Animas Forks- the high altitude ghost town was once a thriving gold mine

Animas Forks is situated on the Alpine Loop, a network of routes. The loop is a 65-mile (105-kilometer) unpaved road system that links the tiny alpine villages of Lake City, Ouray, and Silverton. The US Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management oversee the majority of the land in the region. Every year, around 100,000 individuals visit the Alpine Loop. Animas Forks is more than two miles (3 kilometers) above sea level, at an elevation of 11,200 feet (3,400 m).

Abandoned building, Animas Forks source

The unimproved route from Silverton to Animas Forks is usable by two-wheel drive cars in the summer. The road from Animas Forks to Lake City through Engineer Pass may need four-wheel drive.

The town’s first log cabin was established in 1873, and by 1876, it had grown into a thriving mining hamlet. The village had 30 cabins, a hotel, a general shop, a bar, and a post office at the time. By 1883, Animas Forks had 450 residents, and in 1882, the Animas Forks Pioneer, a newspaper, began publishing and ran until October 1886. Every fall, the people of Animas Forks relocated en masse to Silverton, a warmer town. A 23-day snowstorm buried the town with 25 feet (7.6 m) of snow in 1884, forcing locals to dig tunnels to travel from one building to the next. Mining, speculating, and processing mills all contributed to the growth of Animas Forks.

Source AlphaTangoBravo /Adam Baker/Flickr
Animas Forks, Colorado and Tuttle Mountain.source
Downtown Animas Forks, 2009.source

When mining earnings began to fall, investing in Animas Forks became unjustifiable. Although mining saw a brief resurgence in 1904 with the completion of the Gold Prince Mill, the town’s mining days were coming to an end. A rail line passed through the region, reigniting community interest in mining, but the railroad never lived up to its hopes. The Gold Prince Mill ceased in 1910, and most of its primary components were destroyed in 1917 to make way for a new plant in Eureka. The mill’s deconstruction marked the beginning of the end for Animas Forks. By the 1920s, the village had become a ghost town.


The place is still a tourist attraction. In 1997 and 1998, a Colorado State Historical Fund grant to San Juan County, in collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management, funded for the stability of the surviving structures. The townsite was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, which opened the door to more financing. The late 1990s stability project was followed by a full restoration of the structures in 2013-2014. Work highlighted in the 2009 Historic Structures Assessment was completed throughout the course of two successive State Historical Fund awards commencing in 2013. The project was finished in 2014, just in time for the 25th anniversary of the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway’s inception.

The mining community of Animas Forks in its heyday, around 1878..source

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and San Juan County worked together to maintain the property until a long-awaited land swap was accomplished in 2009. The BLM currently owns the Townsite entirely and distributes informative booklets and maps in a nearby parking lot. The buildings are open to the public. The Townsite’s nine standing structures have been stabilized and restored, with floors, walls, windows, and doors repaired to protect the envelope of each building. Several buildings have had their cedar shingle roof sheathing repaired, as well as structural repairs and improvements to the drainage surrounding the structures and across the site. The prison structure, the oldest building on the site, had its gable roof repaired as part of the project’s second phase in 2014, along with new explanatory signs.

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