Mining History – Ouray and San Juan Counties
Ironton & Red Mountain Mining District

Story by Beverly Rich for San Juan Publishing
Image Courtesy San Juan County Historical Society. All Right Reserved.
All content © San Juan Publishing Group, Inc, All rights reserved.

[SW Colorado] The San Juan Skyway is referred to as one of the most scenic drives in America. In 1996 it was designated as one of only six All-American Roads by the US Department of Transportation. In addition to its stunning mountains and geology, the Skyway is an excursion through history. The stretch between Ouray and Silverton, known as the Million Dollar Highway, passes through the historic Red Mountain Mining District. This district contains an extensive concentration of historic silver mine sites, ghost towns, and railroad beds, most visible from the road.

Having identified the Million Dollar Highway as a major draw for tourists in Southwestern Colorado, a region that depends on tourism for its living, a Task Force was appointed by the Commissioners of San Juan and Ouray Counties to find ways to preserve and protect the road. To accomplish this, the Task Force became partners with the Trust for Public Lands, a well-known and respected land conservation organization. Under its guidance, the Task Force asked Congress to appropriate 14.9 million dollars to buy some of the private property in the District. The funds were appropriated from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The L&WCF was established by Congress in 1964 for the express purpose of using revenues from offshore gas and oil leases to acquire natural resource lands as a legacy for future generations. The purchased property has been added to the surrounding Uncompahgre National Forest and will be used for recreation. The Historical Societies of San Juan and Ouray Counties have partnered to stabilize several of the old mining structures that were ready to collapse, including three houses in the townsite of Ironton.

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Photography. Image Courtesy San Juan Historical Society. All rights reserved.
First train arrives in Red Mountain City, September 19, 1888, pulled by the line’s sole locomotive No. 100. Railroad owner Otto Mears appears in the photo, fifth from right. (Standing next to woman in light dress. Behind them is man holding baby.) The rear baggage/chaircar, “Red Mountain,” sits in Silverton today, near the depot..

Beverly Rich is a life-long resident of Silverton. She is Chairman of the San Juan County Historical Society and has written numerous articles for San Juan Publishing Group and the Silverton Magazine.
References & Additional Links
Silverton Magazine. Hardrock History stories.