Posts Tagged ‘Marble Colorado’

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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There is a famous old building located along the Crystal River, along a hellish and brutal 4X4 trail seven miles above Marble, Colorado. Nestled in a  remote and remarkably beautiful canyon is the Crystal City turbine house and the accompanying ghost town of the same name.

The turbine house is a favorite target of photographers and tourists in the area and it is truly a fantastic structure dating back to 1893.  The turbine house has graced the pages of many Colorado ghost town books and travel brochures, but few actually know what the odd building sitting on the edge of the cliff overlooking the turquoise waters below is.  Some identify it as a pump house, others say a water wheel used to accompany the structure.

Actually, the photogenic building was a hydroelectric power plant built in 1893.  The “ladder” (as described by many) that leads down to the Crystal River below housed a shaft that was in turn spun by the current of the river. The rotation of the shaft spun a turbine which generated electricity inside the building sitting on the cliff. The electricity produced provided power for the isolated town of Crystal City.

Today, most people stop at the turbine house take a few photos and turn around to brave the harrowing 7-mile 4X4 trek back to Marble, Colorado.  But continuing on past the turbine house you’ll find the remains of Crystal City, and even one or two summer time residents.

Below is a “then” and “now” photo of the turbine house at Crystal City, Colorado as well as photos of the little known ghost town above the turbine house.  All photos were taken by me last fall.

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