Historical Ouray County
From Mining to Ranching to Soaking in Natural Hot Springs; The Beauty of Ouray County is Everlasting!
The Ute Indians arrived in what is today known as Ouray County about 1300 AD to find a land formed some 35 million years ago by firs and ice. Immense volcanic eruptions resulted in deep, lava formed craters. The most recent Ice Age scoured the mountain valleys, carving great amphiteatres, cliffs and peaks. the Utes valued the Uncompahgres based on abundant wildlife, plentiful streams, and of course the natural hot springs. For ages, the Ute tribe lived in harmony with the land.
It is widely believed that the first white men to visit the valley were "Gus" Begole and John Eckles in 1875 in search of gold and silver. Soon the men found the area was rich in possibilities, and soon claims were being made all through the area.
The following spring, the rush was on. The town was surveyed, streets laid out, and most of the timber in the Ouray area was cut down for cabins. In the fall of 1876, the town was incorporated and given the name of Ouray in honor of the great Ute chief famed for his efforts to maintain peace between the two cultures.
Mines were also taking root higher in the mountains in Imogene and Yankee Boy. Pack trains carried supplies and ore between local mines and Ouray, now over 400 strong, boasting a school, four stores, two hotel, a saw mill, an ore sampling works, post office and an assortment of saloons and gambling houses.
In 1883, entrepreneur and engineering genius Otto Mears carved a toll road between Ouray and the towns of Silverton and Ironton to the south. This road is now known as US Highway 550, or more lovingly dubbed the Million Dollar Highway.
In 1887, the area experienced another boom when the Denver Rio Grande Railroad established a depot in town, which allowed the profitable mining of low grade ores. With rich discoveries made northeast of town in the Gold Hill area, and the mining industry booming, the population of Ouray exploded to over 2000 residents by the year 1890. The following year, the town of Ridgway was developed as a travel hub for the railway.
The town suffered a scare in 1893, when the value of silver plummeted, but three years later was again riding high when Tom Walsh struck it rich at the Camp Bird Mine, southwest of town. Between 1896 and 1910, the mine produced over $26 million.
At the turn of the century, Ouray entered a boom or bust cycle as mining became less productive and tourism became more of a focal point. The Ouray Hot Springs Pool was built, and the city purchased Box Canyon Park.
Ridgway prospered as a railroad transportation center until the Rio Grande Rail Southern Rail halted service in 1951. Today, Ridgway is a successful ranching community, gifted with moderate climate and fertile land. The town continues to serve as an important junction, leading to some of the finest skiing in Colorado, and energy rich mineral deposits in the west.
The city of Ouray has been designated as a National Historic District. Beautifully preserved and restored Victorian architecture serves to recall the century old mining traditions and ingenuity of the early settlers. Even the city pool is on the National Historical Register.
The Ouray County Historical Society Museum is housed in what was once the hospital, and offers a sampling of the rich and varied past of the area.
There are over 10,000 abandoned mine shafts, tunnels or cuts within a ten mile radius of Ouray, for hikers to seek and discover, as well as access to over 500 miles of four wheel drive trails, most leading to ghost towns and abandoned mines high in the mountains. It is always fascinating to experience in a four wheel drive vehicle trails that were once traveled by hearty men and women on horseback or on foot, often in the winter through feet of snow. Yikes!
The Bachelor Syracuse Mine, just a few miles north of the city now offers tours, taking people over 2,000 feet into the ground to experience a tiny taste of mining at the turn of the century.
Rich in history and overflowing with natural beauty, Ouray County offers a variety of adventures. Whether fascinated by the old town feel, or eager to soak in the natural mineral hot springs, there is something for everyone here.
See you soon!