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Old 03-17-2011, 03:42 PM
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We are looking at visiting some ghost towns in the Silverton area this August. Specifically Animas Forks, Howardsville, Guston and Ironton. Would like to know the following:

1) Do the roads require 4WD?
2) How far off hwy 550 are they?
3) Is it worth the trip from Electra Lake?

For those of you have traveled to these towns any additional insight is greatly appreciated. I have looked at some pictures and it seems to be pretty cool.
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Old 03-17-2011, 05:09 PM
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1. Usually, but not always--the towns you mention are generally accessible by auto, though Animas Forks can be dicey at times; Ironton is almost next to US550. Some other places may be accessible to autos when conditions are dry and the roads have been recently graded (less and less often now because of budget problems with both the Forest Service and county governments that maintain those backroads). The more remote (and usually better preserved) are only accessible by 4WD--with road conditions that can anywhere from a "mild" 4WD trail to trails that only experienced 4-wheelers with vehicles with modified suspension systems and undercarriage protection should tackle.

2. Most all ghost towns are only a few a miles at most off of US550, but differing road conditions can mean that it may take you a few minutes to a couple of hours to get to them. Typically, the more accessible they are, the less of anything remains.

3. Depends are your definition of "worth it." If you are truly interested in Colorado history and are not just a tourist "daisy-picker" out for a ride, then, yes, they can be very interesting places--especially if you've studied up on the history before you go. If you're just looking for a place to drive to, then seeing some ramshackle, falling down shacks may not be that interesting to you.

I always give my standard admonition to tourists about 4-wheeling in the San Juans (and I've been 4-wheeling in the San Juans for 40 years): There are few more spectacular places anywhere to 4-wheel, but some of the trails can be extremely dangerous, especially for the inexperienced 4-wheeler. Generally speaking, the bigger the vehicle, the more difficult and dangerous it will be to drive on many San Juan trails. I always chuckle when I see some "pilgrim" in an H2 Hummer who thinks that's God's answer to 4-wheeling. There are many trails in the San Juans where vehicles like that, or even a full-size pickup, are just too wide to fit. Same with things like Suburbans--they can make it over a lot of trails (but not over the worse ones), but often will sustain some body damage, especially in the hands of a driver inexperienced in 4-wheeling.

Also, some trails that start out pretty mild or are fairly tame in dry weather can become absolute terrors as one travels farther on them or if the weather turns wet. The latter is a matter of significant concern in summer, especially in July and August, when thunderstorms occur in the San Juans nearly every afternoon.

Just to repeat, there is no substitute for experience when 4-wheeling in the San Juans. Every summer, I see a few "turistas"--especially the "virgin" 4-wheelers in rented Jeeps--that get themselves in serious trouble because of inexperience. It's about like handing a bottle of whiskey, a loaded handgun, and the keys to the Camaro to a 16-year-old, and thinking everything may be alright. Well, it might be, but I wouldn't be riding with him.
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Old 03-17-2011, 05:21 PM
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thanks for the response jazzlover. I am interested in Colorado history but don't think I will be going the 4wd route due to my inexperience.
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Old 03-17-2011, 07:29 PM
Status: "Not politically correct" (set 2 days ago)
Location: Western Colorado
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What jazz said. AND bring LOTS of water and rain gear and a jacket. Nothing like being at 13,000 ft on a dirt road during an August cloudburst. It can also snow at that time. I would recommend any high mountain travels in the morning. I learned in my short time living here, in summer get off the mountain by noon. Animas Forks is amazing to me. The road from Silverton to Animas Forks is well maintained and you'll see some mines on the way there. I like to just sit and look at the buildings, and reflect on the people who carved out a living there. Silverton has an um interesting past also, be sure to spend time exploring there. I have some photos of Animas Forks and Silverton on this forum someplace. Have fun. Drink LOTS of water.
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Old 03-17-2011, 09:21 PM
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It is one of the special places of Colorado. There is nothing I can add to this that Jazz and Jim hasn't already stated here. Been through the towns but not in years. Wiki has a decent writeup on this area but there are other sites that really covers this area.

If you can, move your trip up to early July. The monsoons in late July and August can really make 4 wheel travel dicey. Particularly the occasional rock slide after a storm. I know, I've taken the Dodge over that stretch and have had some good size rocks land in the bed of the truck, one the size of a volleyball.
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Old 03-18-2011, 09:41 AM
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Thanks for the responses. From what I have been told, high mountain rains typically occur daily between 12:00 and 2:00. Is this accurate? Is Electra lake considered high mountain?
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Old 03-18-2011, 11:24 AM
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Originally Posted by jbear182 View Post
Thanks for the responses. From what I have been told, high mountain rains typically occur daily between 12:00 and 2:00. Is this accurate? Is Electra lake considered high mountain?
Not accurate. Afternoon thunderstorms can occur anytime from late morning to mid-evening or later, depending on wind, temperature, and atmospheric conditions. A good, but not infallible rule of thumb is to look at cloud conditions around 7-8 AM. If there are any clouds present, there is likely sufficient moisture available to trigger thunderstorms later in the day. In drier conditions, the storms may be widely scattered and may produce little rain--that does not mean that they will not produce copious lightning strikes. If a lot of moisture is available, the storms may be widespread, producing considerable rain. Under the right conditions, storms may last into the evening or night. One has to keep a constant eye on cloud buildups in the San Juans--significant storms can literally boil up out of almost nothing--sometimes in less than an hour.

Another consideration is the temperature drop when a storm does occur. Frequently, within a few minutes during a storm, the ambient temperature can drop 30 to 40 degrees, from a comfortable mid-70 to low-80's temperature to the low to mid-40's. It may even spit snow--especially as one gets into August. I can't count the times I've seen unprepared tourists in the San Juans standing around shivering in their cutoffs, sandals, and tank tops during and after a typical afternoon storm (some cold and wet to the point of hypothermia) because they did not have any heavier clothes or jackets with them. When in the San Juans, I always were long pants, long sleeves, comfortable waterproof boots, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen--and I carry a couple of jackets (to dress in layers) and a rain slicker.

As to Electra Lake, I believe it is around 8,000 ft. elevation, more than high enough to have a very montane climate.
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Old 03-18-2011, 05:35 PM
Location: SE Portland, OR
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I found the mining sites just up outside of Leadville (look up the Matchless Mine) to be very cool and fascinating. I really like History though. They are a great way to spend a day.
There is actually a pretty neat bike trail that Leadville has built that goes through some of the old mining areas and gives you some background. There are also some smaller operation mining areas all around the National Forrest near Leadville.

Silverton is another great area for mining history, as you've already figured out.

I think the Ghost towns and abandoned cabins in CO are great, one of the things really unique about the state.

Guess I didn't really help you, sorry.
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Old 03-22-2011, 05:14 AM
Location: Everywhere and Nowhere
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Here's a decent compendium where you can look them up by county.

Ghost Towns of Colorado
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Old 05-31-2011, 08:58 PM
Location: East Colorado Springs
57 posts, read 107,734 times
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Talking Ghost Town Adventures

My fiance and I are going out to Independence Ghost Town tomorrow night, and were looking for a good place to camp out. It is located in between Victor and Goldfield pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Lower Beaver Park is right by there, but I have never heard of that, so I wasn't sure.

Also, if any of you guys have suggestions for other ghost towns to visit I would love the suggestions, because we want to go see a bunch!
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