Article & Photos by Field Editor Ryan Michelle Scavo
Colorado’s long history of mining provides off-roaders and 4×4 enthusiasts with a plethora of unique, off-the-beaten bath places to explore! Visitors to the San Luis Valley and surrounding area will find that off-road travel opportunities abound, from casual dirt road driving to technical creek crossings and rock crawling. Moreover, from the high country Forest Roads leading to Summitville Mine to the winding path through old town sites and mines along the Bachelor Loop, off-road exploring near active claims as well as along abandoned paths and through ghost towns is readily available all across Rio Grande Country.
For those looking to pair their explorations with an interesting history lesson – mixed with some colorful local lore – consider a drive through the terrain outside of La Garita, north of Del Norte, to learn about the story of the Crystal Hill Mine and a nearby ghost town.
To access the route, travel north on CR42, east of La Garita. After 2.5 miles, turn left at the fork (CR 42K) and travel 8 miles. Turn right to climb Crystal Hill.
Nestled in the La Garita mountains of the San Luis Valley, Crystal Hill Mine, often referred to as Biedell, features an informative wayside sign and picnic area. After reading about the mine and taking in the breathtaking views of the valley and Sangre de Cristo mountains, continue down the 4×4 road to an abandoned home site.
According to local lore, a successful silver prospector, Mark Biedell, may have established the now-abandoned site in 1881 as a settlement for workers and families associated with several mines in the Crystal Hill complex, including Esperanza and Spring Chicken. The site rests along a trickling spring and features several wooden and stone structures as well as mine tailings. Visitors should explore with caution and leave the site as it was found.
After visiting, follow CR N42 to loop back to the town of La Garita. The general store is a great stop for visitors seeking a lunch break.
Of course, the La Garitas also have their own history and story to tell – one of geology.
These “mountains” are actually the remnants of an ancient supervolcano. Created by several caldera-forming eruptions within the once-existing San Juan volcanic field, today’s La Garitas now feature picturesque rock formations and are home to pronghorn antelope, mule deer, elk, and the occasional moose.
For visitors looking to combine their love of off-roading with an intriguing history lesson, Biedell site and Crystal Hill Mine in the La Garita mountains might just be the destination you’re looking for!