Exploring the old mining towns and historic industrial sites in the San Juan Mountains is as easy as taking a tour on the paved Million Dollar Highway. Plenty can be accessed with a regular passenger car, while a 4x4 driver will have many more options. Most of the old historic sites offer biking and hiking trails, which present a full day of adventure in this alpine environment. One of the best places to witness the full extent of mining operations in this vast wilderness is the Red Mountain Mining District, which offers all forms of transportation access. In this unique place, there are plenty of remnants from the Colorado gold and silver rush industrial age to marvel over and even more lessons to be learned!
The historic mill framework and the old Red Mountain village are located along the paved road and there is a large parking area with facilities for those who wish to take a closer look on foot. Most of the buildings at the top of the hill are in good condition and the massive ore line framework is in good shape, so a good idea of how the original layout once looked can be gained. When standing on the ledge of the very steep mountain incline, the rest of the mining operations can be seen scattered across the side of Red Mountain, which is quite a majestic sight to behold. Just like the name suggests, this colorful mineralized peak rises high above the alpine forest canopy and the elevation at the crest is nearly 13,000 feet high. For this reason, be sure to stay hydrated when exploring the Red Mountain Mining District on foot, in order to prevent altitude sickness.
There is a series of switchback u-turns on the paved road next to the Red Mountain village and this is where the Red Mountain Mining District Jeep Trail can be found. A map is not really necessary for this 4x4 dirt road system, because the side trails basically only meander over the slopes to the industrial sites in this area. Pre-plotting a travel route on a GPS may end up being a waste of time, because flash floods and avalanches have a way of causing multiple detours. Basically the best way to take on the Red Mountain Mining District Trails is to just go for it and judge the conditions as one goes. If a dirt road looks like it is too risky to handle, turning around in the narrow spaces along the ledges may be awkward, but easier going pathways can be found and there will still be plenty of old mining sites to experience.
There are picturesque wilderness areas along the old mining roads and wildlife can be seen everywhere, so it is best to ride slow so it can all be taken in. Dangerous animals like bears and mountain lions live in this environment, while I have even seen moose recently in the neighboring Ironton Park Mining Camp as well. Being aware of the surroundings is essential for avoiding a dangerous surprise encounter and knowing what to look for can enable an opportunity to capture a picture worth framing!
When exploring any old mining area on foot, it is best to avoid the mine shafts and areas of unstable ground. A rescue for a severe injury in this remote area might as well be a million miles away, so it is always best to play it safe. As can be seen in the photos, the Red Mountain Mining District trails have plenty of historic eye candy to offer, so be sure to chalk this one up when planning an alpine tour of the Uncompahgre National Forest!
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