On The Page: Exploring The Historic San Juan Triangle

I finally go smart this summer and made a box specifically of “books I haven’t read” since I’m on a strict “you can’t buy any more books until you finish the ones you already have” budget. One of those books was Exploring The Historic San Juan Triangle by P. David Smith. I bought this book back in 2013 when I first moved to Ridgway and it just never seemed to be accessible when I needed a book. I definitely missed out due to my procrastination!

Exploring the Historic San Juan Triangle

Smith’s history of the San Juan Triangle, the area roughly bounded by Ouray, Telluride, and Silverton, is an excellent crash course in the history of settlement and mining in the region. The first chapters of the book describe the histories of the main towns in the region: Silverton, Lake City, Ouray, and Telluride. (My beloved Ridgway sits just outside the triangle and has some definite ranching vs mining roots.) Just a few pages into the history, as Smith described how miners started to drift into the San Juans while they were still officially Ute lands, I realized I know nothing really about this area. Since the book is written partially as history and partially as a travel guide there was some emphasis on the locations (past and present) of key buildings but I really enjoyed that since I could picture each of the towns.

After the histories of individual towns, there is a series of chapters that give a fairly exhaustive explanation of mines and ghost towns that existed along Jeep routes in the area. I can picture many of the places he mentions but I’m just itching to get back out and check out the rest of them! In addition to covering the “classic” routes (Imogene, Black Bear, Cinnamon, Engineer, etc.) Smith talks about spur roads and lesser known routes as well.

Beaumont Hotel Ouray,CO

As I mentioned, the book is written as a guide to travel so sometimes the narration is a bit clunky. Dividing the history up into specific locations is helpful when you’re driving or visiting one of the towns but sometimes that also makes for a bit of repetitiveness to the history. That being said, however, if you like history and context for your exploring and you plan on visiting the San Juans (or if you need some inspiration to come check out my gorgeous mountains), Exploring The San Juan Triangle is an excellent place to start diving in!

Hiking Ouray: Old Horsethief Trail

Last weekend, the weather in the San Juans was too good to not go out and enjoy it. Sprocket and I had never hiked the Old Horsethief trail that climbed steeply from near the hot springs pool so we headed out (and up!). Sprocket took off like a shot; he clearly hadn’t forgotten that up is the right direction to go.

Old Horsethief trail

While there was a little bit of snow on the ground it had been packed down enough to make the going easy. Just after we reached this gully, however, there was a really new looking gate constructed over the trail. I’m still not sure what the status here but I’m doing some digging since I found evidence that it was used for last year’s Ouray 100.

Ouray hiking

The views weren’t too shabby though so no one was disappointed.

Ridge to Bridge of Heaven

On the way down we explored some little tracks off the main trail that lead us to some old mine adits, as is normal in the area.

Mining history

The water flowing out of this adit reminded me of riding Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean:

Mining History

Mostly it was glorious to be outside enjoying the early spring sunshine.

Waterfalls

Didn’t Corbett Peak look pretty across the valley?

Corbett Peak

On The Page: One Man’s West

I count myself among those that are feeling the Internet’s affect on my brain. I used to read all the time and now? Rather than reading one of the many books I’ve accumulated (I love books) I find myself browsing Twitter or skimming some silly Buzzfeed article. If I’m going to focus to read a good longform article, I send it to my Kindle… where it languishes until I finally binge on all the good stuff I’ve sent there.

Anyway, my mom clearly pursued my Amazon wishlist while she was Christmas shopping and bought me a copy of David Lavender’s One Man’s WestOne Man’s West fits in perfectly with my bookshelf of adventure, local history, geology, travel, etc. I love reading about the places I know animated under a different time or through the eyes of someone with a different background. In the book, Lavender relates tales of his young adulthood in southwestern Colorado.

One Man's West

While there is definitely a story line, Lavender focuses on groups of related stories in each chapter. While One Man’s West focuses on Lavender’s time as a miner and rancher, later in life he became an English teacher as well as a prolific writer. I was sort of surprised to learn that One Man’s West was his first book: I found it to be conversational and really compelling.

The “new edition” (2007) includes an excellent introduction by David G. Lavender (the author’s son) which set the stage for the book describing how David Lavender was born in Telluride in 1910 and came to return to his stepfather’s ranch in far western Montrose county after attending boarding school in Pennsylvania followed by Princeton and then a short stint at Stanford Law.

The book begins with a description of the time Lavender spent in Camp Bird mining and attempting to build up a nest egg before he married his wife, Martha. I’m sure part of my love for this book is driven by my knowledge and understanding of the region that he writes about but I loved his description of life high above Ouray. It is so much fun to imagine life in the basin and in town as it must have been and Lavender does an excellent job of facilitating it. (I also learned that Lavender Peak in the La Platas is named after the author’s brother!)

Hanging Flume

Similarly, the section of the book describing life as a cattle rancher are very rooted in place and time. The ranch operations happened primarily between the Paradox Valley and Lone Cone but Bluff, Utah and Indian Creek make cameo appearances as well. (Climbers will totally recognize places in the Indian Creek section!) He even discusses the Dolores Canyon Hanging Flume. But amidst all the places where my geography obsessed heart leaps there is a very clear eyed but tender picture of a west that was quickly fading.

Indian Creek Vistas

The book wraps up with a chapter added in (I believe) 1956 discussing how the uranium boom had impacted the region and I though it made for a really great end to the book since that period had a huge impact on the West End.

I highly recommend One Man’s West  to anyone with an interest in western history. Lavender paints a vivid picture of what life in far southwestern Colorado was like during the 1930s that is well worth reading.

Homeward Journey, Part 3: Bruin Point

Sprocket and I camped just down the hill from Strawberry Peak. In the morning, we meandered along Reservation Ridge Road and tried to descend a road through a canyon. Just before we reached the flats before US 6, the road was gated and locked. We turned around and headed back for Reservation Ridge Road and were treated to the happy sounds of a flock of grazing sheep.

Reservation Ridge Road

We finally left Reservation Ridge Road onto US 191 and descended towards Price, Utah. From Price, we headed for Bruin Point, another Utah 2,000′ prominence peak. The views just got better and better after we passed through Sunnydale and the road wound up to the summit at 10,184′.

Highway 191

Utah 123

Big Horn Sheep

Bruin Point Road

A pretty sweet aerial mining tram hung above the road most of the way up the mountain. I can’t find too much specific information but it looks like the mine was for natural asphalt. According to Carbon County’s US GenWeb site, the mine was established in the 1890s and closed in 1898. Between 1903 and the mid-1930s the mine operated occasionally, sometimes selling its product for 50% of its value to try and bolster the market. Today, you can still spot some tram cars on the cables as you drive up the valley.

End of Arial tram

Arial tram station

After hitting the summit of Bruin point, we headed back to the highway and turned for home.

Utah 124

Asbestos Point

Zimmerman Point

Towing the trailer with the quad is sometimes a pain in the butt: we’re already a big tall vehicle and adding a trailer to that never helps. However, having the quad around is really nice. We recently unloaded it and headed up to do some exploring in the southern Sierra Ancha. The road we picked lead up to a saddle between Zimmerman Point and Asbestos Point. Both of these summits are easy to pick out when headed north on Highway 288 because of the bright gray streaks of overburden pushed off the edge.

View south from near Zimmerman Point

After checking out the saddle near Zimmerman Point, we headed down towards the mining area. The limestone layer that contained the asbestos had plenty of tunnel entries.

Asbestos Mine

Asbestos Mine

The road past the mines ended just below Asbestos Point. Since it was right there I decided that I would scramble up to the summit. Sprocket braved the dense scrub with me…there were some “paths” that wound their way though but the going wasn’t that easy. Luckily it wasn’t very far up to the top.

To the west from Asbestos Point

The camper is wayyyyy down there!:

Northwest from Asbestos Point

Instead of retracing our steps, Sprocket and I happily descended the north side of the Point through the pine trees. It was such a pleasant walk that we retrieved F and re-summited!

Waterfall

Ridgeline

Old Dominion Mine Park

In Globe, Arizona, work at the Old Dominion Mine began in 1883 by the Long Island Copper Co. and the Buffalo Mining and Smelting Co. When the Old Dominion Copper Mining Co. abandoned its workings at the original Old Dominion or Keystone mine, it took over the holdings of the Long Island Copper Co. In 1891, Phelps Dodge took over the holdings of Long Island Copper Co., renaming it United Globe Mining Co. In 1895, Old Dominion Copper Mining Co. was reorganized as Old Dominion Copper Mining and Smelting Co. Finally, the two companies were combined in 1903 as the Old Dominion Company, controlled by Phelps Dodge. In 1931, the mine was sold to the Miami Copper Co. and was closed by October of that year.

Old Dominion Mine Park Map

In 1897, the mine reached the eight level and the mine began it’s perennial struggles with water. When the mine reached the fourteenth level in about 1914, it was producing 3.75 million gallons of water everyday. When the mine closed in 1931, a combination of low ore levels and difficulty dewatering the mine lead to its closure.

Old Dominion Mine Headframe

Now, the mine site is open as a park. Although it has the barren look of a reclaimed mine, the Gila County Historical Society, BHP Bilton, Freeport-McMoran along with a state grant, the mine site features a variety of trails and a large number of interpretive signs and labels explaining the history of mining on the site. The trails form several loops and give ample opportunity to walk around and explore.

Old Dominion Mine

Sprocket says he is NOT a man and therefore cannot go down the manlift into the mine:

Sprocket in the manlift

Ajo, Arizona: New Cornelia Mine

After spending almost two weeks in the Yuma area, we needed to make a move! It’s still a little early to be headed anywhere north so we drove down to Ajo to spend some time catching up with old friends and exploring the desert.

We spent a lot of time in Ajo last year working, hiking, climbing mountains, jeeping, and exploring town.

Ajo was founded in 1847 by Tom Childs when he passed through the area en route to mining interests in Mexico. Childs and his party were intrigued by the ore they found. Child’s friend, Peter M. Brady, founded the Arizona Mining & Trading Company which mined surface ores in the area until a ship carrying a load to the smelter in Wales sank off the coast of Patagonia. With transportation costs leading to tiny profit margins, this disaster crippled the small mining company.

New Cornelia Mine from the slopes of Camelback Mountain
New Cornelia Mine from the slopes of Camelback Mountain

In 1900, the Cornelia Copper Company was formed by a group of St. Louis businessmen. The company was unable to find a method to concentrate ores on site—a requirement to compensate for added transportation costs from the remote location of the mine. The company reorganized under the name New Cornelia Mining Company after several disastrous experiments with copper processing.

In 1911, the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company took an option on 70% of the New Cornelia Mining Company stock. John Campbell Greenway headed the subsequent Calumet investigation into the Ajo area copper ore body. More than 25,000′ of drilling showed that there was a substantial copper ore body totaling approximately 30 million tons of ore. Calumet and Greenway exercised their option on the New Cornelia.

NewCorneliaMine
Photo NASA via Wikipedia

Calumet located a suitable water source just north of Ajo and was able to develop a practical way to process the ore. A pilot processing plant was completed in 1915 and a rail connection to Gila Bend was completed in 1916. The main processing plant capable of handling 5,000 tons of ore per day was completed in 1917.

Copper mineral "Ajoite," first identified in the New Cornelia mine.
Copper mineral “Ajoite,” first identified in the New Cornelia mine. Photo: Wikipedia

In 1917, steam shovels began operation at the New Cornelia, making it the first open pit mine in Arizona. By 1924, the mine had reached lower grade copper-sulfide but continued operation and a concentrator was built to handle the ore.

Calumet and Arizona merged with the Phelps Dodge company in 1931. Under Phelps Dodge, Ajo continued to develop as a company town. The finger print of Phelps Dodge can be seen in the “PD houses” and “PD garages” built to house workers at the New Cornelia. Sometime after taking over, Phelps Dodge built a smelter in Ajo to handle the ore and prepare it for shipment adding additional jobs in Ajo.

In 1982, as a result of declining copper prices, Phelps Dodge laid off most of their workers in Arizona and New Mexico. The New Cornelia reopened and then closed again as a result of a worker strike in 1983. The strike lasted for three years when Phelps Dodge decided it could not afford to add the necessary pollution control measures to the smelter and the mine closed permanently.

 

Sources:
Azcarza, William. “Mine Tales: Remote Ajo yielded much valuable copper.” Arizona Daily Star. 18 November 2013. Web. 8 February 2014.
Azcarza, William. “High copper prices drove demand at Ajo mining district.” Arizona Daily Star. 25 November 2013. Web. 8 February 2014.
Wikipedia: “New Cornelia Mine”

Hanging Flume

On our way from Colorado to Moab, we took a scenic byway along the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers. Unexpectedly, we spotted some timbers sticking out from the rock above the San Miguel River.

San Miguel River

As it turns out, it was the remains of the Hanging Flume. Between 1883 and 1885, the Lone Tree Mining Company filed several claims along the Dolores River just downstream of its confluence with the San Miguel River. Lone Tree mined it’s properties (including the furthest downstream claim Bancroft) using water diverted with ditches and bedrock flumes from Mesa Creek.

In 1888, the claims were sold to Montrose Placer Mining Company. This larger company needed more water than the systems used by Lone Tree could provide to profitably produce gold via hydraulic mining.

Hanging Flume

Along the often sheer walls of the San Miguel and Dolores Canyons, traditional methods of flume construction (dirt ditches and trestle supported flume boxes) were not sufficient. The flume needed total drop of just less than 90 feet over its 10 mile course to have the appropriate pressure for mining; falling just 6′ 10″ for each mile. Approximately 7 miles of the flume was constructed along the sheer canyon walls with a flume 6 feet wide and 4 feet deep.

Construction began in 1889 and was finished in 1891. Few records of the flume’s construction appear to exist. The flume began operation in 1891 and moved about 80 million gallons of water from the San Miguel River to the mining site. Yields were approximately 20 to 30 cents of gold per yard with workers moving about 4,000-5,000 yards of earth daily. The gold in the area was very fine and required mercury to recover it.

The Montrose Placer Mining Company went out of business and sold the claims to Vixen Alluvial Gold Mining Company who extended the flume an additional three miles. Still, the flume and mining operation were not profitable (mainly because of the difficulty in recovering gold). The Silver Panic of 1893 crashed metals prices and the flume fell into disuse.

Hanging Flume

As time passed, pieces of the flume were removed to be used for home building and as timbers in local uranium mines. Additional damage has been caused by erosion of the sandstone and by biological growth. The Hanging Flume was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and has also been named to Colorado Preservation, Inc’s list of endangered places and to the 2006 World Monuments Fund watch list.

We spotted the flume off of the Y-11 River Rd. that travels south from the former mining town of Uravan. The ruins of the flume are also visible from the Unaweep Tabegauache Scenic Byway (Colorado Highways 141 and 145).

Confluence

Sources:
2006 World Monuments Watch List
World Monument’s Fund: Hanging Flume
“121-year-old western Colorado mining flume clings to its secrets.” Denver Post, April 4, 2012 by Nancy Lofholm
“Engineering marvel Unaweep Canyon Hanging Flume to be restored.” Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, April 5, 2012 by Kathy Jordan

Assorted Moab Fun

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been getting out and having some fun in the mountains and on the slickrock.

Last Sunday we took the Jeep out on the Strike Ravine trail, watched a buggy do the last obstacle on upper Helldorado. We took the long way home up onto a mesa above Pack Creek and did some successful(!) antler hunting.

Jeep on Strike Ravine Trail

Toyota buggy on Upper Helldorado

For Forrest’s birthday last week we made a valliant attempt to drive to Oowah Lake. We nearly made it but getting out involved winching a couple of times (and me climbing 10′ into a tree to set up a winch anchor). We finished off the birthday with dinner in town and dessert back at our friends’ house.

We also took a trip to the ridge above Carpenter Basin. Forrest spent his time up there looking for antlers while Sprocket and I attempted to reach the high point of the ridge (we were foiled by snow just below the top).

View to the Henrys

Sprocket hiking

On our way back from hiking, we checked out a couple of abandoned mines. The hillsides in that area are covered in mining remains!

Abandoned mine

Jeep