. Among the many missions of the RMBL, one of them is to get kids excited about the sciences. The programs are very hands-on and quite popular, and they work with kids as young as preschool age. Those who aren’t interested in a full summer camp still have many options to learn.

One hour Gothic town site tours are available for people who want to learn more about the RMBL and Gothic’s history. Also, if you’re planning to spend the day there, you’re welcome to eat at the dining hall for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Just make sure you call ahead so they can adjust the quantities accordingly.

There are special events held at the RMBL throughout the summer including things like bird counts, butterfly census, wildflower festival, geology tours, and an historic preservation dinner in which the general public are invited to participate. Just check the RMBL website for the schedule and details.

If you find yourself hanging out in Crested Butte, and you have an interest in the sciences, consider driving 8 miles up the road to Gothic to visit the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. It’s worth the trip.

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