For the past four decades, billy barr (he asks that his name be spelled in lower case) has been living all by his lonesome in Gothic, Colorado, a ghost town deserted in the 1920s. He fills his day by recording data; daily snowfall, temperatures, snow melt, animal sightings, and so on. He’s just done it for 40 years to stay busy, but it turns out his data might help scientists better understand climate change which has earned him an awesome name – The Snow Guardian.
“The trend I see is that we’re getting permanent snow pack later, and we get to bare ground sooner,” barr says. “We’ll have years where there was a lot of snow on the ground, and then we lose snow sooner than years that had a lot less snow just because it’s a lot warmer now.”
billy bar first came to Gothic in 1972 as a Rutgers University environmental science student doing water chemistry research. He liked the quiet so after completing his degree he became a permanent resident of the Colorado ghost town.
barr began the winter of 1974 camping in a tent, not ideal in a place where snow pack reaches twenty-five feet a year. The owner of an abandoned mining shack was kind enough to let billy move in, to keep him from freezing to death. It became his home for eight years, and the place where he started his impressive database on snow.
When his original shack burned down eight years after he moved in, he just found another place to stay and continued his amateur research. He only uses measuring devices of his own invention, including a marked pole to measure the depth of snow, and a snowboard to measure daily snowfall. A hanging butcher’s scale allows him to weigh the snow to determine its density. barr also notes the first arrival of animals in the spring, and when the ground reappears after a snowmelt.
barr goes weeks at a time without seeing another human being, the only way to reach the ghost town is by ski. He travels the four miles to Crested Butte about two times a month for provisions, but he’s not a big fan of social interaction, so he hurries back to his cabin once restocked.
“Everyone has this idea, sitting in a comfortable chair in your cabin, reading a book, with the snow falling softly outside,” he says. “The truth is, it’s boring as shit. But I like it.”