The Adventurous Spirit of Animas Forks, Colorado

Animas Forks

“Wherever nature has planted her richest treasures, neither heights or depths can withhold them from the grasp of man.” ~ The Omaha Commercial Record, September 1883

In February of 1884 a 23 day blizzard buried the small mining town of Animas Forks, Colorado under 25 feet of snow. Most of the residents had migrated down to Silverton for the winter. The handful of flinty miners who chose to stay did what miners do. They dug. The men created a network of tunnels that connected the buildings and they spent the entire month of March in a cold, underground city.

At 11,200 feet, Animas Forks is a stunning landscape but it’s downright inhospitable. The rush for gold lured prospectors to seek their fortune in the rugged San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado. The hazardous topography was not a discouragement if they could just strike it rich in the end. After stories about the valuable discoveries spread, “greenhorns” poured into the region. Once claims were filed, merchants showed up to supply food, clothing and equipment.

Speculators, lawyers, hotel owners, grocers and saloonkeepers soon followed. It wasn’t long before small mining settlements saturated the district. By 1883, Animas Forks was a bustling community of 450 souls. Nearby mines produced galena and a silver-bearing gray copper. The town had its own post office and published a newspaper, The Animas Forks Pioneer.

After twenty productive years, Animas Forks began to decline when silver prices plummeted. The cost to operate in the mountains far exceeded the money being made. A resurgence occurred in 1904 when the massive Gold Prince Mill was constructed to process minerals from the Gold Prince Mine. An ingenious, multi-directional, aerial tram was designed to get ore from the mountain to the plant. In order to ship product to the smelters, the Silverton Northern Railroad was extended along a seven percent grade all the way to Animas Forks.

The noisy mill crushed rock for six good years before being closed down and disassembled. Animas Forks was a ghost town by the 1920s. While wandering through the dilapidated structures today, one can only imagine what life must have been like here. If you ever get the chance to explore Animas Forks, you won't find silver or gold but it's quite possible that you'll discover the same adventurous spirit our forefathers had.

Animas Forks is a stunning landscape

The rugged terrain was not a discouragement

Animas Forks was a bustling community of 450

Animas Forks has an adventurous spirit

Mines produced galena and silver-bearing copper

The Columbus Mill

A ghost town by 1920

One can only imagine what life was like

Animas Forks enjoyed 20 productive years

Animas Forks jail was built using 2x6 boards laid flat

The Animas River is clear and cold

The tiered foundation of the Gold Prince Mill

The Gustavson House was built in 1907

The Duncan House with its impressive bay window was built in 1879


  1. That looks like the locale most of us fantasize about for the impractical ideal of frontier life. Gorgeous.

    1. Thanks, its a beautiful place. Hard to imagine what it was like 100 years ago. There is a 4x4 only Alpine Loop that goes above treeline out there that I would like to try someday.

  2. I imagine they drank a lot back then, to cope with the rigors of daily life. I heard men in the late 1800s started the morning with a night cap, or two or three. I'm thinking they all smelled terrible and looked bloodshot, with whiskers coming out of their faces, month old clothes, and terrible breath. But I suspect that's a lot of imagination! Still yet, they didn't call it the Wild West for nothing. Generations from now, people may wonder how we lived, and think that we lived in bizarre or strange ways.

    1. I think it was a tough life living so high up in those beautiful mountains. I'm sure the saloon did good business. The hardy people were willing to risk it all and take on every challenge for a chance to strike it rich.


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