Scenic Drive Near Ouray Colorado: Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway
For a wonderful motorcycle ride or a scenic drive in a passenger car from Ouray, consider the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway. This route takes you to an area on the Colorado Plateau and can have much warmer and dryer weather than Ouray. The road is fully paved and you travel on State Highways. About 15 miles north of Naturita, near the confluence of the San Miguel and the Dolores River you will see one of Colorado's treasured sites: the Hanging Flume.
In the late 1800s, a major gold strike occurred on Mesa Creek Flats below the confluence of the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers. The Montrose Placer Mining Company bought six and a half miles of mining claims there. No one knew how much gold was buried beneath the tons of sand and gravel and to free the gold the miners needed water and lots of it. And so the hanging flume was conceived.
The mining claims were only 40 feet above the Dolores River but in 1889 there was no way to pump water in sufficient quantities even that far so several miles upriver, they built the flume and tied it into a series of ditches to move 80,000,000 gallons of water every 24 hour period when it was working. The flume consisted of 7 miles of a wooden trough, four feet high and six feet wide, suspended above the river and the builders bolted the frame over 18 inches deep into the sandstone rocks. This flume was at a very slight grade, only 6 feet 10 inches to the mile. It took 12 men three years and over $100,000 to build it. The mining company only used the flume for three years before calling it quits since it didn't prove to be terribly profitable - the gold was too fine to be recovered, even with the use of quicksilver (mercury). Through the years much of the timbers that were used to build the flume were harvested by local farmers and ranchers for use in building.
All that remains today are some dangling shards of the once great flume. Some of the best views are along River Road. You can also see several remnants from CO141 at the Hanging Flume Overlook about 14 miles north of Naturita.
To access River Road, look for the road and bridge near the UMETCO sign a couple of miles south of the Hanging Flume Overlook. It is a dirt road but accessible to 2WD passenger cars.