Ghost Towns, Old Mines, Dirt Roads Around Lake City

Miles Driven Today:      71            Total Miles Driven:  5501

Today, we explored the backroads area around Lake City.  There are a number of backroads, gravel or dirt roads that lead to scenic areas, lakes, old ghost towns, disused mines.  Some of them end in trailheads.  Some of them continue on over the mountains but are only suitable for offroad vehicles or 4 wheel drives with high clearance.  In fact this is a very popular area for ATVs etc because there are so many tracks over the mountains available to them.  Old routes used by mule trains and miners’ supply routes.  Not suitable for a rented Ford Focus though……  Still, there were enough interesting forest roads to explore.

A lovely bright sunny,  warm day again.  Can’t believe we’re still in shorts and t shirts.  Have hardly needed our warm clothes.  This morning there were 5 elk outside our room.  First wildlife we’ve seen in a long time.  Our theory is that there is less park land in Colorado and therefore the animals know they are in danger from hunters and are more wary.  They must be there, but we don’t see them as much as we did in Wyoming and Montana.

Our first route was just south of Lake City along CR20, part of the Alpine Route.  This is a 4 wheel drive route through the mountains but with part of it suitable for 2 wheel drive cars.  It starts right away with a narrow rocky canyon running alongside the river.  The road was gravel and pretty rutted.  A bit worse than we expected.  We were intending to follow it 9 miles to Capitol City, an old ghost town.  Along the way we passed several old mines including the Ute Olay Mine and Mill.  This is a really impressive scenic mine, with an old dam on the river below it.  The dam has got a massive great hole in it – a tribute to the power of water.  The lower areas are closed for access while they are being made safe but we could look down and view some of the truly precarious buildings clinging to the side of the canyon.  It was in use from the 1870s to the 1980s and produced enormous amounts of gold, silver, lead, zinc and other minerals and really is the reason Lake City exists.

Along the route was quite frightening evidence of massive avalanches in recent years.  Huge piles of trees and earth swept down the mountain and into the valley.  Really huge. I’ve never seen the aftermath of an avalanche that close up and can only imagine what it would have been like with the extra weight and force of the snow on top.  Incredible that snow would bring so much earth, rocks and huge numbers of massive trees down….. I wouldn’t want to put my cabin in such an area. Really quite unnerving.

In the end the road just got too much and we turned back before reaching Capitol City.  Not a good place for a puncture with no phone signal and literally no other traffic.

We headed a bit further south to try another part of the Alpine Loop that we thought would be better for the wheels.  This time we took the CR30, first to San Christobel Lake.  It was a lot better road surface, due to the holiday homes and campsites along the lake and beyond.  We drove along the north side of the lake – beautiful and then continued towards Sherman ghost town, around 13 miles further on.  This road would end up at Engineer Pass, a pass that would allow ATVs to cross the mountains to Ouray and Silverton.  Obviously we could not do that.  The road was dirt but with a bit of loose gravel but not rutted like CR20.  The views were absolutely extraordinary.

We passed some small mines and quite a few amazing holiday cabins – very, very nice.  There were some small ranches too that looked like heaven.  Must be very remote but what a paradise!  We eventually came to Sherman, getting quite lost in the trees now, but still with visible buildings and equipment.  Turned around at that point and came back to Lake San Christobel and drove along the south side where we  parked up and had our picnic lunch.  What a fabulous view.  It must be absolutely great in the summer when you could take boats out.  There was a lone fisherman today.

Tomorrow we move on to Breckenridge, our base for our last mountain week.  There are a couple of route options.  One involved taking one of these forest roads for a while.  We decided to go and have a look at it first.  A wise move.  We drove back up to the top of Slumgullion Summit and Pass and picked it up FR788.  It was a beautiful, dirt road and we took it as far as Deer Lakes – about 4 miles – but we decided it was not a good idea for our longer route tomorrow, it was a bit rough.

Came back to Lake City and had a bit of an explore.  It’s a small place, mainly holiday homes I would say but with some amenities.  They are building a school.  There is a lovely little one room cinema, a reasonable number of restarants, a bank, petrol station, shops….   We stopped at the Lake City Café and had coffees.  A nice place.  The menu looked great and the food coming out did too.  If we weren’t cooking in, we would definitely eat there.

Back to our place and had dinner.  Sorted out photos.  Another beautiful day.  We are so lucky to have experienced this area with near perfect weather and timing to see the autumn leaves.  Something we will always remember.