“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Silverton in San Juan County, Colorado — The American Mountains (Southwest)

Arrastra Gulch

Arrastra Gulch Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By James Hulse, July 6, 2021
1. Arrastra Gulch Marker

Arrastra Gulch - Where It All Began
Of all the gulches in the San Juan Mining District, few spanned a full century of activity and none had the diversity of mining companies as Arrastra Gulch. It began in 1870 with the discovery of gold and the formation of the Little Giant Mining Company and ended with the completion of work by the Sunnyside Mining Company in the 1980s.

Mining companies pioneered new technology in Arrastra Gulch, setting new standards for the mining industry. It was here that some of the most complex aerial tram systems ever engineered were built - most in an era when industrial motorized machinery as we know it today did not exist - taxing men and pack animals to the limit.

The Little Giant was the first organized mining company to enter the San Juan Mountains, blazing its way into a wilderness that had no trails, let alone roads. With the discovery of gold, a Spanish-style arrastra was constructed to pulverize the quartz and free the metal, giving the gulch its name. In 1873, these pioneers brought a steam boiler and other mill machinery into the gulch for better gold recovery,
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building the needed roads as they came. This small but industrious group of men installed the first aerial tram system in the region, if not the state. The mine lasted only few years, yet opened the country to thousands of men to follow.

A group of claims on Hazelton Mountain that started out as individual companies later merged into the Aspen Mining Company. This company was highly successful and its richest ores bypassed concentrating mills and went directly to the smelter. In later years, it milled its ore at the Silver Lake Mill, transporting it via an aerial tram from the lower Amy Tunnel.

At the same time, the Silver Lake, Iowa, and Royal Tiger Mining Companies were organized in Arrastra Basin. The Silver Lake and Iowa firms controlled over a hundred claims making them the largest mining conglomerates in the area. They were the first major mining companies to successfully mine and treat large quantities of what was then considered "low grade" ore. They used innovative ideas, tested new machinery, and led the way in technology.

In 1913, the Wilfley-Mears Mill and its flume system were built to treat tailings from the old Silver Lake Mill in the basin and the Iowa Mill in the gulch. The system was designed to test and improve centrifugal-force pumps and new mill machinery. It, too, proved to be a profitable enterprise and functioned for nearly
Arrastra Gulch and Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By James Hulse, July 6, 2021
2. Arrastra Gulch and Marker
a decade.

The last major undertaking in Arrastra Gulch was the Shenandoah Dives Mining Company, organized in the 1920s. It consolidated claims and mined south into Dives Basin, east of Silver Lake. This company used advanced flotation technology in its Mayflower Mill (directly behind you) and built the only aerial tram in the region with metal towers (directly overhead.) These are the only surviving structures of those once located here. Tours of the mill are provided during the summer months by the San Juan County Historical Society.

The Shenandoah-Dives Company bucked adversity and worked through the Great Depression, finally closing in 1953 due to low metal prices. Standard Metals Corporation acquired the property in 1959, operated the tram for a few years, then adapted the mill to process ore from its mines until it closed in 1991-ending a period of 121 years of mineral activity in this historic gulch.

The Iowa-Tiger
1A Iowa-Tiger Mining Co. rail siding, connected with the Iowa Mill by a 6,000 foot long aerial tram erected in 1900.
1B Iowa Mill was built in 1895 as an ore processing mill and terminal for a tram from the mine.
1C Iowa Mine. Its No. 1 Tram was erected in 1895. It ran from the Iowa Mine in Arrastra Basin to the mill and was 9,400 feet long. From the base of Round Mountain to the mill, this tram had a
The view of the Arrastra Gulch Marker from the road image. Click for full size.
Photographed By James Hulse, July 6, 2021
3. The view of the Arrastra Gulch Marker from the road
vertical drop of more than 2,200 feet in one mile. Both this and the Silver Lake Tram were considered engineering marvels.
1D Royal Tiger Mine. Its tram was built with the merger of the Royal Tiger Mining Co. and the Iowa Mining Co. during the 1890s as a 1,200-foot tram to carry ore over Silver Lake to connect with the existing Iowa tram system.

The Mayflower Complex
2A Mayflower Mill (directly behind you) was built by the Shenandoah - Dives Co. in 1929. The tram line up Arrastra Gulch to the Mayflower Mine was 10,100 feet long and the only tram in San Juan County built with steel towers. The lower section of this line (overhead) is the only tram-mill link still in existence in the San Juan Mountains.
2B Mayflower Mine, one of the early mines in Arrastra Gulch, became part of the Shenandoah Dives operations in the 1920s and was the upper terminal of the Mayflower Tram.
2C Mayflower-Iowa Mill Tram was erected in the 1920s and was 3,000 feet long. It ran ore to the Iowa Mill from the Mayflower Mine for processing until the tram line to the Mayflower Mill was completed in 1929.

The Wilfley-Mears Mill and Flume
3A The Wilfley-Mears Mill and Flume was a project completed in 1914. It was designed to take mill tailings by slurry from Arrastra Lake (Silver Lake), deposited by the earliest Silver Lake Mill, to the mill
The view from the Arrastra Gulch toward the mountains image. Click for full size.
Photographed By James Hulse, July 6, 2021
4. The view from the Arrastra Gulch toward the mountains
The aerial trams can be seen in the middle of the photo
on the bank of the Animas River for processing. The system also retrieved tailings from the Iowa Mill in Arrastra Gulch at a dam (3B) and carried this material to the mill, which had its own railroad siding.

The Silver Lake Mining Company
4A Silver Lake Mill No. 2 on the Animas River was built in 1900 and rebuilt in 1906 after a devastating fire. The No. 2 Tram link from this mill up to the Silver Lake Angle Station (4D) was built in 1898 and was 6,200 feet long.
4B Amy Tunnel on Hazelton Mountain was the lowest elevation workings of the Aspen Mine, one of the earliest discoveries in the region. In 1907, a 1,800 foot aerial tram was built to carry ore from the Amy Tunnel to the Silver Lake Mill for processing.
4C Waldheim was built by the Silver Lake Mining Co. in 1897 and was an office and residence.
4D Silver Lake Angle Station was built in 1895 and was the terminal for the No. 1 Tram coming down from the mine, as well as the terminal for the Unity Tram. At this point, tram buckets were transferred to the No. 2 Tram and sent to the Silver Lake Mill on the Animas River. The angle station was demolished in the late 1920s to make room for the Mayflower Tram.
4E Unity Mine was a division of the Silver Lake Mining Co. and the upper terminal for a separate 4,000 foot tram line which ran to the Silver Lake Angle Station.
Arrastra Gulch Map image. Click for full size.
Photo from marker, July 6, 2021
5. Arrastra Gulch Map
Silver Lake Mine and No. 1 Tram upper terminal. This section of the tram was 8,500 feet long and ran from the mine in Arrastra (Silver Lake) Basin to the Angle Station. It was completed in 1895. The first Silver Lake Mill was built at the mine on the edge of Silver Lake in 1891.

The Little Giant
5A Little Giant Mine, staked in 1870, was one of the first major mining locations in the San Juan Mountains.
5B Little Giant Mill was the first steam-driven mill in the region. It was erected in 1873 and was connected to the mine by a 1,000 foot wire rope tramway, the first in the area. Prior to this mill the reduction of ore was accomplished by a Spanish-style arrastra, from which the gulch derived its name.

The Silverton Northern Railroad
6 Silverton Northern Railroad was built to transport concentrates from the mills to the smelter. This rail line was constructed in 1896 and served the seven mile route between Silverton and Eureka.

1. The Iowa-Tiger Mill (foreground) could process 150 tons of ore a day. Situated in the middle of the gulch, it received ore via an aerial tram from mines in the basin. The concentrates were then trammed down to the railroad siding on the Animas River. The Silver Lake angle station (left background) was designed to allow tram buckets from the Silver Lake Mine and the Unity
The view of Arrastra Gulch from the Mayflower Mill with the aerial tram image. Click for full size.
Photographed By James Hulse, July 7, 2021
6. The view of Arrastra Gulch from the Mayflower Mill with the aerial tram
Mine to change direction on their way to the Silver Lake Mill on the Animas River.
- Photo courtesy of San Juan County Historical Society
2. Of all the innovations introduced to the mining industry, one of the most important was the aerial tram. This was especially true in the San Juan Mountains where winters were severe and most of the mines were situated above timberline. Trams allowed those who could afford them to work year-round, giving economic stability to the entire region.
- Photo courtesy of San Juan County Historical Society
3. The Silver Lake Mill on the Animas River, with a 300 ton per day capacity, was the finest of its kind when built in 1900. It had its own electrical generating plant, railroad siding, and other amenities that set standards for the rest of the mining industry.
- Photo courtesy of San Juan County Historical Society
Erected by San Juan County Historical Society, U.S. Department of the Interior - Bureau of Land Management.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & CommerceRoads & Vehicles. A significant historical year for this entry is 1870.
Location. 37° 49.688′ N, 107° 37.575′ W. Marker is near Silverton, Colorado, in San Juan County. Marker is on County Highway 2, 0.2 miles east of County Highway 52
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, on the right when traveling east. The marker is located directly below the Mayflower Mill by county road 2. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 135 County Road 2, Silverton CO 81433, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 3 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Mayflower Mill (approx. half a mile away); Tailings Ponds Reclamation (approx. half a mile away); Wealth of Mining History (approx. half a mile away); Mayflower Mill Tailing Ponds (approx. half a mile away); Howardsville (approx. 1.8 miles away); San Juan County Memorial (approx. 2 miles away); Silverton Northern Caboose 1005 (approx. 2.1 miles away); S.R.R. Caboose (approx. 2.1 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Silverton.
Also see . . .
1. Arrastra. Wikipedia entry:
An arrastra (or arastra) is a primitive mill for grinding and pulverizing (typically) gold or silver ore. Its simplest form is two or more flat-bottomed drag stones placed in a circular pit paved with flat stones, and connected to a center post by a long arm. With a horse, mule or human providing power at the other end of the arm, the stones were dragged slowly around in a circle, crushing the ore. Some arrastras were powered by a water wheel; a few were powered by steam or gasoline engines, and even electricity. Source: Wikipedia
(Submitted on July 21, 2021, by James Hulse of Medina, Texas.) 

2. Alpine Loop. Colorado Department of Transportation website entry:
The Alpine Loop is truly a backcountry experience. Make sure someone knows your travel plans and do your homework before you start your trip. Make sure you have plenty of water, food and fuel to make it to your destination. Electronics and wireless devises DO NOT work in most places on the Alpine Loop. It is recommended that you download or print hard copy maps prior to your trip. The Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway is a rugged 4x4 road that winds through the spectacular scenery of the San Juan Mountains, connecting Lake City, Silverton, and Ouray. The Alpine Loop byway traverses passes up to 12,800 feet while showcasing old mines, ghost towns, natural wonders, beautiful wildflowers, and abundant wildlife. Alpine Loop is an avenue for exploring nature and history amidst thrilling views and stunning geography. Tackling the loop in its entirety is easily an all-day experience event. However, the main loop is only part of the experience; miles of designated side routes allow visitors to either take a short tour or extend their trip to multiple days. For more information, please contact the Gunnison Field Office.
(Submitted on July 21, 2021, by James Hulse of Medina, Texas.) 
Credits. This page was last revised on May 8, 2023. It was originally submitted on July 20, 2021, by James Hulse of Medina, Texas. This page has been viewed 351 times since then and 49 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on July 21, 2021, by James Hulse of Medina, Texas.

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Jun. 4, 2023