Basecamp Ouray: 5 Ways to Experience San Juan Mountain Mining History
Ouray Colorado is in the heart of hard rock mining in the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado. Numerous silver and later gold mines surfaced in the latter part of the 1800s several years after the Civil War ended; the town of Ouray incorporated in 1876. At Ouray's peak population, there were 2500 people living in the city limits and there were thousands of others living in the nearby towns (like Ironton or Sneffels) that are now long gone. Five things to do in Ouray to learn about and experience the life of the hard rock miners of the late 1800s are:
- Visit the Mining Overlook
- Take a Scenic Jeep Tour
- Tour the Ouray Museum
- Enroll in the Extended Studies Program at WSC
- Attend the Mining Artifact Show In Ouray
Along the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway near the summit of Red Mountain Pass, pull off the road at the Mining Overlook. From this vantage you can see portions of the Red Mountain Mining District including the Yankee Girl Headframe (pictured left - photo by Don Paulson). Several interpretive displays explain the layout of the mining district and the ways of the hard rock miners. Further, you learn about the efforts to preserve the history of this region. The Red Mountain Mining District was the focus of the Red Mountain Project. This task force worked to preserve vast tracts of land while stabilizing some of the historic structures in the San Juan Mountains. There was also a great deal of effort focused on reclaimation. It was a well coordinated effort that has worked to maintain much of the history the region.
You can enjoy scenic jeep tours throughout the mining district and learn about some of the histories of the mines in the area. The tour into Yankee Boy Basin is one of the most popular and during the tour, you can see incredible wildflowers (if you come late June through August) as well as relics of many forgotton mines and mills. Skilled storytellers recount the life and times of a typical miner as well as explaining the ruins. The scenery is breathtaking as well as you can ascend the mountains to well over 11,000 feet on a typical tour.
The tours of Red Mountain III or the tour over Cork Screw (one of the access points to the Alpine Loop) will take you to some of the finest vistas in the area and show you other mining areas. Most of the roads traveled are historic in that the miners created them over 100 years ago. Crossing mountain passes unleashes incredible views of the eastern drainages and gives you an unmatched glimpse into the beautiful San Juans.
While in Ouray, tour the Ouray Museum which has been named "one of the best small museums in the west" by the Smithsonain Institution. It is housed in the old miner's hospital and there are three floors in its collection. There is also an extensive research library frequented by those on a quest for family histories as well as professional geneologists. The museum is open from April - November and the historical society runs an extensive calendar of events during the summertime including the very popular "Evenings in History" lectures.
Every year, Western State College offers an extended studies program into the region that covers the early history of mining as well as the geology that made the region so prosperous. You also get to enjoy the current day comforts of beautiful Southwest Colorado for several days, traveling the historic Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad, travel along parts of the Million Dollar Highway, as well as visit the historic towns of Lake City, Telluride, Ouray, Silverton, and Durango.
The Mining Artifact Show comes to Ouray on June 11, 2011. All dealers and collectors of mining artifacts are welcome and it takes place at the Ouray Community Center. The Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs is offering a group rate for show vendors and collectors. Please mention the show to obtain your special rate.
You can also tour the Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour!
Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs’ four natural hot springs hot tubs are the perfect way to top off a fun-filled day in Ouray. The tubs offer spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding San Juan Mountains.