The Ironton Park Mining Camp is a popular destination in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado and this old ghost town can actually be accessed year round with a variety of transportation modes. A previously published article describes the winter season cross-country ski and snowshoe trails that run through this historic area. During summer, Ironton Park can be accessed with a high ground clearance vehicle and this destination is considered to be an extension of the Alpine Loop 4x4 tour. There also is a nearby ATV staging area, which also serves as a parking lot for those who prefer to do the walking tour of this old mining camp. Highway 550 actually runs through both the historic Red Mountain Mining District and Ironton Park, so the ease of access absolutely is no problem!
The old abandoned ghost town that is now known as Ironton Park was originally constructed in the late 1890s as a staging area for the neighboring Red Mountain mining operations and several other ore claims in the back country. Ironton and the neighboring town of Ouray were integral supply line components from the north side, while a southern connection with the Silverton Railroad Line guaranteed this depot was here to stay. Chain stores and mercantile businesses along with every vice in the west popped up in Ironton Park, but unfortunately the boomtown era did not last long. Operations in the neighboring mining district dried up in the early 1900s and because of the very harsh winter conditions, nearly the entire population exited to new horizons.
A few hearty stragglers remained in the Ironton Mining Camp after the heyday was over and the construction of the paved highway helped to keep this historic site on the map. A local historical society was created in recent years that works in conjunction with the Uncompahgre Nation Forest Service to preserve the old historic buildings, which is worth looking into for donations. Some of the old landmark structures still stand tall, while all that remains of others is a rusty scrap pile. The floorboards are still in good condition in some buildings, so taking a peek inside to see what alpine life was like back in the old mining days is possible to do.
The aspen forest is thick in this area, so plenty of shade can be found on a sunny day. The summer daytime temperatures are comfortable in this high elevation, but a storm front can bring very cold conditions no matter the time of year, so packing some extra warm clothing will always be necessary. The Red Mountain Mining District is located right next door, which also offers hiking, biking and 4x4 trails, so an entire day can be spent experiencing the sites in this area.
Dispersed camping is allowed too, which presents an opportunity to do some amazing mountain top star gazing. The wildlife is everywhere, so it is best to be aware of the surroundings. I actually watched two moose cross the road at Ironton Park during the snowy winter season, which is something rarely seen in this region. For this reason, be sure to keep Ironton Park in mind when planning a tour of the Million Dollar Highway!
*On a side note, the Ironton Park photos were captured with a new Nikon D7500 and the 18-140mm kit lens. Since it was a first timer with this camera, I used the automatic mode plus jpeg large to check it out. The photos were shot in the worst possible lighting conditions, which is high elevation blinding sunlight around noon. The D7500 did pretty good, especially with focusing, so it replaced the totally worn out Nikon D90 that lasted over 10 years in the field. Six months has passed and the lightweight D7500 camera has proven reliable. Manual mode settings yield the best results, so this camera will certainly make a user do some work!
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