Telluride, Ouray, Silverton
Nearby 4X4 Trails:
Imogene Pass, Ophir Pass, Bullion King Lake, Red Mountain Pass, Corkscrew Gulch, Engineer Pass, Poughkeepsie Gulch, Governor Basin, Camp Bird Road, Yankee Boy Basin, Alta Ghost Town Trail, Cinnamon Pass, North Fork Cutoff, California Gulch, Carson Ghost Town Trail, Stony Pass, Cunningham Gulch, Bolam Pass
Black Bear Pass... The very name itself sends cold shivers up the spine of even veteran off road drivers. Black Bear is one of the most famous 4X4 trails in the United States and for good reason. It's beautiful and more than slightly terrifying. Black Bear Pass is Colorado's most dangerous, although not its most deadly 4X4 trail. Black Bear Pass lies between Silverton Colorado and Telluride Colorado and is one of the most notorious jeep trails in the United States. Black Bear Pass is a one way road that starts from the 11,018-foot summit of Red Mountain Pass on U.S. Highway 550 (also known as the Million Dollar Highway) between Ouray and Silverton and leads down the face of the box canyon that is home to Telluride, Colorado. The Road crests at Black Bear Pass with an elevation of 12,840 feet. The road then follows around the steep perimeter of the spectacularly beautiful Ingram Basin with Ingram Lake as the be-flowered jewel set in the center of the basin. Passing Ingram Lake the road continues down Ingram Basin before dropping over the edge of the abyss and following a set of infamous switchbacks as it navigates the near vertical alpine slopes above Telluride.
The road passes by the top and bottom of the spectacular Bridal Veil Falls, the second highest waterfall in Colorado at 365 feet, as it descends down into Telluride. This route features incredible views from high above Red Mountain Pass and Telluride, close-up views of historic mines and multiple dramatic waterfalls. ATVs are allowed, but remember, if you go down the one-way switchbacks, you can't go back up. A pick-up vehicle would have to be waiting at the bottom. Most of the trail would be considered "easy" to "moderate". The difficult rating is based on a mile long stretch of dangerous switchbacks above Bridal Veil Falls (One way, downhill only). From the point of no return just above the switchbacks to the Pandora Mill the distance is just one mile as the crow flies. In this one mile you will lose over 2,200 feet in elevation. Hopefully by following the road! If you are planning on renting a jeep here in Colorado, you must sign a paper stating you will not attempt to take it over Black Bear Pass.
Black Bear Pass is closed by the government from November through May 1st. You can check on the current conditions and see if the pass is open at the following link. This link will also give you information on other 4X4 trails through out Colorado.
Black Bear Pass gained added notoriety and fame with Country singer & former Ouray, Colorado Mayor, C.W. McCall's song "Black Bear Road", released in 1975.
Black Bear Road is open by Mother Nature for just a couple of months out of the year, from late summer (usually the last week of July) to early fall. The road is traveled in the downhill direction only starting from Red Mountain Pass--except for the annual Jeeper's Jamboree in which travel is reversed for one day only. You can travel in either direction from the start on Red Mountain Pass up the the point of no return just above the switchbacks without issue if you do not want to tackle that steep section of the trail. The start of the trail is marked along U.S. 550 with a sign that has become famous:
CITY OF GOLD
12 MILES - 2 HOURS
YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE
CRAZY TO DRIVE THIS
ROAD - BUT IT HELPS!
The two hours on the sign is straight travel time with no delays to stop and view the scenery or waiting for the driver in front of you to find the willpower and spinal fortitude to gradually ease up on the pressure of both feet standing on the brake pedal! I have allowed a time frame of 5 hours in this description which you will find a much more realistic estimate of the time necessary to traverse these 12 miles. Black Bear Pass Road is a difficult, dangerous trail and should only be driven in a good short wheel base four-wheel drive vehicle by experienced off road drivers. If you are afraid of heights, suffer vertigo from heights or are in any way not comfortable with driving a vehicle on a narrow shelf road with drop offs of 2,000 plus feet this road is not for you! If you have to be rescued, you can expect a towing bill that will total in the four figures. In 1975 two New Jerseyans successfully completed the entire pass from Red Mountain Pass to Telluride while driving a 1970 Ford F-250 full size 2-wheel drive pickup. In order to negotiate the tight switchback curves, they had to resort to backing down every other switchback. This technique is not recommended.
I first experienced Black Bear Pass with my Mother & Father and my new bride in the summer of 1984 in my fathers 1956 Willys Wagon but we were a bit to early in the season & only went as far as the Black Bear Mine due to snow and slushy ice on the road. My next attempt at the Bear was 21 years later in the summer of 2005. I wanted to try the pass myself now but my vehicle was a 1999 Chevrolet 4x4 Suburban and I knew that the wheel base was longer than what was recommended for the tight switchbacks of this extreme road. I had been over Imogene Pass pulling a trailer a year earlier in the Suburban & was confident in my ability to drive the road but remained unsure about how the size of the vehicle would impact my attempt. I made several phone calls to tour guides & Jeep rental companies in Silverton & Ouray & all told me not to try the pass in a Suburban... all except one... a tour operator in Ouray. He said "Let me put it this way, I have 8 drivers including myself that drive these road around here for a living and of these 8 there are only 2 that would attempt to take a Suburban over Black Bear and I'm not one of them." I said "So your telling me it can be done?" He said "Yes but you better damn well know what you are doing!" We were a go! Finally we were there and after a couple of hours of really enjoying the road, flowers, views and everything else about the Bear, I very nearly turned around at the top of the switchbacks before the point of no return because the fear of the unknown was beginning to overwhelm me & I had my wife & two of my kids with me. Brandon my youngest son, knowing that I could do it however, coaxed me into going for it since we were already there and his confidence swayed me. I am glad now that we did it even though there was a pucker factor of 10 squared associated with this pass in a long wheelbase stock Suburban! Upon reaching the bottom we were elated at having conquered the mighty Black Bear in a vehicle that should normally not be taken on this road!!
As previously noted, Black Bear Pass is Colorado's most dangerous 4X4 road and ranks in the top 5 in the US for all the noted good reasons mentioned above. Every summer there are accidents of some sort or another on this road although statistically it has fewer fatalities than one or two of Colorado's other tough 4X4 trails. While on this road if you or your vehicle suffer a major failure the results could be catastrophic. Know yourself and your vehicle!!! Don't be afraid to turn around at the top of the switchbacks and call it a day or to let your passengers out to walk if either they or you feel uncomfortable having them in the vehicle while you pilot your rig over the edge and through the switchbacks. The road is in places exceedingly steep and narrow, especially in a pitched rock section above Ingram Falls referred to as "The Stairs or Steps" Your vehicle must have low-range 4WD, good tires, good brakes and an excellent emergency brake. In addition, it should have excellent articulation or a differential locker. Without these last two features, your tires may come off the ground when you back up to make the tight turns.(even a short wheel base jeep will be required to make multi-point turns on the top few switchbacks) This situation could lead to ultimate terror as you become stuck at a point when you are literally hanging over the edge. My Suburban was straight stock with no lockers or lift. I had to make as many as 5 or 6 point turns on the tightest switchbacks & utilize my emergency brake as a "poor mans differential locker" in making these turns. If you do not understand this paragraph, stay off this trail!
In the summer of 2004 a vacationing couple from Missouri was killed when their Jeep slipped off Black Bear Pass and rolled more than 900 feet down the near vertical slope. The jeep only stopped then because it happened to land back on a flat section of the road. Both were pronounced dead at the scene according to a report from the Colorado State Patrol. The first call about the accident came into the Sheriff's Office from another driver on the road who had seen the Jeep rolling down the mountain behind him in his rear view mirror as he traversed one of the upper switchbacks. The victims, from Saint Peters, Missouri, slid off Black Bear Pass road while negotiating a left hand turn on one of the top switchbacks above Ingram Falls. The couple was descending the steep mountain road in a soft-top Jeep Wrangler when the accident occurred. Neither was wearing a seat belt and both were eventually ejected from the vehicle, suffering multiple traumatic head and chest injuries, according to a report from county coroner Bob Dempsey. The Jeep came to rest, on its roof, back on the road approximately 930 feet down the hill from where they had gone off the road, The Jeep was totally crushed when it finally came to rest.
I was a witness that same year to the recovery results of a multiple fatality accident on Imogene Pass. We were delayed in starting over the pass while the sheriffs deputies recovered the bodies and the jeep. When we were allowed to start our journey over Imogene we passed by the Jeep and it was literally only about 24 inches tall.
Don't let this warning frighten you off if you know you can handle this pass but let it make you think about what you are getting into and ensure that you and your vehicle are prepared. I ultimately discovered for myself that the pass was not quite as bad in reality as what my mind had put together based on everything I had read about the road.
The trail starts out at a large flat area (37.896666 -107.713356) just at the top of Red Mountain Pass where there is plenty of space for you & your party to air down your tires just off the highway. You will climb almost immediately and start working your way to the pass. This east side of the pass is located in the San Juan National Forest and once over the top of the pass the remainder of the road lies in the Uncompahgre National Forest and is where I have tagged this road as being located in this guide. As you climb towards the top of the pass there are several side trails that you can explore if you choose. The main trail stays to the right and keeps climbing to the top of the ridge and the summit of Black Bear Pass.
At 1.0 mile (37.895279 -107.725925) you will see a side road that bears off to the left and will take you over to a very pretty waterfall that flows nicely in the early part of the summer as the winter snow continues to melt off the mountain. This road is also the route that will take you to Bullion King Lake if you are wanting to drive that trail and visit the lake.
At 3.2 miles (37.899174 -107.742968) at the summit of the pass you are treated to a beautiful view in all directions and lots of open space. The trail starts down the pass to the west from here and after a short distance you will drop over the edge of Ingram Basin and then you will work your way around the shelf road with Ingram Basin and Ingram Lake below you on your left.
At 4.8 miles (37.915145 -107.74317) you will see the start of a side road that you will have been looking from high above the basin as you made your descent. The road vectors back to your left and down into Ingram Basin through a vast field of blue Columbine. This side road will take you down to Ingram Lake and to a couple of small mines near the lake. The upper mine and the more productive of the two was the Andrus Mine and some rail still lies about near the adit or portal of the mine. This road has a section of talus slide area that has very nearly consumed the road and if you choose to proceed past this point (37.911393 -107.742337) your vehicle will be in a very off camber or sideways leaning position. The Andrus Mine (37.910612 -107.741416) lies just past this rough spot and is just a short walk if you would rather go on foot. I have driven past this point and on down to the lake in my suburban although I did stop and move a few of the rocks to lessen the angle of the road.
At 5.3 miles (37.920643 -107.745291) you will find yourself at a tight turn to the left and see a less used road that follows up into a side basin to your right. This is the road that goes up to the actual Black Bear Mine (37.92177 -107.742529). It is only about 2,000 feet (in distance) up this side road to the mine. There are a few remaining artifacts from this mine that are interesting to look at if you want to venture up to it but most items have been hauled away as souvenirs. When I first came here in 1984 the rail coming out of the portal of the mine was still intact and had several ore cars that were still sitting on the rail both inside the tunnel & out in the open that you could push back & forth along the track and operate the dumping mechanism on them. I proceeded to cart my little sister back and forth in one as she enjoyed the ride and me being the burro!
Continue along the road from this point and soon you'll be able to catch your first glimpse of Telluride far below. From this point on you will be able to see Telluride far down below you for almost the rest of your trip into town.
At 6.3 miles (37.922057 -107.759518) You have arrived at the point of no return and the beginning of the steps. The road is one way down hill from here. At this location you must make the decision as to whether or not you are going to continue down the switchbacks or turn around and return back to civilization from whence you came. Just past this point the Steps and the beginning of the switchbacks above the creek become their most terrifying. This is the most unnerving part of the trail. It is an extreme shelf road of very uneven rock steps with loose sand on top and you must go downhill at a steep angle, turning to your right at the bottom of this section into the first switchback. The entire time you are negotiating these steps the view out of your windshield is nothing but space and Telluride thousands of feet below you. Go slowly and carefully. This is also a section that you will want to exercise extreme caution on if it is wet. You may not want to tackle this hill if it is wet. The road has claimed the life of at least one person here due to wet, slick conditions. This is the primary reason as well for the "Early" start time noted in this guide. Summer time in the high country of Colorado almost always brings afternoon rain showers. If you get an early start on your adventures every day, you can be back at camp or in town enjoying a cold one and the camp fire when the afternoon rain sets in. When you finally get around this first corner the road becomes slightly less frightful and even gets a little wider.
At 6.5 miles (37.922492 -107.761415) after having made your first switchback to the left You arrive at a shallow ford where you will have to drive through Ingram Creek just below the upper section of Ingram Falls. This is a great spot to get out and take some amazing photos, recompose yourself and look back up at what you just accomplished! Just across the creek you will see the remnants of the Cascade Tunnel & Mine, just one of the old mines that this road served over 100 years ago. Back on the road and just past this old mine you will arrive at the hardest switchback of Black Bear Pass (37.919884 -107.76411). This switchback and all those that follow down to the bottom of the mountain are of loose dirt and rocks. Don't get too close to the edge and take your time while you have someone spot you as you complete the process of making this turn, backing up as often as you need to to swing your rig around the turn. Once past this switchback you have 10 more to go but each one gets a little wider and easier. The hard part is over now & you can breath a deep sigh of relief!
At 7.3 miles and 4 switchbacks down from the hard one you will find yourself at the Bridal Veil Falls Powerhouse road and a gate(37.919442 -107.767688). This is now private property though you can walk a bit closer. It is also at this switchback that the road again becomes a two way traffic path with many people driving up from Telluride to see Bridal Veil Falls. You can no longer get to the top of the falls as you could years ago. On my first visit here in 1984 we walked up to the top of the falls, explored the interior of the powerhouse prior to it's renovation and got a view of the falls & valley below that is no longer accessible to the general public. I will try and dig out some old photos to post along with this guide of some these items you can no longer see. The power plant atop the falls was restored, operated and lived in from 1991 to 2010 by Eric Jacobson. The power generated now provides about 25 percent of Telluride's demand for electricity. The plant was originally used to power the Smuggler-Union Mine and in winter requires an aerial tramway for access. It is the second-oldest operating AC generator in the United States, the first being the nearby Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant by Ophir, Colorado. The Idarado Mining Company now owns and operates the power plant. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Smuggler-Union Hydroelectric Power Plant.
At 7.9 miles (37.922441 -107.766841) at a switchback to the left there is a side road that crosses a small bridge and takes you a short distance to the remains of the Meldrum Tunnel (37.924134 -107.766799). The Meldrum Tunnel was a great scheme, not with the purpose of connecting towns as some have thought but rather to allow the use of full size narrow gage railroad cars to travel by tunnel to a point above Telluride inside the mountain, bringing back ore and switching directly to the tracks of the Silverton Railroad. The bore from each end of the tunnel would have enough upward grade to allow drainage of the vast quantities of water that were always encountered deep inside the mountains. Ore chutes would have been tunneled off of the main tunnel into several of the big mines that were already operating at higher levels than the Meldrum Tunnel, thus providing a cheaper and more convenient method of shipment for their ores. It was also probable that in the construction of the tunnel, rich veins of ore might be discovered which could be mined directly by way of the tunnel access. Andy Meldrum had secured his financing for this great project from English investors. With the outbreak of the Boer War however, this money dried up as the investors shifted to quicker profits in financing the war. Meldrum's dream ended with only 800 feet of the tunnel completed on the Red Mountain side and 2,000 feet completed on the Telluride side when the company went bankrupt. This tunnel on the Telluride side however later became part of the more than 100 miles of tunnels that interconnect all the way through the mountain as part of the Idarado Mine.
At 8.2 miles (37.920175 -107.770531) at a large switchback to the right, there is a great place to park where you can then hike a short distance up to the base of Bridal Veil Falls to stand in the spray, enjoy the floating rainbows and truly appreciate how tall this water fall really is. This short but rocky hike is highly recommended.
At 9.5 miles (37.930 -107.77827) you will arrive at the site of the Pandora mill and the mill tunnel that accessed the vast network of tunnels that comprised the Idarado Mine. This mine ceased operation in 1978 bringing to a close a chapter of mining around Telluride that lasted for just over 100 years. The Idarado Mine at it's peak was employing over 900 men in bringing the metals that the nation needed out of the earth and to the factories that made the many varied products that our society uses.
At 11.0 miles you will arrive at Telluride and have completed your trip over Black Bear Pass! Congratulations!! Don't forget to stop at one of the many shops in Telluride and get yourself a T shirt declaring that you have conquered the Mighty Black Bear!
In the 1880's there was a mining boom on Red Mountain Pass. And for a little more than a decade at the end of the nineteenth century, the Red Mountain Mining District in Southwestern Colorado was one of the richest and most productive in the world. The Yankee Girl Mine was the most famous of these mines. This early mining boom was mostly over by the mid 1890's. In the beginning it was evident to even the earliest casual observer that there must be precious minerals in the three gaudy-colored Red Mountains. The colors came from iron pyrite or fool's gold that becomes red as it oxidizes or rusts when exposed to water and air. These red pyrites were an obvious clue that other richer minerals could be close by. Only low grade discoveries were made in the first few years of mining activity. But in 1882 John Robinson discovered the fabulously rich Yankee Girl Mine and the rush was on to Colorado's newest mining district. What had fooled the prospectors was that the ore was to be found in vertical chimneys rather than in lode deposits typical of other areas. The Red Mountains themselves consisted almost entirely of very low grade ore except where the rich ore chimneys of some thirty to one hundred feet in width plunged into the earth. There silver ore could be found that contained as much as 1,000 ounces of silver per ton of ore, an unheard of level of richness.
The Red Mountain Mining District consisted of 6 towns within 8 square miles. They were some of the richest areas in Colorado:
Albany was built to support the mines and later the Saratoga Smelter. It was the end of the line for the Silverton Railroad.
Ironton (aka Copper Glen) was built on flatter ground than the other surrounding towns. Settled in 1883, within three weeks there were three hundred buildings being built. It was a staging area for supplies coming from Ouray.
Guston was built in the late 1880s and was never plotted. It supported the Guston-Robinson, Yankee Girl, and Genessee-Vanderbilt mines.
Red Mountain Town (aka Rogersville), founded in 1882, had the first post office in the areas (established in Jan 1883) and a population of over 600. It also had a two block long business district.
Congress (aka Red Mountain City) was built in 1883 near the summit of Red Mountain Pass, one mile south of Red Mountain Town. It lasted only about a year as it was too far from the richest mines.
Chattanooga (aka Sweetville or Sweetwater) was built on the south side of the pass as a staging area for supplies.
As word of the rich strikes spread, prospectors quickly flowed into the Red Mountain area. The nearby towns of Silverton and Ouray fought to become known as the entry point into the district. Each touted that it was the only way into the area and warned of the dangers that faced the poor soul that dared to venture into the Red Mountains from any other direction. Each sponsored newspapers up on the divide which featured their own favorite town. Soon other rich discoveries were located at the Congress, Guston, National Belle and many smaller mines. Each of the towns was almost an equal distance from the new discoveries and better transportation was badly needed to bring the rich ore out to market. Ouray immediately built a wagon road across steep "impassable" cliffs into the heart of the new discoveries. It eventually became known as the famous Million Dollar Highway. At about the same time it became evident that the really rich ore was on the Ouray side of Red Mountain Divide.
But Silverton countered with the completion of the Silverton Railroad into the Red Mountain district. The short little twenty-mile railroad that Otto Mears, "the Pathfinder of the San Juans," built is today one of the most historic and well known of all the narrow gauge railroads in Colorado. It carried the nickname of "The Rainbow Route" as it reached forward to a pot of gold or silver as the case may be, and it arched across the steep Red Mountain Divide like a rainbow in the sky. Millions of dollars in capital was poured into the Red Mountain district by rich Eastern and European investors, many of whom were being brought directly to the mines in luxurious coaches on the new railroad route.
Soon towns began to appear on the mountains themselves. Red Mountain City was originally located on the Silverton side of the pass, then relocated to the Ouray side and again moved to near the National Belle Mine when it was evident that the new road and the railroad would pass through that point. Stores and homes were literally jacked up and hauled by teams of horses from one point to the other. Small towns such as Congress and Guston grew up at some of the local mines. Other towns like Ironton and Chattanooga were built at lower elevations to serve as supply points to the mines located high in the nearby mountains. Post offices, hotels and, of course, numerous saloons and brothels sprouted as quickly as the local alpine wildflowers in these locations. Thousands of men soon lived in these hastily built towns. Some of the structures that were built in the winter leaned precariously when the spring thaws came. Hundreds of women and children followed their men to these dangerous spots. Land promoters and mining speculators stood to do as well financially as the original prospectors. Lawyers and stockbrokers made small fortunes. The merchants, saloonkeepers and the ever-present prostitutes made quick, easy money.
But there was a high price to pay for living in such a high elevation surrounded by steep mountains that carried deadly avalanches upon the unsuspecting traveler below. The snow sometimes piled up so deeply that all work came to a halt as the ore couldn't be shipped and the storage bins were completely full. Then armies of miners took to the roads and tracks to clear the snow, only to find that it was necessary to return to this work time and time again. Nighttime temperatures would dip to twenty or thirty below zero but it could be shirt sleeve weather in January when the sun was shining. There were other hardships in the mines. The ore went straight down so vertical shafts followed the rich metals for hundreds of feet into the bowels of the earth. Water was a constant problem, but the same water when mixed with the local pyrites formed sulfuric acid which in turn ate at the pumps and also at mine rails, shovels and the mining machinery. Nails dissolved in the rungs of ladders, planks fell from ceilings and hoist cables could turn to rust in a month's time.
Even with such dangers and the often cramped conditions of twenty men living in a single room, the Red Mountains were actually touted as one of the healthiest spots in Colorado. The water was pure there and the cold temperatures perhaps contained many potential illnesses that would have flourished in the more squalid mining camps. There were reportedly only four people over a twenty-year span who died from sickness; yet many a man met his Maker on Red Mountain as the result of mining accidents, snow slides or gunshot wounds.
Millions of dollars were eventually taken out of the Red Mountains. During its heyday the mining district was surpassed in Colorado only by Leadville. Millions of dollars were also poured into the district by wealthy investors who were as anxious to strike it rich as the local prospectors. All told it is estimated that upwards of thirty million dollars in silver, lead, zinc, copper and gold were taken from the Red Mountain Mining District in a few short decades. At today's prices that production would come close to a quarter of a billion dollars.
W. J. Hammond, Jr. founded the Treasury Tunnel Mining and Reduction Company in 1896. To create the Treasury Tunnel Mine, Hammond consolidated a number of his mining claims, including the Stumper and Old Ozzie. The tunnel was originally called the Hammond Tunnel and is located on the Stumper claim. Soon after the tunnel was started, the Silverton Railroad built a 2000-foot spur track from the Yankee Girl sidings to the Treasury Tunnel. The Treasury Tunnel branch had an unusual switchback at the bottom of the canyon that was built over a branch of Red Mountain Creek followed by a second crossing of the creek before ending at the Treasury Tunnel Mill.
Hammond hoped the treasury Tunnel would allow him to tap the gold deposits that were known to exist between Red Mountain and Telluride. By 1900 it had been driven over 2000 feet toward Telluride. In 1901 the prominent mining engineer Frederick Ransome said the following of the Treasury Tunnel project: "Without expressing an opinion on this particular enterprise, it may be pointed out that, in so far as the projectors of long tunnels count upon finding richer or more abundant ore than is indicated near the surface, they are playing a game of chance in which the probabilities are decidedly against them." However, the mine operated with some profits for about ten years and then shut down when Mr. Hammond left the area to return to Pittsburgh.
After the Silver Panic of 1893, Red Mountain mining was never the same. The Silverton Railroad cut back service, shortened the line and then abandoned it in 1922. After the heyday there was some gold discovered in the district and a few mines continued to operate up until as recently as the 1970s. Red Mountain Town burned in 1892, was rebuilt, burned again two years later, was partially rebuilt, and then burned again in a forest fire in 1939. About the turn of the century millions of dollars were invested in grand ventures at the Joker and Meldrum tunnels, efforts to strike known ore at lower levels. But the ore seemed to generally lose value the deeper the miners went and these ventures also eventually closed.
In the mid 1920's the Million Dollar Highway was upgraded for automobile traffic and moved to the west side of Red Mountain Creek. This put the Treasury Tunnel on the main road for the first time. In 1930 Ralph Kullerstrand and Joe Condotti bought the old Treasury Tunnel. They reconditioned the mill with some machinery obtained from the Mountain Top Mill in Governor Basin and built a tramway from the YankeeGirl dump uphill to the Treasury Tunnel Mill. However, wood and metal in the dump required digging by hand, and this doomed the project from the beginning. Once again the Treasury Tunnel and its mill stood silent. The last permanent inhabitants of Red Mountain were Harry and Milton Larson, who worked and lived near Ironton beginning in the 1920s. Harry died in the 1940s but Milton continued to live in Ironton until he died in the mid 1960s. He even appeared on national television as the "mayor and only inhabitant" of one of the nation's most famous ghost towns.
In the mid 1930's the San Juan Metals Company bought the Treasury Tunnel from Kullerstrand and Condotti who used the proceeds from the sale to build a ski lodge in Ironton Park. In 1937 a new modern mill was built and in 1939 Newmont Mining took over the Treasury Tunnel and formed the Idarado Mining Company to operate the mine. They consolidated many of the old mines including the Barstow, Black Bear, Virginius and the Tom Boy. The Idarado Mine and Telluride Mines Inc. opened up many abandoned mines in Red Mountain District and made them successful again. Later, in 1943, during World War II the Idarado mine leased its property to the US Government to reopen the Black Bear mine through the Treasury Tunnel. The tunnel was extended to over 8000 feet and large quantities of lead and zinc were mined for the war effort. The country desperately needed the metals that the mountain contained to support the war effort. Minerals from the Idarado Mine were used in making the metals needed for making planes, ships and tanks and thus justified the government subsidizing of this vast mining effort.
Near the end of World War II The Treasury tunnel was completed and went for 6 miles from the top of Red Mountain Pass though the mountains, to Telluride and the Pandora plant at an altitude of 9,060 feet., via interconnecting drifts and raises. The old Meldrum Tunnel was extended on the Telluride side of the mountain and, until recently, it was possible to enter the Treasury Tunnel and come out in Pandora near Telluride. The two tunnels were more than 500 feet different in elevation so a shaft connected the two tunnels. As the mine expanded so did the tailings ponds to the north. The Idarado Mine purchased part of the Ironton Town site, and the large tailings pile along the start of the Corkscrew Pass road began to grow with 800 tons of ore processed per day. The slurry pipe bridge across Corkscrew Gulch, was once the longest suspension bridge in Colorado.
Since completion of initial work in the mid-1940's, systematic development of the mine, both in the driving of new headings and the utilization of older openings, resulted in the present extensive network of workings. The Idarado mine lies beneath the high ridge between Red Mountain Valley and Telluride, and is in both San Miguel and Ouray Counties, Colorado. The mine contains more than 100 miles of interconnected drifts or crosscuts on or connecting the Ajax-Smuggler, Tomboy, Liberty Bell, Alamo, Virginius, Pandora, Flat, Japan, Flora, Cross, Ans-borough, Handicap, Barstow, Montana-Argentine, and Black Bear veins. Approximately 100,000 feet of drifts and 37,000 feet of crosscuts are accessible, and are mostly on the Montana-Argentine and Black Bear veins and Ajax section of the Ajax-Smuggler vein.
The Treasury tunnel intersects the Black Bear vein 8,670 feet from the portal, and the Mill Level tunnel intersects the Argentine vein 7,150 feet from the portal. Mining is by shrinkage stoping from slusher sublevels. The size of the stope blocks varies somewhat, but the standard size is 220-250 feet long and 200-250 feet high. In 1945 the Treasury Mill was rebuilt on the Red Mountain side to mill lead, zinc, and copper ore. In 1946, a new crusher was installed at Idarado to increase ore production. By 1947, the Treasury Tunnel to Telluride was complete. In 1954, a big fire burned the Idarado buildings and they were quickly rebuilt. The Red Mountain plant included the company general offices, warehouse, carpenter and machine shops, and mine change-room. The Pandora plant consisted of the Treasury Mill and assay office, machine shops, and mine change-room. The flotation mill had a capacity of 1,800 tons per day, making a bullion product and separate concentrates of lead, copper, and zinc. By 1956, a new mill was built near Telluride at Pandora and the Treasury Mill on Red Mountain was shutdown.
The Montana-Argentine vein was first extensively worked by the Tomboy Gold Mines Co., Ltd., a British concern. This company mined the stoped areas above the Ophir level between 1910 and the late 1920's and most of the stoped areas above the 2,100 level between 1900 and the late 1920's. Gold was the principal ore metal mined. The area between the Revenue and Ophir levels was mined chiefly by the Revenue Mines Co. between 1900 and 1910. The ore was worked from the Revenue tunnel, which portals in Canyon Creek just up from Ouray. Gold and silver were the chief metals recovered. The stopes between the 1,700 and Revenue levels, as well as some higher stopes, were mined by Telluride Mines Inc. during the 1940's. The Mill Level tunnel was driven by that company in 1945-1948. Lead and zinc then became economically more important than the precious metals. In 1953, Idarado purchased Telluride Mines, which was merged with the parent company in 1956.
The Black Bear vein was first extensively worked by the Black Bear Mining Co. in the 1900's and by the Colorado Superior Mining Co. from about 1914 until snowslides at the mine camp (altitude 12,300 feet) terminated the com-pany's operations in 1924. Leasers operated the mine at intervals until 1934. The Treasury tunnel, formerly the Hammond tunnel, had been started before 1900 and reached the 5,400-foot mark early in the 1900's, at which time activity lagged until the late 1930's. In the early 1940's, Idarado extended the Treasury tunnel (from its heading at 5,400 feet) to the Black Bear vein and established a raise connection with the 600 level, the lowest level in the old mine.
For many years the Idarado Mine consistently ranked either first or second in Colorado in yearly production of gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc. The last great mine, the Idarado, closed down in 1978, although it is still maintained by a skeleton crew.
In the 1990's a massive reclamation project routed water drainage around the mine dumps and covered the tailings piles with rock and dirt followed by revegetation. Between 2001 and 2005 more than 3000 acres of Idarado property on Red Mountain Pass was purchased by the Red Mountain Project and returned to Forest Service control.
Now, the Red Mountain and Telluride mining districts are mostly silent. The wagon roads and railroad grades that carried the supplies to the mines and the ore out to market are only visited by the outdoor enthusiast today. The crack of the teamster's whip, groaning creaks from overloaded ore wagons, the braying of mule teams straining under the heavy load and ringing cry's and curses of those same teamsters have faded and been replaced by the sounds of the rumbling motors of jeeps and trucks carrying families that are enjoying the beauty of this rough and wild land. They fill the air with laughter, joking and the squeals of delight from the children playing among the flowers and bubbling creeks. The outline of the railroad grade is only faintly visible. The snow flattens buildings, and treasure seekers carry away anything remotely usable or collectible. Only a handful of mine buildings still stand. Few men still work in the area, mainly doing environmental cleanup. The rains and winds cause the dumps to slowly flatten out and disappear. Every year less and less of man's accomplishments remain and more of the land returns to its original state. The same winds, deep snows, fires and snow slides that made life so dangerous and difficult a hundred years ago, now quickly destroy what man has left behind. Yet men and women laughed and danced and sang and died here. Children were born and raised. Heroic deeds were performed and now Mother Nature slowly and steadily pulls the few remaining reminders of this grand era back into her elements, in a day not too distant, not much will remain to remind us of the lives, loves and labors that brought forth from the this land, riches and adventures the likes we shall not see again.
Mountain Mysteries by Marvin Gregory & P. David Smith
Mountains Of Silver, Life In Colorado's Red Mountain Mining District by P. David Smith
The Idarado Mine by James R. Hillerbrand, Idarado Mining Company
Stop. Look around you. In this country you are never far from water and it is usually good clean water. Use your filter and stay away from water that may be draining from old mine openings, this water can be contaminated with acids & heavy metals. Use the snow melt runoff which is everywhere or clear running creeks. If the creek bed is discolored in a red or orange tint this indicates mine drainage and that water should be avoided.
If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.