Fall Colors at Colorado’s Remote Crystal City Ghost Town

Posted: November 29, 2015 in Ghost Towns
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There are hundreds of ghost towns in Colorado, but few can match the beauty of Crystal City, especially in the autumn when the leaves change colors, the air gets crisp, and the clouds cling to the tips of the rugged peaks that surround this tiny hamlet in Gunnison County. Prospectors first came to the valley where Crystal City lies in the 1860’s, finding good ore, but the remote and treacherous climb into the valley discouraged any serious effort to develop the area until the 1880’s. From the 1880’s through around 1915 Crystal City was home to a small community of miners and their families. The population of Crystal City never amounted to much more than 500. The town did have a newspaper, a store, and a the Crystal Club- The hot spot of Crystal City’s social life in the boom years. Today, a handful of people spend their summers here, having restored some of the historic cabins at the site, but nobody lives in Crystal year round. The old Crystal Club with it’s faded sign still stands along the main street through town.

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Fall colors along the upper Crystal River valley

Crystal City is about as remote as a town can get. It lies situated in tiny valley high on the Crystal River at the foot of Schofield Pass. The only road into the town is a narrow, brutally rocky, 4×4 trail from Marble, Colorado which is about seven miles away. There are stretches of this road that are hardly a vehicles width, with sheer drop offs to the river below. The drive into Crytsal City could be described as both “thrilling” and “white-knuckle.” The harrowing seven mile journey to Crystal City is done at a snail’s pace, taking over an hour, the road too narrow and rough to travel at much more than a crawl, but this is one of those magnificent places in Colorado where you want to take it slow- The steep canyon walls leading to Crystal City are overgrown with all different kinds of trees and shrubs, which, in the fall, take on contrasting hues of red, orange, yellow-green, and gold. When looking down into the river below, the crystal clear waters rush over white, blue, green and gray marble stones on the river bottom. A trained eye can watch brook trout playing in the currents. A picturesque lake along the way, and numerous small waterfalls cascading down the cliffs add to the stunning, almost surreal setting of the upper Crystal River valley.

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Picturesque lake along the trail to Crystal City

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One of the tiny waterfalls along the way

After thrashing and bouncing down the road to Crystal City, the first building you encounter at the town site is one of the most photographed buildings in Colorado- The Crystal City Mill. This unique structure perched on a cliff  above the river, with a wooden shaft running down to the water was an early hydroelectric power plant.  Historic photos show there was a dam next to the power plant, water draining out of the reservoir behind the damn would spin an impeller inside of the wooden shaft, which in turn would spin the turbine of an electric generator housed inside the building atop the cliff. The electricity was then fed to the homes and mining operations of the town.

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Power Plant at Crystal City

Surprisingly, this is where most people stop, take a few photos, turn around, and bounce back down the road to Marble. Many people don’t realize that there is a lot left to see just a couple of hundred yards past the mill. The rest of Crystal City is just as picturesque as the power plant. It’s a nice place to park your 4×4, stretch your legs, and take a walk through the little kingdom paradise, secluded from the rest of the world in it’s idyllic setting. The rows of neat and tidy log homes, some occupied, some vacant, give you the impression that Crystal City must have been a nice place to live in it’s glory days.  The only bad part of Crystal City is when you realize you have to leave! 

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