The prospectors that ventured over the Molas Pass in the San Juan Mountains down into the Silverton, Colo., area in the 1880s must have thought they hit the jackpot—in more ways than one. Not only was the area pretty as a postcard, it lay rich in what would be nearly $300 million in gold and silver. Gold Rush Fever had hit Colorado in 1859, and many of those “Fifty-Niners” (named after the peak year of the rush) expanded their mining eff orts into the rest of the territory. By 1874, Silverton was becoming a hub of mining activity, with many ready to stake their claim along the Animas River. The little town nestled in the majestic San Juans in the southwestern corner of Colorado also caught the eye of the railroad companies. By July, 1882, the Denver and Rio Grande Railway had completed its line between Durango and Silverton. Building this railroad was no easy feat, as Silverton sits at 9,318 feet above sea level—3,000 feet higher than Durango.
Within 12 months, Silverton was a bustling town of 2,000 people with 400 buildings, two banks, five laundries, several hotels, and a whopping 32 saloons, all within a three-block stretch. Today you can take a 3-hour ride on the vintage, steam-operated, coal-fired Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway and step down in the middle
of Silverton. You can bear witness to Silverton’s wilder days at The Grand Imperial Hotel, where Sheriff Bat Masterson left a bullet hole in the back bar. If your stay in Silverton gives you the fever to explore other history-rich Colorado mining towns, consider trips to Leadville, Cripple Creek/Victor, Central City, and other quaint relics of a colorful past.
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WHILE IN SILVERTON: The Ute Indians called the 14,000-foot San Juans the Shining Mountains and, along with 5 million acres of undisturbed forest, the area truly is a storybook setting. To see it all, travel the 236-mile San Juan Skyway, designated a scenic byway by the Department of Transportation.
FOR A GOOD SOAK: Don’t miss the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings in nearby Ouray. Their therapeutic waters off er medicinal healing qualities. www.wiesbadenhotsprings.com