North to Silverton Colorado

Trip Start May 21, 2008
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Trip End May 30, 2008


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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Monday, May 26, 2008

This is one scenic road! We stopped at Molas Pass to use the "facilities" which are very modern compost toilets. Across from the facilites is a small rise with a paved walk. Don't miss it!
Once you are up on the top, in front of you is the 180 degrees knock your socks off mountain to valley to mountain view. This is Molas Pass.

We headed on a curvey road to the historic mining town of Silverton. I only nagged a few times to "stop the car" and take photos of the town and river that lies at the bottom of the mountains.

Here's a write up:
AT 9,318 feet in elevation, the Town of Silverton is completely surrounded by stunning 13,000 - 14,000 feet mountain peaks. There are more peaks of this size in Silverton than anywhere else in America. (That's a good one for a trivia game)

The once booming town of Silverton is like walking into a time-capsule. In the late 1800's , gold and silver mines were developed in the area, and Silverton was a bustling, brawling town -- with 32 gambling halls and saloons. And Blair street, a street of brothels.

Most of the early settlers came from states east of Colorado, but the middle 1800's saw large amounts of gold rushers come from European countries of Austria, Italy, Serbia, Croatia, Cornwall, Ireland, Wales, France Germany,Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. The mining companies advertised in foreign newspapers, promising jobs and the opportunity to own land.

Early day Silverton was rough, turbulent and often violent. The environment was extremely harsh, expecially the long severe winters. Mining was a very dangerous occupation with few, if any, saftey precautions on the part of the mine owners. Mining casualties were frequent...falling down an open shaft, being blown to pieces in a powder explostion or the mine itself caving in on the workers. Snow slides carried many to eternity. Saloons, alcohol, prostitution, gambling, and robbery provided many opportunities to die violently. Suicides were not uncommon, especially among the prostitutes.

The Congregational Church was dedicated in 1881, the railroad reached Silverton the next year, and the Grand Hotel later renamed the Grand Imperial, had its grand opening in 1883. Silverton's population was 3,000, and the town was becoming civilized! Fraternal lodges and various literary societies were organized. In the early 1900's the Carnegie Library, County Court House, County Jail, Town Hall, Wyman Building, Benson Block, Bausman Building, Miners Union Hall and Miners Union Hospital were built.

The worldwide 1918 flu epidemic devasted Silverton. More than 150 people died within a 3 week period in October and November of that year. Approximately 10% of the population. In 1921 prices for metal fell and the population dwindled. However, some of the mines continued operating until the last large mine closed in 1991.

Teh Victorian charm of the old homes, stores, hotels, restaurants and miners cabin are second tonone. Silverton is a town that has its own color and character, and "colorful characters."

Most of the buildings and the mining-laden hillsides reflect a simpler day as does the Silverton lifestyle.

The year round population of 500 is supported by the 250,000 visitors who come here for the peace and tranquility each year. Most are day passengers that arrive on the Durango Silverton Railroad at 11:45am, bringing with them a temporary "boom town" atmosphere as they crowd the wooden sidewalks and dirt streets. Rushing to shop in the specialty stores or dine in the historic restaurants before they depart the train station at 2:45 pm.

Hollywood discovered Silverton and several movies were shot on location, including Ticket to Tomahawk, Great Day in the Morning, Run for Cover, Night Passage, Across the Wide Missouri and Maverick Queen.

Even now, the town is isolated by its location surrounded by the high San Juan Mountains, including Storm Peak, with the highest elevation of 13,487 feet. The town itself is over 9,000 feet above sea level. The winters are exceedingly long in San Juan Count and agriculture in nonexistent because of the very short growing season. Even during "hippie years," marijuanna had to be importe in.

Silverton is also the starting point for day trips into the old mining areas, accessible only by four wheel drive vehicles..AND WE HAVE OUR FOUR WHEELER MINE TOUR BOOKED!!


First stop is at an actual mine that is still in operation. Some of the richest ore veins were in this valley. Across the road is an old mine bucket hanging from the wires. Then we're headed deeper in to the mining area. We stop at the remains of Howardsville. This town had it's own brewery. The Gneral Store is still standing, but not open for business. Howardsville was named after George W. Howard. He staked the first mining claim in 1872 and built the first cabin in 1873. This area is packed with snow in winter. So where did George sleep with all that snow?

We were given this hand out on the tour:

Was there ever a tougher more stouthearted worker than the 19th century miner?
He spent up to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week underground. He drilled holes into solid rock, filled them with explosives, blasted teh stone into rubble, and hefted the pieces into ore cars.

His tools evolved over time. Mechanical drills replaced teh hammer and hand steel. Electric lamps supplanted candles and carbide lamps. Ariel trams took over for some mule-drawn wangons.

But the miseries and perils of the job - the tigh, dimly lit spaces, the dust that suffused his lungs, and in many cases eventually killed him, the ever present treat of a cave-in remained constant.

He earned better wages in the mines which paid $3 to $ a day than he probably could have elsewhere.

But he laid his life on the line every minute of his working day.

Now we're headed east on State Route 110. Deeper in the mining areas.

We passed the remains of the Mayflower Mill. It's only open in the summer. Then to Eureka, which is Greek for 'I found it." Amazing, but I never knew that.

Eureka was a real boom town at the turn of the century. The Sunnyside Mill dominated the landscape till it closed in the 1940's.Sunnyside was one of the largest producers of gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc in Colorado. OK, my great grandfather owned a coal mine in Phillipsburg, PA. It was a large operation. He hired his former countrymen the Irish, Scottish and Chineese. He died in his mine during a cave in. This was as close as I got to mining history. I thought you mined coal, or gold, or silver. Never thought that you could find all these metals in one place.

The Sunnyside and Gold King mines, continue to be worked off and on.

You can still see the foundation of the once great Sunnyside Mine. And our guide tells us that it may be opening again. With the high price of precious metals, many closed mines have been sold to new owners and new technology may make these mines prospe again.

We're back on the road and climbing. Like most of Colorado, guardrails just don't happen here. It's steep drop offs and narrow roads.

There just aren't enough adjectives to describe the scenery. Spectacular and awesome quickly become overused.

Add mountains and unending views with pieces of mining relics that seem to have been left along the road or in the fields, and you have a Kodak moment around every bend.

Did I mention the 16 foot snow banks that we are riding beside? They reccomend using only 4 wheel drives on this road year round. I'm quickly beginning to understand why.

We're now at Animas Forks. This is truly a ghost town! There is even a house with a bay window! We're jumping out of the and running thru the snow, which at times is over 2 feet deep, to the "town."

Our guide tells us Animas Forks was laid out in 1877. Prior to that date, miners lived in tents whild working their claims and found employment in the 2 smeltering works near town. Several high producing mines were being worked int he area, Iron Cap, the Black Cross, Eclipse, Little Roy, Red Cloud, Big Giant, Columbus, the Gold Prince, Little Arthur, Hepburn, and Mountain Queen. Two miles below town wer the Lilly and Golden Eagle Lode mines.

By 1876, Animas Forks contained a general store, hotel, saloon, post office and 30 cabins. The population grew to about 450 people by 1883. A newspape was published from 1882 to 1886.

Life wasn't easy here, however, Animas Forks has an additional "handicap." The winter snwo depth often exceeds 20 feet, and snow slides were a frequent occurance.

The residents built a community, not a temporary boom town. The houses aren't crude log construction. They have shingled roofs, gables and bay windows.

Just to the south end of town are the reamins of the the jail. It was constructed of 2x6's laid flat. The jailer's office is at the front with two cells directly behind.

Animas Forks began to decline in the 1890's and by the mid 1920's was all but deserted, except for a few ghosts, who we are told still linger here.

The snow hasn't stopped us from running from building to building. Then we get the "time to go" yell, and we're back on the twisty turney road headed down Cinnamon Pass.

This was such an informative tour, and a fun one that I'd do it again.

We had time to grab a quick lunch at the hotel before our private guide David takes us on another tour. We told him to "pick-it" we just want some scenery and mabye a little history. He says lets "try" to get to Ophir Pass. Sounds like a plan, so we jump in the red jeep and we're off.

David says the scenery from Ophir Pass will make us happy. The road starts 4 1/2 miles out of Silverton and was built by Otto Mears in 1881 as a wagon road between the mines of Ophir, Silverton and Tuelluride. He says the top of the Pass has an uneding view that never fails to impress. Our only slight problem is taht the snow plows are still working on the road, and may not have it open to the pass, He grins and says "or even half way up to the pass, but getting there is going to be the fun part of the trip."

I ask "How wide is this dirt road?" The response is "During mid to late summer, it's usually almost two car widths size. In the spring and early summer, the road is never fully open." Is there a place to turn around on the pass is my question to him. He just laughs and says " I hope so. I've had to back down the road a few times in the summer and it's really tight. With steep drop offs and the narrow lane and rocks, it's a little difficult. The snow just makes it a little more adventurous.

Well, there's no turning around now so..ON TO THE TOP!

All of the mountains in the higher elevation are snow covered. Lots of evidence of avalanches, which I'm hoping we do not participate in. Some mountain sides have lost huge sections of trees due to the snow.

There are also massive rock slides. Yep, a typical Sunday drive in the country.

David's driving skills got us this far, and at times, I was doubting that I would ever see elevation under 2,000 feet again, without being in a coffin.

But, I'm beginning to believe we will see the Telluride overview!

The plows start at Telluride and Silverton. Because there aren't many markers on the road, the crew works from memory. Scary!!

Well, we got as far as the Opir pass sign. I just hate it when you can see it, but you just can't get there! But the ride up was SO worth it.

David says he can't give us the pass, but he'll take us to a waterfall. So back down the mountain we go. Well, he delivered on his promise of the waterfall, but failed to mention that there isn't a trail. Fine with us!! We're traping thru snow, scrambling up a steep rocky incline, which is also packed in places with snow, and holding onto branches to reach the top.

Then, trying not to loose our footing going down. Of course, he had a close up view from some rocks over the hillside which would take a little coordination getting down to..and back up. Was it worth it? HECK YEAH! The color of the snow melt off water was just unbelievable.

Back in town we stopped in the Silveron Brewery. I love old trucks, and The Silverton Brewery Truck photo was added to my collection. Inside the Brewery is a wicker Harley..as in chopper.

We walked around town, finding not much open and no tourists. The town goes back into its "ghost town' attitude after the train has left for the day. I loved the fact that we were one of the few walking the streets of this historic town.

The Grand Imperial Hotel is a true gem. Room 210 "claimed" me. Poster bed, lots of almost floor to ceiling windows with fresh air coming thru them, and a feeling of "ahhhh" for the tired feet and soul. Wish we could have stayed here for 3 nights. But next is on to the Million Dollar Highway and Ouray (which was not originally on our itinerary...but when we travel.. things have a habit of NOT following the itinerary. And it's usually for the better.
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