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Henson Creek Road

Posted in Events on July 1, 2011
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In 1845, the Republic of Texas ceased being an independent nation and became a part of the USA. It sold all its territory outside its present-day boundaries to the United States to pay off the huge debts it incurred fighting for autonomy from Mexico. Within the land the United States acquired from Texas was Hinsdale County, Colorado.

One of our favorite getaways in that county is the Engineer Pass Road from Lake City to the Continental Divide. In the 1800s, it was known as the Henson Creek Road.

Even though the United States paid to own those lands, it still faced opposition from Mexico and from Native Americans. The Mexican-American War settled the dispute with Mexico, but not with Indian tribes. Fur trappers and prospectors began moving into Hinsdale County during the 1860s. Gold and Silver strikes raised interest in doing something about the Ute Indians.

In 1873, a treaty was signed. The Ute Ulay mine was established that same year in the gulch where Henson Creek flowed. More people moved in and the town of Lake City was established two years later. Supplies were brought into the area over Slumgullion Pass.

At its peak, Lake City had a population of thousands. Production from the Ute Ulay Mine caused Lake City to be established. The mine owners were known for the poor treatment of those on their payroll.

By today’s standards, the best living conditions in Hinsdale County during the 1890s were horrible. Miners lived far below any of the best. Most of them lived on the mine property in company-owned boarding houses. The mine owners gave them paychecks and then got a portion back in rent. This reminds us of the old song by Tennessee Ernie Ford in which he sings, I owe my soul to the company store.

In 1899, the mine owners raised the rent at their boarding house. Then they required that all unmarried workers live in the boarding house. Although the miners did not seem to mind that the boarding house was drafty and filthy and that the roof leaked, they would not be forced to live in it and pay high rent. On March 14, about 100 Italian miners implemented a lockdown strike. At about that same time, an untold amount of weapons were stolen from the armory in Lake City.

This building still stands in the town of Capitol City.

The sheriff met with the leaders of the strike and tried to convince them to abandon any tendencies toward violence. That meeting did not go well, so he contacted the governor and requested help from the National Guard. The miners were fired and were ordered to leave the county. The new help-wanted poster declared, Italians need not apply.

Our last trip to Hinsdale County was last summer. We had dinner in Lake City, then drove along Henson Creek to the Ute Ulay Mine. The buildings and property are privately owned but views of the site can be enjoyed from the road and from near the historic marker. From Henson, we continued upstream to the remains of Capitol City. Before entering the forest again, we took the side trail to a BLM corral and set up camp near it. Camping is not advised on the banks of Henson creek. Signs warn of pollution. We camped in the open area with a fire ring.

Capitol City was settled a few years after the Ute Ulay mine opened. It was first named Galena but later renamed because another community already had that name. The founder was George Lee. He had big plans expecting his town to become the capitol of Colorado. The house he built was declared the best furnished home in southern Colorado. Unfortunately for him, his dreams were not to be fulfilled.

The ghost town of Henson marks the remains of the Ute Ulay Mine.

On the other hand, our dreams of a pleasant week went extremely well. The weather cooperated with us and of course the scenery along Henson Creek is always spectacular. Lone Writer’s brother took his pop-up camper to the campsite. Everyone else slept in vehicles and tents. That same location was used as a base camp for several days.

A short distance west of the camp is Whitmore Falls. Getting down to the base is an easy walk, but getting back out is only for those who are physically fit and acclimated to high altitude oxygen levels. Even those who think they can handle it may find they have some sore muscles the next morning.

Getting to the base of Whitmore Falls is an easy hike, but getting back out of the canyon to the road is more strenuous. Oxygen is much thinner at high altitudes.

There are numerous remains of mining activity in the San Juan Mountains, but none as spectacular as the ghost town of Animas Forks. The structures have been restored to help them resist the heavy blankets of snow that descend on them every winter. Historic markers placed in the parking areas tell of a town that was established in 1873. It grew to nearly 500 residents and was serviced by a railway connecting it to Silverton. Most people moved out in the fall and returned in the spring. One snowstorm dropped 25 feet of snow on the community in a single swoop. Residents had to dig tunnels to get from one building to another. Supplies could not reach the town for nearly a month.

Animas Forks had its own mill named the Gold Prince. It was connected by a tramway to the Gold Prince Mine. Enough of that tram still exists to determine the path it took. Ore from the mill was taken to Silverton by train.

Animas Forks is the best preserved ghost town in the San Juans.

There are many side trips between Lake City and Animas Forks. Those who are healthy enough to hike at high elevations will find even more to explore. One couple told us they were going hiking. They said they had pepper spray and were wearing bells in case they came across any bears. Happy Jack asked them if they knew how to identify bear scat. The blank look on their faces was the only answer. He told them it smelled like pepper spray and had bells in it.

The tires on Lone Writer’s vehicle are provided by BFGoodrich. GPS mapping is provided by DeLorme. For more information visit www.Lone-Writer.com.

PhotosView Slideshow

Navigation This log begins from the highway going through the center of Lake City Colorado.
Trip Meter Latitude position North Longitude position West Landmarks & other locations
0.0 N38 1.6500 W107 18.9934 Turn right on 2nd. Follow the Alpine loop.
3.8 N38 1.2884 W107 22.7266 Historic marker for Henson and Galena Mine. Also known as the Ute Ulay Mine.
9.0 N38 0.3684 W107 28.0368 This is the town of Capital City.
9.5 0.0 N38 0.0344 W107 28.3777 Our camp was at bottom of the hill on left near the corral.
1.1 N37 59.1968 W107 29.0392 A well-marked trail on the left leads to Whitmore Falls.
2.1 N37 58.7737 W107 29.8531 Rose Lime Kiln.
3.7 N37 58.4295 W107 31.3487 This marker is called White death.
4.5 0.0 N37 58.5833 W107 32.2172 Roses Cabin is on the left fork. The right fork is the main road for Engineer Pass.
3.8 N37 58.4554 W107 35.1162 This is Engineer Pass.
6.0 0.0 N37 57.4377 W107 34.5229 Continue straight at this intersection. The right fork goes to Ouray.
1.0 N37 56.0511 W107 34.1359 Continue straight for Silverton and for Animas Forks. The ghost town is visible at the bottom of the valley from this point.

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