We went to Ouray for our honeymoon five years ago, so we were excited about the prospect of returning again to the tiny, sleepy old mining town. The best part about the trip is that we got to go for FREE! A friend of Ammon’s, Chris (they work together at Firstbank) organizes the Jeep Jamboree in Ouray every year and asked Ammon and I to be one of his “tail gunners”. As the name implies, we were the last jeep in the convoy of jeeps in one group. We just had to make sure that every one was doing ok and not getting stuck, etc.
The trail that we went on was actually one that we started on our honeymoon, but hadn’t gone very far because we didn’t really have the vehicle for it at the time. There were 15 jeeps in our group, Chris was the trail guide and we were the tail. I really think that Ouray has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world and naturally, the pictures don’t do it justice. We were on the same trail both days called, “Placer Gulch”. Along the trail, Chris shared with us the history of mining in Colorado with us, in addition to many other interesting tidbits about the area, etc.
Here’s my summarized version….Originally, Colorado was mined for gold, but after the few veins that were found had been excavated, the prospectors weren’t finding any more gold. They used mills to sort through the rock and whatnot and discarded the unwanted bits to one side, forming a huge pile called “tailings”. As mining got more sophisticated, the prospectors hired geologists to come in and tell them where the gold was. This one prospector brought a geologist to check things out for him and the guy said, “Well, where’s the gold?”. The geologist told him he was standing on a fortune, but not in the form of gold….in his tailings was a mass amount of silver. And so, Colorado became profitable for it’s silver.
The largest veins of gold have still not been played out and are in the San Juan mountain range, around the area that we were in. The last functioning (big) mining company in the area, Sunnyvale Mining company owns the claims for those veins and is waiting until gold hits $1,000/oz.
There were few things that really amazed me about the mining industry. The first was the way they transported the gold/silver. In “Placer Gulch” and other areas we saw while on the trail, you could see the cable running from mountain top, over valleys and connecting to another mountain with little tram cars hanging from them. That was how they took their findings to the mill or wherever. Even in the dead of winter!!! The other thing that I marvelled at was that in the San Juan Mountains there are 1, 010 (or so) MILES of mineshaft! Wow!
Each day for lunch, we stopped at Animas Fork, an old ghost town. You’ll see in the photos below, a hotel that is still somewhat in tact, at least enough that you can walk through it. There are also some other resident buildings (former residents) and the mill that is now starting to really deteriorate. We also visited this spot on our honeymoon, but we took the road through a few towns, instead of the off-roading trail. I didn’t get the sense this time, but I recall on our honeymoon, visiting this ghost town and have the strangest sensation since it looked like people could almost live there today. To see everything just abandoned the way it had been a hundred years ago was just a weird phenomenon to me.
Along with Animas fork, we stopped at an old silver mill and drove through Silverton, a neat little town nestled in the mountains, much like Ouray. The second day we were on the trail, the leaves had really changed and we got to see true Colorado gold! =)
We had a fabulous time on the trail. I actually drove most of the second day. It was a really mixed terrain, in some spots really rocky and bumpy and other spots you had to drive on the edge of a drop off and others still there were big rock faces to climb up. It was a fun adventure! Ammon said I did great, so I guess I’m gonna side with him! 😉
The hotel we stayed at was a Best Western and had the greatest pool. It was outdoors, but was so warm, it felt like a bath! Ammon and I played in the pool each evening we were there. The last night, I got thrown in after I had my towel on!!
We can’t wait to do it all again sometime!! If you want an awesome adventure, rent a jeep and look up Jeep Jamboree online. It’s an experience you won’t forget! They have 36 Jamborees all over the U.S.
This is Ouray, town of about 900 people. It’s everything you dream about a small, mountain town. Small, quaint little shops, bakeries, sandwich shops. A huge 4th of July celebration with pancake breakfasts and a parade and a firefighter waterhose contest.
Everyone splitting into their respective groups
Some guy I picked up in Ouray! 😉 Cute, isn’t he?!
Driving to the trailhead
Me, posing with gummy bears. Ammon just felt like snapping a photo, I guess!
Stopping for lunch
Me enjoying being the chauffeur
I don’t remember where this is exactly, but it’s beautiful, so I posted it anyways
Behind me is an old silver mill, though I think the photographer focused on me instead. You’ll see another photo of the mill below.
Jack the Jeep taking a break
Stopping at Animas Fork for lunch
This mill was from 1903, I believe. It was in California Gulch.
A mine in Placer Gulch
This is what I mean by Colorado Gold. If you only could have seen it in person. I know that in Ontario, you’ll see more variety of colors; orange, red and yellow, but to see these gold leaves when the sun shines through them is spectacular.
This is me in the bay window of the old hotel in Animas Fork
This is that silver mill I referred to earlier
I don’t remember where this is either, but I love the contrast in colors
This is in Placer Gulch. I thought the color of the hills was really interesting, different.
Red mountain, appropriately named don’t ya think!
And me just waiting around to get back in the Jeep