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A Scenic Journey into Colorado's Mining Past Over Engineer Pass

With 54 peaks over 14,000 ft (4270 m) in elevation, the state of Colorado has many ways to get high. And rich. Once upon a time the path to riches was found underground, not on the peaks.

During the 1870's mining towns began to emerge in Colorado. Colorado was definitely the "wild west" during those days! The mines operated over the next 20-30 years until the market changed for the ore products. Today most of them are ghost towns.

Once such ghost town is Animas Forks located 12 miles (19 km) from the live city of Silverton. To access Animas Forks from the more established town of Lake City (to the east), a high mountain road was constructed by the Russian/British road and railroad builder Otto Mears. It was called Engineer Pass. A few weeks ago (on August 27th, to be specific), I rented an ATV and traveled 68 miles (110 km) of very rugged mountain roads. I made it to Engineer Pass that morning.

Colorado became an official State in 1876 and is therefore known as "The Centennial State". (The United States is considered to have become a country in 1776 – 100 years earlier. Colorado was the 38th of the current 50 states). All of the mines near Engineer Pass were being built during this same time.

Engineer Pass is at an elevation 12,800 ft (3900 m) – see photo of me below. It was completed in August 1877 – one year after Colorado became a state – and a mere 143 years (to the month!) before I and my ATV reached the top.

Originally Engineer Pass was served by a stage coach that left Lake City and took people all the way to Animas Forks. Reaching Engineer Pass today is not easy. It is found on the Alpine Loop National Backcountry Byway, a four-wheel-drive road. My lady friend and I rode our ATV's along the whole Alpine Loop starting from Silverton to Lake City, then back over Cinnamon Pass.

Aside from the natural beauty we encountered, we were also struck by the many (20-30 it seemed) abandoned mines along Engineer Pass. These are historically interesting, maybe even romantic. But can also look like a blight on the pristine high mountain landscape.

We stopped for lunch along Henson Creek on the east side of Engineer Pass near an old broken-down cabin. Little did we know that the cabin was once an important stop on the Engineer Pass road and a lively inn known as Rose's Cabin – built in 1874. For anyone interested, Rose's Cabin and the land around it are for sale!

If we were to ever do this again, we would rent a side-by-side vehicle with a roof covering. We did not get rained on while on our ATVs, but it sure looked like it for a while on the way back to Silverton! 

Me at the top of Engineer Pass, Colorado on August 27, 2020
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Tuesday, 26 September 2023
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