To get to Colorado's North Fork Valley, you drive along the area's namesake, the North Fork of the Gunnison River. Rounding a corner northeast of Paonia, past stands of aspen and cliff bands, suddenly you're driving through a coal mine, complete with two-story high piles of black coal and conveyor belts that stretch over the road. There's two more mines down the river and past that a gorgeous green valley filled with orchards and ranches.
Colorado doesn't have the same strong associations with coal mining as Wyoming or West Virginia, but the industry has formed the bedrock of many small town Western Slope economies. Like many other coal regions, production here is down and the area is changing.