If I have learned anything throughout my travels it’s that the weather, particularly in areas with mountains is very unpredictable. Beaver Creek is no exception. Of course I checked the forecast but true to form I saw everything from sunshine and 80 degrees to storms and 40 degrees. And the forecast changed everyday and was even different on various weather apps.
My friend and I decided to take a jeep safari/hiking excursion on our first day figuring the Jeep’s roof could be quickly raised in case of a storm and if it got hot and sunny we could just stash our rain gear. It would also be a great way to test our elevation acclimation – the mountain we chose rose to almost 12,000 feet – that’s above Machu Picchu!
While this was the right choice, we will still not prepared for the views we were about to see – some breathtaking, others shocking.
After a brief ride through a few tiny quaint mountainside towns we came upon a serene, wide valley:
Looks can be deceiving. Turns out this quiet swath of land was previously the sight of Camp Hale, a U.S. Army training facility constructed back in 1942 during World War II for the 10th Mountain Division. Taking advantage of the high elevation troops were trained to ski, snowshoe and climb, in anticipation of the conditions they would face under combat overseas. The site was deactivated in 1965, but it seems someone forgot to clean up:
There are still live munitions lying around.
To be fair there have been projects in 1946 and 1965 to remove leftover munitions but to this day live ordnance have been found. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Forest Service work together on the continued weapons search at the site.
Things were going to get even stranger. We continued our jeep tour up the mountainside overlooking the Eagle River. A few well-fed sentries watched our progress:
Then, sitting on a cliff 600 feet overlooking the Eagles River was quite an unusual sight – the ghost town of Gilman:
The history of Gilman goes back to the Colorado silver boom in the late 1800’s and the mine located in this lovely terrain was the most successful in the area. The town was built to house the miners and it was in use for almost 100 years.
This former mining town had been in use for nearly 100 years and had 300 inhabitants. Mining continued until 1984 when it was forced to close. Why? Here is a summary:
Mines set up separation plants to process the desired ore – at Gilman it was copper and silver
Mills were also constructed to separate out lead and zinc metals
In 1984 after the copper and silver mining were discontinued the owners allowed the mine to flood causing seepage into the Eagle River
The combined mining wastes such as lead, zinc, cadmium, arsenic and manganese contaminated the area
Colorado filed notice and claim against the former mine owners for natural resource damages under the Superfund law in 1985.
Concerns include contamination of:
surface water of the Eagle River
additional fears about potential ingestion of these wastes
The EPA closed the area down due to this highly toxic condition in 1986 forcing all those living there to evacuate immediately. Despite an ongoing effort to completely detox the area there are still grave concerns that concentrated pools of toxic waste still exist in the still standing mine as well as the ground and water, including the Eagle River itself.
And now – here is the Ghost Town of Gilman.
The abandoned mine
This site is actually off-limits so all the photos were taken using my zoom lens – trespassing is not my thing. The Battle Mountain Development Company owns the area and is still hopeful that the area can be redeveloped. There had been plans to construct another “Vail” resort but that idea bankrupted in 2009. However, the thoughts of another “gold mine” ski area will surely spur further thoughts.
This area made me sad – so much beauty destroyed by greed. I can’t even imagine what these toxins have done to the local fauna and flora. Just as important it provides a laser focus to why so many are fighting this current administrations efforts to turn our national parks into potential future ghost towns. This cannot happen.
Next up: back to the natural beauty of the alpine mountains – up at 12,000 feet.