Colorado Ghost Towns: A gold rush town with a golden view
Sometimes, that meant moving somewhere that was flat-out uninhabitable... or close to it. That's the case behind Animas Forks in Southwestern Colorado.
At 11,160 feet, it's the kind of climb only the hardiest adventurers would take on. As for living up there, you would have to be crazy. But after taking a look around at the homes blanketed across the rolling hills, it is clear people were there for a lot longer than a season. The places were built to last, and families moved in to stay.
"This was an extremely difficult place to get to," Colorado State Historian Bill Convery said. "A tour guide writer in 1881 wrote that except for gold and silver, there's no reason why anyone would stay in this community for any length of time at all."
The gold rush drew miners to the mountains of Southwestern Colorado. Terrain simply wasn't a concern if you could strike it rich in the end. A few years of comfort for potentially a lifetime worth of wealth? You had better believe that was worth it.
"There's no question that people here understood the challenges of making places like this. They had to be optimistic, have a sense of humor, and they had to think that there was going to be a better future by living in such an extreme condition," Convery said.
1873 was the beginning of that better future, when explorers found deep deposits and built the town's first cabin. Within three years, the place was booming.
As the 1880s hit, the town grew up on the mountain. Construction on a giant ore factory started, and even with the terrible winters, somewhere between 400 and 1,000 people lived in Animas Forks. Everyone wanted a crack at the mountain's gold, and they were willing to weather things out.
Then there was that one year, 1884.
"In the 1880s, miners recorded a 23-day blizzard that left 25 feet of snow on the streets of Animas Forks," Convery said. The storms were so bad, in fact, they dug tunnels from building to building, creating an underground city in the hills for the winter. It was months before the town thawed out.
Animas Forks thrived for 20 years before silver prices plummeted in the 1900s. Ore was getting tougher to find, too, and it came to the point where living in the mountains just wasn't worth the sacrifice. Like so many mining towns, families moved in, prepared for the long haul... then left for a new start a short time later.
More than 100 years later, Animas Forks is one of the best preserved ghost towns in the state. Thousands make the climb up to visit annually, exploring the mined-out mountains from their Jeeps and ATVs. Even with the silver mining opportunities long gone, there is still a silver lining to this place.
"They had to have an extreme sense of adventure and fortitude to create communities in the high country of Colorado. We learn a lot about our spirit and our character by studying places like Animas Forks," Convery said.
Animas Forks makes for an amazing trip, but it is only suitable to visit during the summer months before the snowy season. It is about a 7 hour journey to Animas Forks from Denver.
To get there, you will need a four-wheel drive vehicle. From Denver, take I-70 west for 225 miles. Take exit 37 toward Clifton and Grand Junction for 1.7 miles, then turn left onto CO-141 South. After five miles, continue onto US-50 East for 55 miles, then continue onto US-550 S / S Townsend Ave for 40 miles.
Turn left onto Co Rd 18 for 4.3 miles, then continue onto Co Rd 17 for 2.7 miles, then continue onto Co Rd 2 for about 2.4 miles. You will reach Animas Forks shortly after that.
For more precise directions, we encourage you to visit a mapping website and simply type in Animas Forks, Colorado. Again, please only visit during the summer season.
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