Crystal Mill – One of Colorado’s most photographed sites
Crystal Mill - One of Colorado's most photographed sites
It’s interesting that a location reported to be one of Colorado’s most photographed sites is so darn hard to get to. I suppose it speaks to its fundamental beauty, resting precariously as it does on a rock outcropping above the Crystal River and surrounded by aspen in all its green or golden glory, (depending on whether you go in summer or fall). The little waterfall doesn’t hurt either. To say this is a picturesque location is an understatement. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people make their way up this rough and rocky road each year with camera in hand.
Crystal Mill - Autumn
Crystal Mill - Summer
The mill was built in 1893 by the Sheep Mountain Mining and Tunnel Company, and was called the Sheep Mountain Power House at the Lost Horse Millsite. Located just below the small 1880’s silver mining camp of Crystal City, it wouldn’t become known as the Crystal Mill until many years later.
The powerhouse used water from the Crystal River to operate the air compressor housed inside. There has never been electricity to the area mines or to the town of Crystal. A dam had been built across the river to funnel water down the penstock, (the ladder), to a wheel at the bottom that powered the air compressor, that in turn delivered power to the drills in the mines.
Crystal Mill in the 1890's - note the roof tops of Crystal City in the background, now reclaimed by aspen and pine.
Crystal City was a hoppin’ little place in its heyday, but it’s difficult to reach location made bringing in supplies virtually impossible in the winter. The town slowly declined in population and was reduced to only a handful of residents by the time the mines closed in 1917. Some old buildings remain, and a few folks still spend their summers here. Make sure to visit the little book store.
The Crystal Mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in July, 1985, and its likeness has made it's way to many a postcard and calendar cover over the years.
A high clearance, 4x4 vehicle is required to reach the mill, which is approximately 6 miles east of Marble. The road is narrow, rocky, and difficult to maneuver, especially when encountering a vehicle coming from the opposite direction. In the summer months, the road is clogged with atv’s and jeeps moving in both directions, which makes hiking to the mill a dusty adventure. Beginning your route from Marble is recommended. Approaching from Crested Butte takes you over Schofield Pass and the Devil’s Punchbowl, one of the most dangerous, and deadliest, shelf roads in Colorado. Think long and hard about that one unless you’re a seasoned and very skilled 4 wheeler.
Crystal Mill shut down when the mines closed, but thanks to the efforts of local residents and the Gunnison and Aspen Historical Societies, it remains atop its perch for the rest of us to enjoy.
I’m intrigued by your story telling. It makes your photo come to life. Do you have these in book form?
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