Colorado - Utah Trip 2014

Part 5: Ouray - Page 2

July 12th


Our second day in the San Juans was originally supposed to be spent on a tour over Black Bear Road and Imogene Pass, but due to the snow still remaining on Black Bear, our tour trip was cancelled by the tour provider. Instead we spent the day doing some more wheeling, taking in Engineer Pass, Mineral Point, Animas Forks, Corkscrew Gulch, and Ironton.

We had a nice breakfast at our motel, then headed south out of Ouray on 550 for a short distance when we came to the turnoff for Engineer Pass and the Alpine Loop. The Alpine Loop is an easy four wheel drive trail that is very popular. It starts just above Ouray and gets right down to business with a steep, narrow, rocky climb. Luckily it is rather short, and the road gets better as you go. It goes up over Engineer Pass, then over to Lake City, and returns over Cinnamon Pass, then down to Silverton and back to Ouray on 550.

We headed up the trail and it was quickly evident that this Jeep did not ride or handle as nicely as the one that we had rented at Moab. I had my suspicions of that on the previous day, but the roads were easy enough that I could not make a fair judgement until we got to climbing up Engineer. This road follows a narrow canyon that is heavily wooded, but with many waterfalls and is very scenic. Before long we came to the remains of the Michael Breen Mine.

Remains of the Michael Breen Mine The remains of the Michael Breen Mine (sometimes called the Mickey Breen Mine). The cable shown in the photo was anchored somewhere far above on the mountainside, and down below next to the river. We have no idea what it's purpose was, but it's been there for a very long time.

Looking down the creek from the Michael Breen Mine A view down to the creek from the Michael Breen Mine. The previously mentioned cable is visible in this photo as well.

We continued up the road after a brief visit and soon came to the turnoff for Poughkeepsie Gulch, a very difficult trail where rentals are not allowed to go, so we kept on until towards Engineer Pass. We traveled for quite some time, eventually coming to the ruins of a mill.

Terry and the remains of the San Juan Chief Mill Yours truly standing in front of the remains of the San Juan Chief Mill.

The mills utilized by the gold and silver mines of the day were a very noisy affair, and not very efficient by today's standards, but it was the technology that they had available. These mills were known as 'stamp mills' because of the stamp rods that were used to crush the ore so that the gold and silver could be separated from the rock. You may have noticed the stamps in the previous photo. This was an 18 stamp mill, and the stamps are now laying on their side instead of standing up.

Stamps of the San Juan Chief Mill Here is a photo of the stamps, but it has been turned to show how the stamps would appear in their original position. The shaft was turned by a belt from a steam engine. As the shaft turned, the cams on the shaft would lift and rotate the stamps, then let them drop quickly. The cams were staggered so that the stamps were all in various positions, some being lifted, some being dropped. The stamps were rotated as they were lifted so that they would wear evenly. The ore was fed from a hopper onto a table where the stamps would drop on the ore and crush it to the consistency of fine sand. This crushed ore is then washed over a copper plate coated with mercury. The gold would bond with the mercury and turn to an amalgam which was later heated to boil off the mercury, leaving the gold which could then be smelted and poured into bars or ingots. The mercury that was evaporated in this process was captured and condensed back into a liquid and was then reused on the stamp tables.

The largest mill in the San Juans was located just a few miles away near Animas Forks and it was said that it could be heard for miles when it was running.

Interior of the Terra Mill at Deadwood, South Dakota This is a photo of the inside of the Terra Mill at Deadwood, South Dakota. It should give you a much better idea of how massive these things were and how they worked. Photo is courtesy of the John C. H. Grabill Collection, Library of Congress.

Terry with ruins of the San Juan Chief Mill Wreckage, rubble, and bent and twisted steel lays everywhere. Here I am standing next to the drive pulley for the stamp mill.

Boilers, San Juan Chief Mill These were the boilers that provided the steam for the engines that ran the mill.

Bird's eye view of the San Juan Chief Mill site, taken from further up the trail. A bird's eye view of the San Juan Chief Mill. The vats in the lower portion of the mill indicate that this mill was converted over from mercury to cyanide processing at some point. Gold and silver were separated out in large vats in that process.

Upon leaving the San Juan Chief, we attempted to get off the beaten path and take the road to the former site of Mineral Point. It was quite wet and soft here, but we pushed on until we came to a sign about a quarter mile up the road that indicated that the road was no longer open to vehicular travel. We turned around and headed back to the Engineer Pass Road, following it to a junction with the road that goes down to Animas Forks. Engineer Pass was very busy, typical for a weekend, so we chose to go down and explore Animas Forks instead. Some of the buildings have been preserved there, and are quite interesting to look through.

Buildings in Animas Forks, Colorado A couple of the buildings in Animas Forks

Home with attached outhouse in Animas Forks, Colorado This one was quite special: It had a number of additions that connected the house to the outhouse. I am sure that not having to go outside to use the biffy in the middle of a cold winter night was a real luxury. Granted, it was probably just as cold inside the outhouse as it was outside, but at least you didn't have to go out into the snow and wind.

Fireplace in house, Animas Forks, Colorado Probably the best place to be on a cold winter's night in Animas Forks, right in front of the fireplace!

Sign for California Gulch Our travels next took us up the road to California Gulch,   California Pass, and Hurricane Pass.

The Frisco Mine Some of the mines here had signs up to identify them. Most of the mines are on private property however, and roaming the buildings and grounds in most cases was not allowed.

Looking up California Gulch Looking up California Gulch. California Pass is out of sight off to the right.

California Pass, 12,960 feet above sea level. Sign at California Pass.

Looking down into California Gulch A view down into California Gulch.

Vehicles at California Pass California Pass. The offroad vehicle seen in this photo is a type of vehicle that is gaining popularity in Colorado and Utah. Cheaper, lighter, and smaller than a Jeep, yet they will still seat two or four people depending on model. This one belonged to a retired couple from Texas.

Lake Como from California Pass Lake Como as seen from California Pass.

Terry and Jeep at Hurricane Pass, 12,730 feet above sea level Hurricane Pass. It was not nearly as windy as when I visited this spot in 2003. It was so windy on that day that Pauline and the boys would not even get out of the pickup.

Lake Como and Poughkeepsie Gulch viewed from Hurricane Pass Lake Como and the upper end of Poughkeepsie Gulch as seen from Hurricane Pass.

From here  we headed over to Corkscrew Gulch, which runs down between Red Mountains numbers 1 and 2.

Panoramic view of Corkscrew Gulch and Red Mountains 2 and 3. A panoramic view of the top of Corkscrew Gulch, with Red Mountain numbers 2 and 3 in the background.

I mistakenly thought that we had more photos from Corkscrew Gulch. Not so, I guess.

After completing our travels for the day, we headed back to town so that we could wash our Jeep and gas it up prior to returning it. After that it was time to shower, eat dinner, and go to Mass. An interesting announcement at the end of Mass was a plea from the Colorado State Patrol, which is seeking officers and trainees. Good starting salary, you only need a high school diploma, they will provide the rest. Wow.

Click on "Part 6 - Buena Vista" to continue.


Home Page Trip Contents Part 1 - Getting There Part 2 - Hotchkiss Part 3 - Moab
Part 3 - Moab - Page 2 Part 4 - Durango Part 5 - Ouray Part 5 - Ouray - Page 2 Part 6 - Buena Vista