A Utopia Built on Guns

The town of Nucla, Colorado made headlines a few years ago when it passed a law requiring its citizens to own guns. But that is only skimming the surface of this strange and proud place.
Deer grazing in town.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN a town mandates that its residents own guns? That's been the law in Nucla, Colorado since 2013.

In late June, The Guardian US's Lois Beckett joined Topic contributor and photographer Cole Barash for a trip to a place with a little over 700 people and lots of opinions about what constitutes a utopia. (This was actually Barash’s second trip.) For the feature story, go here. The following is a photo essay of this strange and compelling place, with a rich history of big dreams.

Richard Craig, the man behind the gun ordinance, at home. As notorious as the law became, many in Nucla say it didn’t change life there very much. Most people in Nucla were already gun owners and the law itself is basically unenforceable.
Corner building in town with that relic of the 20th century, a phone booth. The town is very small; it doesn’t even have a stoplight.
Couple attending a spring wedding in town.
A rancher (and fellow wedding attendee) outside of his truck in Nucla.
A woman in town for the 1st Annual Nucla Roundup, featuring novice roping and cattle sorting competitions.
A scenic view. The town was founded by socialists who wanted to build a “perfectly cooperative” society.
Jose, who didn’t want to give his last name, says he moved to town about 35 years ago. This makes him a newcomer.
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Carn Craig and a friend outside of town. The town’s population has been falling in recent years.
Thomas Gabriel in his living room.
Dust in a driveway. Nucla is remote; the nearest Wal-Mart is more than two hours away. So is the nearest hospital.
Monte Naslund in his kitchen. His family has been helping to take care of the town ditch for generations.
Marie Templeton, the town historian, at home.
Brendan Daniels, with a toy gun in the driveway. He’s wearing one of his father’s sole possessions, a cowboy hat.
An 11-year-old boy moving his father’s truck.
An unusual display: the big rack at the local supermarket.
A local yard. Some ideas to revitalize Nucla include expanding the Nucla airport for commercial flights, turning the old elementary school building into a hemp manufacturing center, and mobilizing tourism to Nucla’s canyons and rivers and bike trails.
Clayton E. Penland at home in Nucla. He lives without running water or electricity; work is scarce, and he can’t afford those luxuries. Temperatures can descend to -20 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.
The irrigation system that helped create the town of Nucla. Utopians built this 18-mile-long irrigation ditch by hand. Owned and managed collectively by the Colorado Co-operative Company, founded in 1984, it continues to provide water to the town and its surrounding fields.
Nucla’s dusty roads can make a summer rain look quite ghostly.
Guns on Monte Naslund’s kitchen table.
“Little” Jody Weimer on the family’s ranch.  Born and raised here, he has worked for his father, Jody Sr., most of his life.


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