Silver by the Ton

Having mined out (!) the attractions of Silverton proper, the mining ghost town of Animas Forks beckoned to Fred and the Old One Hundred Mine and Tour was on the way, so we set off from Silverton to check both out. We made it the five miles to the Old One Hundred Mine promptly and in time to join their first tour at 10.30 AM, where we had the good fortune to be two of only ten or so people. It was a great tour that even Denise found interesting. We went down into the mine on an electric train wearing full yellow raincoats and hard hats and felt the water dripping onto us as we rode. The hard rock mines are apparently always full of water and there were streams running alongside the trail we took. Mining in the Silverton area dates from the 1880’s and seven levels had been cut into the mountain producing gold and silver, plus various base metals, before the mine closed in the 1960’s. We visited the most recent level, Level 7, on the bottom. Most of the ore was extracted from the higher levels, some three thousand feet above us. The tour included information on how the metals were mined, including actual tests of some of the equipment, like the drills and a mucker, a kind of scoop. And it was loud! You can see how miners lost their hearing with multiple drills going, and all the other equipment working, plus blasting of the ore. I am glad that I am not a miner! We returned to the surface and found the next group assembling for their tour. Many more on this tour! We walked up a short distance to photograph the original bunkhouse, which sits just visible perched at 13,000 feet, or the original entry point for Level 1.

Animas Forks  007 Got to look closely here (zoom in) but you can see the remains of the cable system that carried ore from the mines to the crushing station.

Animas Forks  008 Back in the day, these cable systems ran all over all of the hills. When combined with the railroads, they provided a very efficient way to move ore, and people. The network of cable systems was vast.

Animas Forks  009 Animas Forks  010 Animas Forks  011 Denise standing by a seam of ore.

Animas Forks  012“Tommyknockers” hidden away in the mine. The legend of the Tommyknocker reminds of nothing so much as the legends of “El Tio” in Potosi.

Animas Forks  020Mike with El Tio in Potosi, Bolivia. Note the offerings of coca leaves, alcohol, and a cigarette. Miners share some beliefs all over the world. (No coca leaves in Colorado.)

Animas Forks  013Long tele shot of the old bunk house. A wonder that anyone could actually sleep at that altitude.

We then headed for Animas Forks, about twelve miles from (and two thousand feet above) Silverton. The road was decent dirt as far as Eureka and then deteriorated and became much rockier and steeper. Fred had wanted to try the Cinnamon Pass to Lake City, which was rumored to be open but still difficult. After discussions with the Tourist Information Office in Silverton, he decided not to tackle it and indeed we gave a lift up to Animas Forks to a young hitchhiker who had been on our mine tour. Of course, we then met a ranger who commutes across it daily and he said that it was fine! But we were committed by then, so we enjoyed a fascinating visit to the old buildings and mine, walking through the snow runoff and even some snow. Imagine, snow on June 1. There is still considerable snow around in the upper altitudes and multiple roads are still closed because of snow. We were still very early in the tourist season. We returned to Silverton, dropped off our passenger and headed for Ouray and a campsite while the road was open.

Animas Forks  014 Ruins of an old ore mill. The mills were generally built on slopes so that gravity would help carry the ore from one level to another. Similarly, mines were usually laid out with the main entrance on the lowest level.

Animas Forks  015 Animas Forks  016 Animas Forks  017 Animas Forks  018

The main road from Silverton to Ouray had suffered a landslide and only one lane was open and only when the crews were not working. So Sunday was by far the best day to go to Ouray and minimize the delays. It was “ho hum another beautiful drive” down a winding road full of hairpin bends and lacking quite a few guardrails but we made it safely and camped in a lovely Forest Commission primitive campsite. In this case, that meant chemical toilets were available but no water. We need neither so for us the charm of the site was only emphasized by the view of the snowcapped peak.

Animas Forks  019

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