Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘mine tour’

Parked along the switchbacks from Slumgullion Pass

Parked along the switchbacks from Slumgullion Pass

I came to Lake City from the south along Highway 149, driving from Creede along the headwaters of the Rio Grande River over the Continental Divide at Spring Creek Pass (10,901 feet). After staying on the high plateau, the road climbs again to Slumgullion Pass at 11,361 feet. It then descends toward Lake City, taking a series of dramatic switchbacks. At one hairpin turn, there is a nice overlook of Lake San Cristobal and Lake City. I stopped to look at the interpretive signs and take a few photos.

The San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado

The San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado

I parked along the old main street of town and found a nice old-fashioned soda fountain, the San Juan Soda Company, in a store next to the historic Miners and Merchants Bank. I had a tasty mint chocolate chip shake, which really hit the spot. I asked for directions and drove northeast out of town up Henson Canyon about two miles in a slight drizzling rain for the Hard Tack Mine.

Entrance to the Hard Tack Mine near Lake City, Colorado

Entrance to the Hard Tack Mine near Lake City, Colorado

As I always do, I asked the tour guide if I could videotape the tour, and he told me to check with the owner, who was in the main office next to the mine entrance. She was afraid that I would show their tour to “the competition” and refused to let me videotape it, although she said that photographs were allowed. I tried to assure her that my reporting should help business, but she wasn’t convinced. At least this would give me a chance to take more photographs. As things turned out, I’m glad I didn’t tape the tour. The guide was fairly new, having only done this about two months. He was from out of state, and was unable to answer questions about the types of minerals found here or how mining began around Lake City (which you would think would be standard background any guide would know). Hopefully he’s done more homework since.

Mucking Machine Diagram in the Hard Tack Mine

Mucking Machine Diagram in the Hard Tack Mine

The tour itself was disappointing compared with other tours I’ve taken on my trip through Colorado. To begin with, the Hard Tack Mine wasn’t a mine at all; it was originally blasted as an adit to reach other mines further up the mountain but was abandoned after reaching only 350 feet. No ore was ever struck. The current owners came in, cleaned out the old works, blasted a few way stations to hold exhibits, brought equipment in from other places, and called it a “mine tour.” Now, if I had never been on any other mine tours (such as the one in Creede just this morning, which was far superior) then I might have learned some interesting things about hard rock mining. But the other tours at least had tour guides who had been miners and knew their stuff, and their displays were better designed and more detailed. And their mannequins were less cheesy.

Jack leg drill display in the Hard Tack Mine

Jack leg drill display in the Hard Tack Mine

There were a few good things about this tour. The displays had some illustrated signs that did a good job explaining how the drills and other equipment worked. The signs were on paper inside plastic sleeves and were hard to photograph because they didn’t lie flat, but I did the best I could. There was also a good mineral exhibit and some photographs of the mining in the area. But the tour didn’t last very long nor was it very informative. There is a museum in town that no doubt gives more details about the history of the area, but my time was short – I wanted to get to Victor before nightfall. I’ve had to do some further research on my own.

Lake City Colorado from Highway 149

Lake City Colorado from Highway 149

Lake City, Colorado is the county seat of Hinsdale County and the only incorporated town in the county, which is the most sparsely populated county in Colorado. This should tell you something about how remote the town is from just about anywhere else; although it is not very far as the eagle flies from Lake City to Ouray or Silverton, you need a good four-wheel drive vehicle to make it over Engineer or Cinnamon Pass. This silver camp is located on the west slope of the continental divide along Colorado Highway 149, northwest of Creede and southwest of Gunnison.

Lake City in 1881

Lake City in 1881

The same caldera eruptions that brought veins of silver, gold, lead, zinc, and copper to the San Juan Mountains also placed veins in this area, cut into by glaciers to form the rugged peaks and ridges of the San Juans. About 800 years ago, a large earthflow filled the canyon and damned off the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, creating Lake San Cristobal, the second largest natural lake in Colorado. Lake City is located in a dell about three miles below this natural dam. The slide itself is called the Slumgullion Slide, because its brownish-orange color studded with boulders reminded the early miners of slumgullion stew, a beef stew with onions, carrots, and potatoes.

Lake San Cristobal above Lake City, Colorado

Lake San Cristobal above Lake City, Colorado

This area was home to various Ute tribes, especially the Tabeguache Tribe led by Chief Ouray. They originally ranged from the San Luis Valley through the San Juans. But their range was reduced through several treaties, ending with the Brunot Treaty of 1873, which moved the Utes to the Uintah-Ouray Reservation in Eastern Utah.

Lake City winter

Lake City winter

Even before the treaty was ratified, prospectors were heading into the San Juans, pressing south along Lake Fork to the area around Lake San Cristobal. One party of six men, led by Alferd Packer, got caught in deep snows as they tried to hike to the Los Pinos Indian Agency near Saguache. They ran out of food and even ate their shoe leather to try to stay alive. Only Packer made it to the station.

Alferd Packer. You would not want to hire this man as a tour guide . . .

Alferd Packer. You would not want to hire this man as a tour guide . . .

Later that year, the bodies of the other five men were found dead at the base of Slumgullion Pass and showed signs of foul play and cannibalism. Packer had seemed well enough fed, and was spending money from several different wallets. He was arrested and charged with murder, escaped, was captured seven years later and convicted of murder in the Hinsdale County Courthouse. He was retried in Gunnison and found guilty again, then sentenced to 40 years. He was later pardoned by the Governor of Colorado. He always claimed he had killed one of the men in self-defense, and that another man, the oldest of their party, had died of natural causes and was probably eaten by the others.

The Golden Fleece mines above the Slumgullion Slide.

The Golden Fleece mines above the Slumgullion Slide.

Other prospectors discovered claims, which were staked out and filed just as soon as the treaty was complete. The first big strike was the Golden Fleece claim discovered by Enos Hotchkiss (who also built the first cabin in the area of what is now Lake City). He and Henry Finley and D. P. Church were building a toll road between Silverton and Saguache in 1874 when he located rich gold ore by the lake. By 1875, Lake City was incorporated as a town, and became the county seat. Within a few years over 500 structures had been built and mining had extended all the way into the valleys and passes above Lake San Cristobal. The town itself became an important jumping off, resupply, and smelting point.

Illustrated map of Lake City, Colorado

Illustrated map of Lake City, Colorado

In 1889 the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad built a narrow gauge line in from the north and the ores could now be transported much more cheaply. Otto Mears built toll roads over the passes from Silverton and Ouray to Lake City and charged $2.25 per passenger for the daily stagecoach runs. It would take two days to make the bone-jarring ride, and the stages would stop over at Rose’s Cabin, originally built in 1874 by Corydon Rose as a one-story log cabin. It eventually grew into a saloon and hotel, stable, store, post office, and cultural center for the mining claims in the area.

Downtown Lake City, Colorado

Downtown Lake City, Colorado

Lake City reached its peak population of about 6000 around 1900, but the writing was already on the wall. The Silver Panic of 1893 cut the price of silver so much that it doomed much of the mining in the San Juan Mountains and elsewhere in Colorado and throughout the West. Only those mines that contained enough gold and other ores to ride out the downturn were able to survive. Now maybe 500 people live there year-round.

Soda fountain in Lake City, Colorado

Soda fountain in Lake City, Colorado

The last train out of Lake City left on May 25, 1933. After the railway was abandoned, Mike Burke, owner of the Ute-Ulay Mine, had a 1928 Pierce Arrow automobile remodeled with train wheels so it could run on the tracks. It was called the Galloping Goose because of its tendency to weave back and forth on the rails.

Silver ore from the Ute-Ulay Mine near Lake City, Colorado

Silver ore from the Ute-Ulay Mine near Lake City, Colorado

The Ute-Ulay (or Ule) Mine is one of the more famous in the area, with over $10 million worth of silver and lead extracted. Its mill was used as late as 1983, but now the buildings, mill site, boarding house, tram line, etc. are decaying and in danger of collapsing under heavy winter snows. The current owners, LKA International, have donated the land to Hinsdale County and options are being looked at to renovate the structures and remediate the tailings pile and pit near the mill.

Miners at the Black Creek Mine near Lake City, Colorado.

Miners at the Black Creek Mine near Lake City, Colorado.

The county invited in the nonprofit Colorado Art Ranch to put together the Hardrock Revision Team, a group of seven artists to find creative ways to utilize the property while maintaining its historic appeal. Some ideas include turning the over 100 miles of tunnels into a large Aeolian harp, converting the water tank into a camera obscura, covering the roofs of the buildings with protective tarps painted with mining scenes, and turning the tailings pit into an ice skating rink once it has been remediated. This is not a bunch of outsiders coming in to tell the community what to do – it was initiated by Lake City citizens. It will be interesting to see what happens, and perhaps I’ll have to stop when I come this way again. Here is a link to the article I found on this project: http://www.hcn.org/issues/43.20/can-an-old-mine-become-a-work-of-art/article_view?b_start:int=0. I just wish similar efforts could happen in Utah before the state shuts all our mining history down or all the old structures collapse into oblivion.

Mining structures in the Lake City area

Mining structures in the Lake City area

As I left the Hardtack Mine, I drove north out of Lake City on Highway 149 and left the San Juan Mountains behind. North of Lake City, large basalt flows continue all the way to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I joined U.S. 50 nine miles west of Gunnison and stopped to gas up. Now I was on a familiar road – I’ve traveled most of the length of U. S. 50 at one time or another. I’ve been on this section with my children 10 years ago when I was last in the San Juans.

Captain John W. Gunnison, for whom many towns and places are named in Colorado and Utah. His 1853 survey expedition was attacked by a Pahvant war party in Oct., 1853 west of Deseret, Utah.

Captain John W. Gunnison, for whom many towns and places are named in Colorado and Utah. His 1853 survey expedition was attacked by a Pahvant war party in Oct., 1853 west of Deseret, Utah.

Captain John William Gunnison left his name all over Colorado and into central and western Utah, but not in Nevada. He never made it that far. As a Captain of the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, he was commissioned in 1853 to survey a route for the transcontinental railroad between the 38th and 39th parallels. U.S. 50 and parts of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad follow the route his team surveyed. They discovered the gorge of black basalt and the river that bears his name. Once they reached Utah, they surveyed along the Sevier River near the site of Gunnison, Utah and passed through Leamington Canyon into the Pahvant Valley. Fearing the approach of winter, he sped up the work by splitting his team into two groups. His half of the party surveyed a large meander in the Sevier River where the Gunnison Bend Reservoir is now located. Several miles further down the river, west of what is now Deseret (my hometown), they were attacked by Pahvant Utes on the warpath. Of eleven men in the group, only three survived. Gunnison was killed. I travelled east on U. S. 50, thinking about how Deseret would be different if Gunnison had finished his survey and the transcontinental railroad had followed that route instead of the more northern route it took.

Hidden Treasure Mine near Lake City, Colorado

Hidden Treasure Mine near Lake City, Colorado

I became so sleepy that I had to pull over and take a nap for an hour, then press on. Clouds gathered as I drove up into the Sawatch Range and it began to drizzle. I had intended to take the tramway to the top of Monarch Pass, but I was behind schedule and it wouldn’t have been much of a view in the rain, so I pressed on. I drove into Buena Vista and ate supper at a burger place, then tried to get the phone number for the KOA campground outside of Victor that I was going to stay at. It was getting dark and I wanted to let them know I was going to be late coming in. My wife looked up the number for me (somehow I had forgotten to write it down with all my other contact information when planning this trip) as I drove east on U.S. 24. I had to double back to find a spot with cell tower reception in order to get the number, but was not able to get through to the campground. They must have already closed the office.

The Road to Gunnison

The Road to Gunnison

By now it was completely dark, so once again I travelled this highway in the night, the last time being in 2010 when we drove out to Denver, stopping in Cripple Creek. Now I was returning to complete the visit I made then. At least I had driven this route once in the daytime, back in September, 2009 on my way back from Philadelphia, and had good photos of the scenery.

My route from Lake City to Victor, Colorado on July 14, 2012.

My route from Lake City to Victor, Colorado on July 14, 2012.

I was getting very tired by the time I got to Divide and turned south. I took the turn toward Victor, but somehow missed the KOA in the dark and wound up driving all the way into town. I turned around and headed back. I almost missed the sign again. The KOA is located just south of the turnoff to Victor, and I arrived about 11:00. The manager had left a map for me in the entranceway to the office with my site circled, a tent site on the outer edge of the camp. It took a couple of drives around the camp before I found the right trail leading off to the tent sites. Mine was Site 1, nestled back in the aspens with good privacy. I was too tired to make camp, so I just rearranged my gear, setting stuff outside like the tent that I knew bears wouldn’t get in to, and made a fairly good bed in the back of my minivan.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

red mountain reflection

The Red Mountains near Ouray, Colorado.

My original plans for this fifth day in Colorado’s mining towns was to drive north on Highway 550 to Montrose, then east on U. S. 50 and south on Highway 149 to Lake City and eventually Creede. But having to detour two days ago to Farmington, New Mexico to pick up a used rim for my minivan made it necessary to drive through Silverton without stopping. I did some quick calculating and found an alternate route that would allow me to hit all three places (but it would mean missing Alamosa and Great Sand Dunes National Park and having a very long day tomorrow). Since my trip is mostly about the history of mining in Colorado, I chose to take the alternate route. Alamosa will have to wait for another trip.

I packed up and ate some doughnuts and other supplies I had that were still good. The ice in my coolers had long since melted and things were beginning to go bad. I videotaped some panoramic shots along Ouray’s main street and talked for a few minutes with a Native American wearing a veteran’s hat, whom I had seen around town. He had been to Provo and enjoyed visiting the national parks in Utah.

Mining at Red Mountain 2

Mining ruins near Red Mountain #2, near Ouray, Colorado.

I drove out of town south on Highway 550, stopping to take photos of the Red Mountain peaks reflected in a small lake, as well as some mine structures I’d missed on my way in two days ago. Once over the top of the pass, I pressed on through Silverton, talking a gravel road out of town to the northeast toward Engineer Pass and Lake City, then southeast through a narrow river valley (Cunningham Gulch) to the Old Hundred Mine at the base of Galena Mountain. I arrived just at 10:00 in time to take the first tour.

Old Hundred mine location

Location of the Old Hundred Mine on Google Earth.

The Old Hundred Mine

This mine was named after the 100th Psalm, where it says: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.” No doubt the prospectors who found this deposit made a very joyful noise! Galena Mountain was laced with veins of rich silver-lead-gold ore, and the Niegold brothers (Reinhard, Gustave, and Otto) staked claims on some of the richer veins in 1872. About 300 feet from the top of the mountain, they located the best vein of all at what came to be called the Number Seven Level. Other veins were located further down. The mountain was so steep that mining the higher levels was very difficult – supplies and equipment had to be lowered from the top of the mountain and ore removed on ropes to the bottom level. A small town grew up at the bottom with a hotel, a saloon, a post office, and cabins for the miners. It was called Niegoldstown. Well-educated and classically trained, the Neigold brothers would entertain the miners during the long winter months with music, operas, and plays.

Change room of Old 100

In the change room of the Old Hundred Mine.

In 1904 additional investment built a trail that winds its way around and up to the Number Seven Level, where a boardinghouse with bunks and a tram station were built perched on the side of the cliff and anchored by cables to the cliff face. A tram station was also built at the bottom of the mountain, and massive foundations poured for a stamp mill to process ore. A long adit was blasted into the mountain just above the mill level with hopes of reaching deeper veins inside the mountain.

Entering the Old Hundred Mine

Entering the Old Hundred Mine on an electric tram.

The boarding house still stands on the side of the mountain. Damaged by deep snows in the winter of 1983-84, the roof has been repaired and the boardinghouse and tram station stabilized by some very brave carpenters and helicopter pilots.

Inside the old hundred mine

Inside the Old Hundred Mine; near Silverton, CO.

The bunkhouse was built to house 40 miners and a cook. Miners would stay there for two weeks at a time, with two shifts rotating through the bunks. When they got their pay after two weeks, they would either take a slow mule down the steep trail (just wide enough for two mules to pass each other and much narrower than that now) or ride the tram buckets down. In Silverton, they would spend their money on gambling, whiskey, and women and head back to the mine after the weekend dead broke. Some miners had better sense, saving up money to send for their families in Cornwall or Ireland or elsewhere.

Charges on the face

Charges set to blast the face at the Old Hundred Mine.

Dynamite in Old Hundred Mine

Dynamite boxes at the Old Hundred Mine

With the improvements made, mining continued in earnest. Over 16,000 ounces of gold was removed from the mountain by 1908, but then the veins dried up. The panic of 1907 also dried up the money for further investment, and the property defaulted back to the Neigold brothers. Eventually the mine was lost to back taxes, and the last of the brothers died in 1927.

Old Hundred mucker

A working mucker inside the Old Hundred Mine.

Other owners worked the mine sporadically until 1967, when the Dixilyn Corporation brought new investment. The Mill Level Tunnel was continued over 5000 feet into the mountain and other levels were also extended and connected. A modern mill was built with better techniques for processing the low-grade ore, but the mine remained unprofitable. By 1973 it was finally realized that the deeper veins just weren’t there. The buildings and mill were torn down and sold for scrap. To find out more about the history of the Old Hundred Mine, go to: http://www.minetour.com/history.php.

For our tour, we donned hard hats and slickers, then boarded an electric tram and travelled deeply into the Mill Level adit. There is something a bit spooky and exciting about zipping along a railroad line underground in an open car. Since this mine only closed in the 1970s, they have kept some equipment inside in working order. Our guide demonstrated a working drill and even a pneumatic mucker, which are not usually available. Lots of old muckers are found with the rust painted over as standing displays outside of the mines (including some at this mine), but this is one of the only times I’ve seen one actually working.

No 7 level painting

Painting of the No. 7 Level at the Old Hundred Mine.

No 7 level

Number 7 Level above the Old Hundred Mine.

The tour was truly enjoyable, and I would recommend it as one of the best in Colorado, along with the Mollie Kathleen Mine tour in Cripple Creek. Our guide was knowledgeable and he gave us a good explanation of the technologies and history of the mine. Running my HD camcorder to record all that the tour guide said meant I couldn’t take many photos during the tour itself and some were taken rather hastily and turned out blurry in the darkness. After the tour I took photos around the mine entrance and of the boardinghouse high above us on the cliff. I also bought a used hard hat in the gift shop to add to my collection.

Hardrock holidays

Poster for the annual Hardrock Holidays celebration in Silverton, CO.

Read Full Post »

sign for bachelor mine

Sign for the Bachelor-Syracuse Mine in Ouray, Colorado.

Two posts ago I outlined my jeep tour up into the San Juan Mountains of Colorado around Ouray to visit Yankee Boy Basin and the Camp Bird Mine. Now, let’s move on to what I did during the afternoon on Day 4 (Thursday, July 12, 2012) of my journey through Colorado’s mining history.

The Bachelor-Syracuse Mine

Bachelor mine tour

Touring through the Syracuse adit.

I returned to my room after the jeep tour to recharge my electronics and to rest my spine. I then found a fun hamburger joint in town on Main Street for lunch, and drove north about a mile to the turnoff to Country Road 14 to Gold Hill and the Bachelor-Syracuse mine. This was the first actual mine tour on my trip.

change room at the bachelor mine

Change room at the Bachelor-Syracuse mine.

During the main silver rush in Ouray (1876 to 1893) most of the silver mines were located up Box Canyon, up Canyon Creek in Yankee Boy and Imogene Basins, and around Ironton and Gastun to the north of Ouray. One other area was north of Ouray around what became known as Gold Hill. There was enough gold at the site to survive the Silver Panic of 1893. The Bachelor mine was claimed in the early 1890s by three bachelors, C.A. Armstrong, Frank Sanders, and George R. Hurlburt. Seeing as how none of them were attached, they settled on the name Bachelor Mine. It was a high producer and eventually bought out other claims in the area. The main shaft drilled downward from the top of the hill and eventually reached over 2000 feet into the mountain. As the shaft got deeper, ground water began to flood the mine and it became increasingly expensive to haul every ore bucket up out of the mine through the shafts to the top of the hill. A drainage adit was drilled from the east, which allowed the mine to go even deeper. In the 1920s, another adit was needed to come in from the west into the bottom of the mountain to drain deeper water and allow the ore to be removed more easily. It was hoped that the adit would pay for itself by encountering new ore bodies along the way, and it was named the Syracuse Tunnel since the money to build it was raised mostly in Syracuse, New York.

portal of syracuse adit

Portal of the Syracuse adit and entrance to the Bachelor Mine.

Today, the mine tour goes in through that adit. The electric tram that used to carry in miners and then tourists has been shut down, so that we had to walk in about 1500 feet after donning hard hats. When the tram was running, the tour went in 3500 feet, but this deeper tour is no longer allowed for safety reasons. It had been a nice, warm day in Ouray with a few rain sprinkles, but it felt good to walk into the cool mine with temperatures in the 50s. It was fairly damp inside, with water dripping from the ceiling in places. Even now, a steady stream of water drains out of the mine in a ditch to the right of the tracks.

They showed us how the pneumatic drills were used to hammer out a series of holes in the face following a pattern of concentric circles. The guide actually turned on the drill for a few seconds, which was very loud in such a confined space. In addition to getting rocked up, old time miners often went deaf as there was no hearing protection used.

Mucker at the bachelor mine

Mucker at the Bachelor-Syracuse mine

Since I was recording the tour with my HD videocamera, it was difficult to take still photos at the same time. I will eventually capture still frames from the video and add to this post, but for now you’ll have to make do with photos from the outside. I found that the headlamp I had purchased to provide more light for my camera worked fairly well. Between trying to point my head in the right direction to provide light for my camera and looking through the LCD screen as I was trying to walk made for several bumps of my head on the ceiling (hanging wall), especially in the side drifts. I’m glad we wore hard hats.

Telluride panorama

A panorama of Telluride taken from the top of the gondola lift.

Telluride

After the tour, I took a few photos outside, then drove on to the north on Highway 550 to Ridgway, then turned west and eventually south, then back east again on Highway 145 to reach Telluride. Although only about 10 miles from Ouray as the crow flies (right over the route I took this morning on the jeep tour), it takes about 50 miles to go around on passable roads. Imogene Pass can be taken in between, but only in a 4 x 4. Then there’s Black Bear Pass, the most dangerous pass in Colorado. Someday maybe I’ll be back and try it, but absolutely not in a minivan.

Water cannon

Water cannon nozzle used for hydraulic mining near Telluride, Colorado.

On the way into Telluride, I stopped at an overlook that described how mining was done in the lower parts of the San Miguel Valley. Gold was scattered here in the gravel bars along the river, and early panning was unable to reach the deeper grains. Hydraulic cannons were installed to wash the gold out of the gravel. Water from upstream was diverted into ditches that became progressively more narrow and steep, putting a great deal of pressure on the water. Finally, it would be directed through a moveable nozzle at the gravel beds to wash the gravel and gold away. This slurry was collected in sluice boxes and riffle beds where the gold particles would settle out. It was effective and cheap, but it left lasting scars all along the riverbed. Since all the topsoil was also washed away, the scars remain to this day since nothing can yet grow there. Hydraulic mining was also used in the California gold rush; It is especially bad along Highway 149 in Mariposa County.

Geology of Telluride area

Geology of the Telluride, Colorado area.

Telluride is a former mining town that has gotten developed into a ski resort and tourist attraction, which was good for business but not so good for history. Most of the mine dumps and infrastructure have gotten erased to make way for ski slopes. Some of the original buildings remain, but it is hard to tell which are which since modern buildings were designed to match the original 1890s style. Much of the main mines, such as the Pandora, were further up the box canyon from Telluride and the dumps and tailings piles can’t be seen from town.

telluride from gondola

Telluride, Colorado from the gondola.

The first gold was discovered in 1858 in the Marshall Basin above Telluride. The first successful claim occurred in 1875 and the town of Columbia, later Telluride, was founded in 1878. Interestingly, the type of gold in Telluride was not telluride ore (as is found in Cripple Creek). In addition to gold, silver, zinc, lead, and copper were mined. Because of its extreme isolation, Telluride grew slowly until the railroad finally arrived in 1890 built by transportation entrepreneur Otto Mears. At its height in 1900, the population reached about 2500.

Telluride main street

Telluride, Colorado: July 12, 2012.

One of the most historic events in the town was the robbery of the San Miguel Valley Bank in 1889 by none other than Butch Cassidy, his first major heist. He got away with $24,580.

In canyons to the south are the ghost towns of Alta and Ophir. Ophir boasts the first alternating current hydroelectric plant in the world, the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant. The second plant in the world was in Telluride at Bridal Veil Falls and served the pumps at the Smuggler-Union Mine. The Ames plant was designed by Nicola Tesla and George Westinghouse and financed by Lucien Lucius Nunn, a prominent Telluride banker. Westinghouse was reputedly paid with a pouch containing $50,000 worth of gold. When first activated, the engineers realized they had a problem: they didn’t know how to switch it off safely. It could only be turned off when the power cycle reached zero or the switchman could get electrocuted. Finally, the power failed when a squirrel shorted out a transformer (which was unfortunate for the squirrel). With the power finally off, the Nunn brothers were able to install a safer switch. Eventually these two plants became the Telluride Power Company.

Mountain Village

The gondola ride continues over the top of the mountain to Mountain Village.

Interestingly enough, all this has a tie in to Orem and Provo, Utah, where I live. The mines in the Tintic Mining District around Eureka, Utah, about 40 miles away, were having a similar problem with water flooding the lower levels, and decided to install electric pumps. The closest reliable water supply was the Provo River where it exits the Wasatch Mountains (about a mile from Walden School of Liberal Arts, where I teach). So the mine owners contracted with the Nunn brothers to build a power plant in Provo Canyon, which was called the Olmsted Station. Not only did it provide power for about 3000 homes (and still does), it also housed an electric power education institute for about 40 students. So as a child growing up in southern Utah, the power company was Telluride Power. It eventually merged with Utah Power and Light. Today there is a park in Provo Canyon near Bridal Veil Falls (just like in Telluride) called Nunn Park.

By the 1930s the mines at Red Mountain Pass (such as the Idarado) had followed the veins toward Telluride and the Pandora, Tomboy, Smuggler-Union, Nellie, and Sheridan mines near Telluride had followed the veins in the other direction. Eventually they met up, and ore and men could be transported underground all the way from Red Mountain Pass to Telluride. The mines were consolidated by 1953. The mill at the Pandora portal continued to process ore until 1978. Fortunately, after mining closed down another business was available: skiing and tourism. With the addition of ski runs, a free gondola connecting Telluride with Mountain Village, and several music and film festivals during the year, Telluride is now flourishing even though it may not have much left of its historic mining flavor.

telluride from above

A Google Earth view of Telluride, showing the gondola run and Pandora Mill tailings pile.

I rode the gondola up the mountain and got some impressive views of the canyon below. I walked the streets for a while, then discovered I was starving and ate some excellent Chinese food at a restaurant in town. I tried to talk Chinese to the owners, but no one could understand me except their young daughter. I guess my Chinese is pretty rusty; thirty years ago I was fluent, but not anymore.

I drove back to Ouray and fell into bed after plugging in all my cameras to recharge. I had wanted to go swimming at the hot springs/pool complex north of town but was too tired to attempt it.

Read Full Post »