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We Wander Over Cinnamon Pass & Find Fire | Colorado #11

Having gone to bed at elevation, and a little worried about how cool it would get, I'd placed a Little Hottie warmer in each of my socks as I climbed into bed. For anyone wanting to keep warm at night, I can't recommend these enough - they have made nights much more comfortable for me - and more importantly, @mrs.turbodb, on several occasions!

In fact, so warm were the hotties that I woke in the middle of the night with my feet - and therefore the rest of me - too hot! A good problem to have at 10,000 feet and 29°F.

After removing the warmers from my socks, I slept soundly through the rest of the night, finally climbing out of bed around 8:00am - our valley still shrouded in shade and very chilly.

From all directions though, the sun - and warmth - was coming, and after pouring myself a bowl of cereal, I walked a little way up the hillside behind camp to stand in the sun as I enjoyed the morning meal.

Everyone else took a little longer to get going - a bit more common sense keeping them in their tents until the sun was warming their exits. As such, it was 10:30am when we pulled out of camp to complete the final few miles of Engineer Pass on our way to the town of Lake City for a few supplies and a fill-up on propane.

Rolling along, we came to a fork in the road - an informational sign and historical cabin designating it "Capitol City." Upon reflection, the cabin was likely reconstructed in order to commemorate the historic location, but at the time it was a cool discovery that we spent a few minutes checking out.

Already stopped, we had a decision to make - continue along the planned route to town, or turn off - onto the side road - to see what we could see. Predictably for this group, we paused our trek into town for the unknown, opting instead for a road that followed the North Fork of the Hensen Creek, and looped around Sunshine Mountain - to see what we could see!

In the end, our reward was a splendid little valley, but little else - no mine, or other historical structure, which I think we all expected to find. Still, nothing to complain about here!

Headed back the way we'd come, we were once again distracted - this time by a sign promising "Matterhorn Peak" - and we turned up a steep road running along Matterhorn Creek to check it out.

Matterhorn Creek seems "healthy." Hrm.

As with the previous road, Matterhorn was a fun drive, with not much at its end except a place to turn around. A parking area in fact - for a hike that would take the fit explorer on a 10-mile roundtrip to the peak of Wetterhorn Peak - a 14er - with views of the shorter Matterhorn to its east.

We were not those fit explorers, preferring our version of hiking - American Hiking™ - in which judicious movements of the feet and arms power a machine that takes us where we want to go. And for now, that was back down to the Engineer Pass road and towards town - at least for a while.

We'd barely gotten moving again when - fewer than five miles down the road - we found ourselves in the middle of the Ute-Ulay mining area. This, according to the signs posted there by the BLM, was the mine that made Lake City.

As the primary impetus of Lake City's initial boom and the mainstay of its survival through the mid-1900's, the Ute-Ulay Mine and Mill Complex is linked to Hinsdale's county seat and only incorporated town emotionally and irrevocably. Architecture preserved in Lake City's historic district harkens back to a time when miners came to town to spend their earnings, and mine owners, merchants, and artisans worshipped, entertained, and plied their wares. The production from the Ute-Ulay initiated the tipping point that finally brought the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad to Lake City in 1889.

Not everything was fun and roses however.

Living conditions were often deplorable in the Galena Mining District. Miners often lived in company supplied boarding houses set up in close proximity to the mines. The houses were poorly built, drafty, and had leaky roofs. Although conditions at the Ute, Ulay, and Hidden Treasure Mines were no different than any other mine, tensions rose when the Auric Mining Company required all single men and men without families to board in the company's boarding house and pay the exorbitant rates. On March 14, 1899, nearly one hundred members of the Henson Miners' Union, mainly Italians, refused to comply and began a lock-down strike on the mines.

At the same time, it was discovered that the State Armory in Lake City had been broken into. Rifles and ammunition were stolen and believed to be in the hands of the striking miners. Lake City Sheriff James Deck met with the strikers in an attempt to avert  violence. When negotiations failed, he wired the Governor of Colorado, “I hereby request aid of the State Militia in quelling rioting. " Governor Charles Thomas dispatched four companies of National Guard troops from Denver and Pueblo.
The troops and the Italian Ambassador arrived in Lake City on March 16, 1899. The strikers realized they did not have a chance and quickly ended the strike.

Part of the strike settlement with the Union illegally stated that the Italians must leave Hinsdale County - "single men within one week and men with families within six weeks." Thus ending the only major labor dispute in the Galena Mining District.

Despite its storied history, there was plenty to explore around the old mine site, much of it in an arrested state of decay in order to preserve it for passers by. We took full advantage, spending nearly an hour wandering around the buildings, headframes, and failed old dam.

Inside the buildings was just as intriguing as outside. Educational too - I'd never known that NABISCO was an abbreviation that made so much sense.

And clearly, though we had the entire ghost mine to ourselves, this was a place visited by many - the friendliness of the permanent residents, a testament to the popularity.

The Ute-Ulay proved to be our last distraction before reaching Lake City - a good thing if we hoped to achieve anything on this warm, sunny day. In town, we took care of our various errands, and then decided that the city park looked like a great place to sit down to lunch - views of main street keeping us occupied as we took a gathered our strength for an afternoon of American Hiking™.  (aka driving )

With lunch taken care of, Mike, Monte, and Devin headed across the street for milkshakes and ice cream sodas at the old soda shop - a delicacy that looked delicious and which I was once again surprised that Monte - a self-proclaimed ice cream aficionado - could not finish.

Not to worry, I took care of the rest for him as we headed back onto the Alpine Loop and started up Cinnamon Pass.

Starting once again at lower elevations, the colors were vivid as we climbed up the initially shallow grade.

Soon, the ridgelines narrowed around us, the pass rising up in the distance.

Behind us, the aptly named Redcloud Peak towered high.

Continuing my tradition of falling behind, I soon found myself racing to catch up with the rest of the crew as they began a steeper portion of the ascent - up some switchbacks just after a fork in the road to American Basin. As always, my curiosity got the better of me, and I opted for a short detour into the basin - because who knows when I'll be through this way again...And in the end, I was glad I did; it was quite spectacular - a great place to keep in the back of the mind for camping in the future!

The delay, however, meant that I really had to move in order to catch up with the rest of the guys as we came up to the saddle that marked Cinnamon Pass. Here - as with many passes before and several we'd see in the coming days - the views were far reaching. We all soaked them in, as a 3rd gen Tacoma and 5th gen 4Runner that we'd seen in Lake City approached from the same direction we'd come.

Not quite as built-up as our 1st gens, we chatted for a while about what we'd each seen of the Alpine Loop so far, each group having been in the area for a couple days now. A few recommendations were shared as far as suspension and body armor were concerned, and after wishing each other safe travels, we headed down towards Animas Forks.

Having stopped in Animas Forks the previous day at about the same time, it looked strikingly similar as we pulled into town and without so much as a peep over the CB radio, I think we all decided that we might as well keep moving, rather than look around again.

Tonight, we had a goal in mind. Two actually. And they required us to get to camp just a little bit early...

Down we went, following the creek. Or perhaps toxic flow is a better description.

The creeks here definitely look cool, but seriously - what does it take to turn this color?

Looking for camp between here and Silverton.

Half an hour later, we found ourselves mostly out of the mountains - or perhaps, in a valley between them - and we started scouting for a nice place to stop for the evening. We weren't all that picky - something flat, and with some firewood to burn was all we really needed.

Did you catch that? I slipped it in there like it was nothing at all out of the ordinary - we were looking for firewood to burn! As we'd passed through Lake City earlier in the day, Dan had discovered that the state-wide burn ban had been lifted, and that San Juan County (where we were currently located) had no ban in place either.

We split into two groups as we ventured up Cunningham Gulch - Mike and Dan opting for the low road, Monte and I climbing a few hundred feet onto a shelf road that made its way along the hillside. Mike and Dan were the ones to find camp, but Monte and I had the pleasure of finding the Old Hundred Gold Mine.

No longer an active mine, the current owners of the Old Hundred have turned to tourism, signs above the fenced-off mine shaft offering tours - likely for some exorbitant fee. It might be worth it however, since it appears they are conducted on some of the old narrow-gauge rail that was used to haul ore out of the mine; that would be quite an experience!

With a camp spot secured, Monte and I quickly made our way back down to where Mike was already deploying his tent. He was, you see, in a bit of a time crunch. Having arrived at camp early-ish, he'd decided to make us all tacos for dinner, and they required a bit of prep.

As Mike prepped the tacos, Dan took his truck to gather a bit of wood for our fire. And by a bit, I mean the equivalent of about ten bundles. A 14" diameter old growth fir trunk, to be exact.


On his return, he proceeded to section the trunk into rounds with his chainsaw, while I used a Fiskars chopping axe (I like the 28" version, though others seem to like the 23.5" model) to chop it all into firewood. It would turn out to be some of the best wood we've ever burned - burning fast and hot, with great smells and lots of nice crackling!

With bit more time before Mike was ready with his tacos, we all setup camp and I took a bit of time to explore the Old Hundred Mill foundation across the road from our camp site - it was quite the structure, though in complete disrepair.

And with that, to everyone's delight, we got the fire going! With so much wood, and only a few nights left on the trip, the fire burned hot an bright for the next several hours until we called it an evening. Somewhere in the middle of that time, Mike called us over to his truck for his specialty tacos.

The tacos were delicious. Ingredients are of course semi-secret, but they quite obviously contained pulled pork, onions, cilantro, and a green salsa. A side pepper added a kick, and I think we each polished off six of these puppies, so tasty were they!

Eventually we called it a night - our bellies happy and each of us looking forward to the following day. We had two more on the Alpine Loop, and those two would prove to be the highlight of the entire adventure!


The Whole Story


  1. Jeff B
    Jeff B December 7, 2020

    If you ever get back to Silverton the Old Hundred Mine tour is excellent, well with the money, Ive done it twice now!

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 7, 2020

      Looked like it'd be pretty cool Jeff - given the train ride into the shaft! Thanks for the confirmation ?.

  2. Jeannie
    Jeannie December 9, 2020

    Is that YOU with the squirrel?! Did you feed it something?

    Do you run fast to get to someplace out of your truck to take photos of the others down the road or other sites?

    CO is so beautiful. You were there at the right time - with all the aspens in fall. Blue against that yellow or even the green with the yellow - awe.

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 9, 2020

      That's not me with the squirrel - that's the other Dan. And yes, sometimes I hop out of the truck to snap photos!

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