“They’re pretty easy ones,” Berl had told us yesterday, then he described a couple of routes, and Jerry was the one that made the decision. We would go four-wheeling today, traveling out of Silverton, first on Maggie’s Gulch, then on to Minnie’s Gulch. (These links provide interesting material, along with maps and several pictures )
Although we have a Jeep, it is a Grand Cherokee, which sets lower to the ground than does a Wrangler, and besides it’s our only car, so understandably Jerry is a little cautious about taking our vehicle four-wheeling. But we’ve done it before…and we did it today…and I wish I could tell you how wonderful it is. Jerry and I engaged in our first “Jeeping” trip a few years ago and it was such fun, I wish we had taken this up when we were younger. It’s an absolute blast!
Silverton is about 45 minutes from our RV park, setting high in the San Juan Mountains at nearly 10,000 feet. We approached the town on Highway 550, called appropriately enough The Million Dollar Highway. Around a sharp bend, after a long, steep descent, off to the right, straight down it seems, is the town of Silverton. We drove slowly through the charming place (We are planning to spend one complete day in Silverton before we leave, so I’ll tell you more about the town then.) and out the other side and soon were at the sign that read, Maggie’s Gulch.
In his Jeep Rubicon, Berl led the way up the rocky trail, which immediately took a sharp ascent, Jerry and I following behind in our Cherokee which performed splendidly. People who go four-wheeling view sights that others will never see. Vistas open to reveal secrets of river, stream, lake, mountain and wild life. Remnants of those who forged new life in the wilderness areas of our country are cached within hidden valleys and meadows. Abandoned houses and mines and mills in barely accessible places speak of incredible strength, vision, and perseverance.
Taken in (See more photos here)
At the Intersection Mill and Mine, yet stand stamps and wheels and pulleys. I am amazed that, without modern transportation devices such as we have, such structures were transported to these areas ten, eleven, twelve thousand feet in elevation. People lived, worked and died here; here where some areas receive more than 200 inches of snow annually. It’s incredible.
After we had eaten a snack, we poked around in the mine area, then LaVelta found a skull and a scattering of bones that Jerry thinks might be a wolf. Is he right, any carcass experts who may be out there? I thought it looked kind of interesting, and so that I could get a good shot, I propped the white boney head on a stone.
We could have stayed all day in Maggie’s Gulch, but there was yet Minnie’s, so we turned around, and ran the descent. Minnie was a short distance away, and after a break we turned upward again toward Minnie’s Gulch. It was a spectacular drive, Minnie Creek lies far below on the valley floor, and there are numerous Aspens on this trail. A few leaves had lit their spectacular golden lights, and they glittered now in autumn’s breeze. It was at our first stop at the Caledonia Mill foundations that LaVelta and I spied a beautiful butterfly–whose portrait you see at the top of this page.
LaVelta’s nickname is Dovie. Take a close look and you will see this is her cabin. It was so funny. There is furniture in this house, table, chairs, broom, floral paper on the walls, a ladder and a loft. We were intrigued as we poked around, where long ago, someone had a regular ordinary life. A family probably reared children there, and cooked and read and dreamed.
Further down the road from the mine was a two-story fairly well preserved building, that we learned had been a boarding house. Across the road and down a bit was the superintendent’s house. It is in a state of near-collapse, but one part appears strong and invincible. We looked through a window opening and saw a large metal safe–about the size of a refrigerator–and concluded he must have stored some of the silver in there. The outside wall up against the safe is cemented over to secure the heavy piece.
Once Berl stopped his car, and I looked ahead. “I think there’s a bird in the road, Jerry.” But when I looked again I did not see it, then suddenly I saw a huge wing fling up out of the grass at the road’s edge. I moved from the car and walked quietly down the road for I could see Berl was standing out with his camera, and I did not want to frighten away the bird. But he motioned me on, and together we looked and saw a large bird–probably a hawk– who lay wounded in the grass. We both took pictures but didn’t stay long. “He was in the road drinking water,” Berl said, “then he staggered over here. We need to be sure we don’t drive him from the water.”
Jerry and Berl had discussed the possibility of meeting a car coming the opposite direction. The roads are only one lane, and there are sheer drop-offs–hundreds of feet down to the valley floor. No protective rails, of course. Well, it happened. We met a large pick-up truck, and it took some maneuvering. The truck was coming up and had the right of way. Both Berl and Jerry had to drive high onto the mountain side, and the driver of the truck was literally on the cliff-side edge. Our mirrors barely cleared as he passed, and he grinned and spoke, “Little skinny here, isn’t it?”
And then we were down, having traveled to an altitude of 11,500 this afternoon. We trekked back into Silverton, parked in front of Brown Bear Cafe, and had dinner. They tell me the building is more than 100 years old. As we returned to Durango, a doe stood quietly at the edge of 550, perhaps a mate to the young buck I had seen in the morning. She eyed me as we passed.