Pass Hoppers Trip, 2012

by Adam Mehlberg
photo by photos by Adam Mehlberg, Karla Harmon, Larry McGimsey

September 1, 2012 was the start of our 3rd Annual Pass Hoppers Trip. After meeting up in Golden we drove the highway to Fairplay where we fueled up for our weekend long adventure. For this years trip we had Bill Boitano, Roger Briden, Debbie Trever, Larry McGimsey, Vic Walter, Linda Giandinoto, Mike Moore, Ray Comeau, Richard and Karla Harmon, Adam Mehlberg, and Todd and Deb Morrison from Nebraska.
Fairplay, CO
In 1859 when the "Pike's Peak or Bust" rush was on some who had not succeeded in finding gold went into the mountains crossing South Park to establish Tarryall. They started to run off all newcomers so the new flourishing camp became known as Graball. Pushing further on, these newcomers found gold in the deep gravel bars of the South Platte River. Jim Reynolds, a prospector, made himself boss of the camp and demanded "fairplay" for everyone. When a committee met to choose a name for the new town Fairplay was suggested and unanimously accepted.

Oliver Twist Mine

Our first pass was Mosquito Pass, which started just outside of Fairplay. The graded county road up Mosquito Creek is easy. Once you cross the creek and begin the climb to the North London Mine the road becomes a 4WD road. Before we reached the mine we took a detour to the Oliver Twist mine and found our first Geocache. We stopped for lunch at the North London Mine and looked at the remains of the tram building that once lowered buckets of ore down to the North London Mill in the valley below.
Mosquito, CO
At the eastern foot of Mosquito Pass the town of Mosquito was started in 1861 by prospectors after the placer gold in the creek. A meeting of the miners was held to organize a mining district, but a name was not selected before the meeting ended. When the book that contained the meeting minutes was opened at the next gathering of the miners, a large mosquito lay crushed between the pages. By unanimous vote the mining district became known as Mosquito. By 1882 the town of Mosquito was developing around the stage station and saloon below the London Mine. Nothing remains of the town today.
After lunch we finished the climb to the top of Mosquito pass with the rain clouds piling up in the west. We got our "Pass" photo at the sign and found our second Geocache before loading up to head down to Leadville in the rain.
Mosquito Pass
The Fairplay and California Gulch Wagon Road Company was incorporated on July 10, 1865 to operate from Fairplay, CO. to California Gulch near Leadville, CO. crossing Mosquito Pass. On October 8, 1878 The Mosquito Pass Wagon Road Company was incorporated. They built the first good road over this 13,188 foot pass in 1879.

Mosquito Pass

The west side of Mosquito is a series of switchbacks taking you down to the head of Evans Gulch. During a break in the rain we took a pit stop before heading to the Ibex mine complex to see some of the remaining buildings and then on to Leadville.
Leadville, CO
On April 26, 1860 a party lead by prospector Abe Lee was panning up a gulch south of present day Leadville finding very little color. They were ready to quit when Lee decided to do one more pan and exclaimed "Boys, I've got all of California here in this pan" starting the mineral wealth boom of area and naming California Gulch. After two years the recovery of gold slowed due to the lack of water in California Gulch and the heavy black sand that made it hard to separate out the gold. In 1875 tests of the black sand showed it was carbonate of lead containing about 40 ounces of silver per ton. The town was named after the carbonate of lead containing the silver.
From Leadville we headed toward Hagerman Pass by driving along the south shore of Turquoise Lake. We followed the old railroad bed of the Colorado Midland to the site of Busk and the Carlton Tunnel. From here the four wheeling started as we followed the old railroad line for some of the way and bypassed it on other parts of Hagerman Pass. At the top of Hagerman Pass we stopped for our group sign picture and found our third Geocache.
Hagerman Pass
Hagerman Pass is 11,925 feet crossing the Continental Divide. It was also known as Cooke Pass, Fryingpan Pass, and Saguache Pass. It separates Busk Creek on the east from Ivanhoe Creek on the west. In 1887 the Hagerman Tunnel was constructed as part of the Colorado Midland Railroad line (1886 to 1922) to connect Leadville with Aspen and Glenwood Springs. This 2,061 foot long tunnel sits at 11,528 feet altitude just south of Hagerman Pass. As part of the switchbacks to reach this altitude the Hagerman Trestle, the most elaborate and spectacular in Colorado, was constructed on the hairpin turn above Busk. The Hagerman Trestle was 1,084 feet long, 84 feet high, and 200 degrees in curvature.

Hagerman Trestle

We descended the west side of Hagerman Pass and then headed back to the Ivanhoe Tunnel entrance at the end of Ivanhoe Lake. From here we got onto the old railroad grade again and looped our way around and up to the west Hagerman Tunnel entrance. The entrance is collapsed, but you can see inside where it is full of water and the tunnel is still supported by its huge beams.

It was getting late so we decided to head down to find a campsite. Backtracking we tied back into the old railroad grade, which is graded and maintained below Ivanhoe Lake, though the section through "Hell Gate" is still a bit narrow and sheer. At a wide meadow below Sellar Peak we found a site large enough for our group, though it did come with a few other groups as neighbors.

The next morning, after the bow hunters left on their ATVs at 4:30am, when the sun was coming up the meadow was shrouded in fog. We had a quick breakfast and then started down to pavement. We passed Ruedi Reservoir on our way to Basalt where the Morrison's left to head back to Nebraska. The rest of the group continued on to Carbondale and then south to Marble.
Marble, CO
For centuries before white people arrived in the beautiful Crystal River Valley, the Marble area was a sacred hunting ground to the Native American Ute culture. But by the 1870's prospectors for gold and silver had filtered over Schofield Pass from the Crested Butte area and had begun to settle in the rugged mountain terrain between Lead King Basin and Beaver Lake, settling the soon-to-be townsites of Clarence and Marble. Though the search for silver never amounted to much, the discovery of marble in 1882 did. John Osgood had a large block of marble quarried from the beds on Yule Creek in 1882 to be displayed at the 1893 World Colombian Exposition in Chicago, generating enough commercial interest in Yule Marble to supply marble for the interior of the Capital building in Denver, and to supply finishing mills in the east from 1894 to 1896. By 1905 there were three, more or less, active marble quarries operating, and Marble s population had grown to 150. The Colorado Yule Marble Company, organized in 1906, leased the Crystal River Railroad from Carbondale to Placita and built 7 miles of new track into Marble, naming the spur the Crystal River and San Juan Railroad. A huge finishing mill, 150 by 1,700 feet and a 3.5-mile tramway was constructed, boosting Marble's population to 1,500 by 1915.
Schofield Pass
During the early 1870's the Utes controlled the Crystal River area as part of the Ute Reservation. In 1873-1874 Dr. V. F. Hayden received immunity from Chief Ouray to continue his geologic surveys through the Crystal River Valley. In the spring of 1873 Dr. John Parsons from Denver was conducting another geologic survey of the Elk Mountains to ascertain the agricultural and mineral resources. With the aid of forty prospectors from the Crested Butte area Parsons built a road over Schofield Pass to the Crystal River, then called Rock Creek. Early miners called the trail "S.O.B. Trail" due to the sheer rock walls making transportation difficult, and the famed Devil's Punchbowl.
After stopping at the site of the Marble Mill and looking around at the few remains we headed through town and around Sheep Mountain along the Crystal River. This road had a lot of traffic on it for this holiday weekend. We stopped at the famous Crystal Mill and took some pictures before driving through Crystal and beginning our ascent of Schofield Pass.
Crystal Mill - Crystal, CO
Considered one of the most photographed sites in Colorado, the Crystal Mill is not a Mill, but a power plant. It was constructed in 1893 by George C. Eaton and B.S. Phillips, promoters of the Sheep Mountain Tunnel and Mining Company as a power plant for the Sheep Mountain Tunnel. It contained a horizontal wooden water wheel, tuned by two one-inch water jets, at the base of the penstock shaft at river level, and this powered a large air compressor. Power was transmitted via a steel driveshaft up to the gear house on the front of the building, then to the compressor by a wide leather belt. The sir was carried to the mine entrance by a 3 inch iron pipe, across the river and up to the base of Sheep Mountain. This compressed air powered the air drills and provided ventilation for the tunnel which extended over 1500 feet into the mountain. The mill building has a privy in the overhanging corner which emptied directly into the river. The back end of the building contained a sleeping room for the attendant. In December of 1893 the mill began operation, in spite of the 1893 silver panic, and continued sporadically until the 1920's.

Crystal Power Plant

We made good time and the only traffic we ran into on this stretch was motorcycles, which was good due to the number of vehicles in our group. After crossing the bridge below the Devils Punchbowl we climbed up to the top of Schofield Pass, found the sign and got our group picture.

Some other 4-Wheelers on Paradise Divide

From here it was a short back track to the Paradise Divide road. This is a graded road that heads through Paradise Basin and comes to the edge of the Slate River gorge. We stopped at the divide to get our sign picture, plus we found another Geocache. From the divide it was a wide ledge road down to the valley floor. This is the most scenic part of Paradise Divide if you can take your eyes off of the road that seems to hang out in space. After a few switchbacks we were down to the valley floor passing through the few remains at Pittsburgh before heading to Crested Butte for fuel. We had one more pass to cross before the end of the day, Ohio Pass.

Paradise Divide

Heading out of Crested Butte toward Kebler Pass on County Road 12 we turned south before Kebler and headed toward Carbon Peak. Ohio Pass is a graded road winding through meadows and aspen groves. We looked for a camp spot along the road, but of the few that are available none were open, so we headed south toward Gunnison following Ohio Creek. The valley is wide with big houses and big farms. Continuing down the valley we were met by a large rain filled thunder storm. This was going to make finding a camp site fun.

We cut over to Colorado 135 and went north toward Almont with the thought of climbing up onto Flat Top Mountain to get back onto public lands. Instead we pulled off Colorado 135 at a Forest Service Campground and found three open sites that were just enough for our group. The rain did end as we set up camp between the highway and the Gunnison River. This was the night Ray Comeau got his Super Sized Bic lighter for starting our campfires.

Where's the firewood?

Speaking of Ray, we had now gone for two days without a breakdown! Could our luck hold? We headed back to Crested Butte to fuel up and start Pearl Pass.

Our luck didn't hold

As we were ready to head out Ray broke the news, his Jeep would not start. It wasn't long before we had six supervisors pondering the problem and Ray checking the system. Turning the key got nothing, no starter, no clicks, nothing. Wiring was checked, kill switch was disconnected, nothing. Finally, Mike Moore suggested banging on the starter relay. That worked! If all else fails whack it! It was the holiday so no parts stores would be open. It was decided to head for the pass and not turn off Rays Jeep when we stopped.

Back tracking a bit we headed up Brush Creek toward Pearl Pass. There were a few others out on the road this holiday, but it seemed light compared to Schofield Pass. We climbed up through the aspen groves and took in the great scenery on this long 4WD road. Just below timberline we stopped for lunch in a large camp spot enjoying the sunshine. Heading up the last part of Pearl takes you above timberline into the rocky saddle between Pearl Mountain and Star Peak.

Pearl Pass

Pearl Pass is narrow so we parked on the road and got our picture around the sign, took in the scenery in the rare windless day on top of this 12,700 foot pass. Heading down the north side we worked our way through the rocky terrain back toward the forest.

We took a short stop at the Aschroft ghost town to look at the old buildings and take a pit stop. Shortly we were back on our way heading up Express Creek toward Taylor Pass. The aspen were in full color mode at the higher elevations. At the switchback on the final climb Karla Harmon spotted a fox hunting in the rocks below the road. Taylor was our last group picture around the sign for this Pass Hoppers trip.

Taylor Pass resident


Taylor Pass

It was getting late in the afternoon and we still had to get down into Taylor Park and find a place to camp. The south side of Taylor is slower with its "basketball" size rocks. The biggest obstacle of the whole trip was ahead where the road drops into the creek running out of Taylor Lake. The boulders in the bank make the descent one of three choices. My choice was a bit too high and I almost laid the Scrambler on its side. With spotters to help now that we had grouped up each vehicle was worked down to the road/creek in short order.

Taylor Pass obstacle

It was getting late with the sun on its way to setting as we headed down the graded forest road through the center of Taylor Park. Our goal was Texas Creek and our pick of the best campsites. The choice was in the trees where we watched the sun set over Matchless Mountain.

The next morning the average of the thermometer readings was about 28 degrees. New rule, "Dinner in the shade, Breakfast in the Sun". With the forest to our east it was a cold morning waiting for the sun to find us. We packed up and headed over Cottonwood Pass for Buena Vista and then on home. As planned, no traffic jams getting out of the mountains.