Greetings from the Bureau of Exploration. This is the fourth section of a field report by the Mining Infrastructure and Geological Survey Corps on places of interest in the San Juan Mountains.
My fellow operative and I parked our car in a large open space, an area where records state a mining town once stood. The town is no more, but rising over the valley are stacked concrete foundations, the skeleton of what the town was built around: the Eureka Mill.
The way the structure climbs up the mountain makes me think of an immense staircase. Scaling the first few ‘steps’ of the staircase, we were surrounded by the shattered concrete floors and scattered wooden remains of the mill. One can see what it once looked like from pictures such as this.
We scrambled up the side for the first seven steps. By the eighth, we found a convenient window blasted through the concrete to hop through into the structure proper.
The rubble-strewn floor had the remains of railway tracks that once ran on the roof. To our right was an overlook of the valley, and to our left we saw strange cylindrical tanks towering overhead. We continued our ascent.
I think that these tanks once held ore before it was processed further down the mountain. They seemed out of place in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, being made of great concrete slabs and steadfast rebar rather than decaying wood. To me, Eureka felt less like a mill and more like a sci-fi bunker or strange industrial plant.
The last two steps, eleven and twelve, had more columns. Cascading down the rubble were metal wires that looked like big heaps of snakes, wrapping themselves around the surrounding rock and pillars.
We stood at the top of the ruins for a while under the noonday sun, overlooking the valley and the structure below us.
A winding path led up to the punctured walls of our last structure of the day: the Sound Democrat Stamp Mill.
Entering through a hole in the wall at the structure’s base, we looked up and realized that we were inside a vast, century-old machine. The whole structure is a vertically-stacked mechanism: according to records, ore was loaded in at the top, and then gravity pushed it through many different devices, refining it further with each step. At the end of the process were these ‘ripple tables’, which sorted out valuable metals by size.
As we ascended, we were surrounded by both the archaic and the modern. Decaying wood supported complex mechanisms, steel pipeworks ran along rotting staircases.
Light threaded through the walls, illuminating strange machines.
We emerged from the structure through its tram tower. Temperatures were dropping and the sun was nearly gone: we took one last moment to behold the mill and the surrounding mountains, and then began the descent back to town.
Today, we present a field report gathered in cooperation by the Outdoor Exploration Expeditionary Force and the Department of Post-Industrial Architecture. It is the first in a series of new reports exploring the city of Boulder and its environs, known as the Boulder Continuing Survey.
It was a dark, misty day when we set out on our expedition. While we were close to our base of operations in Boulder, it didn’t feel that way: surrounded by dense mist and denser forest, we were enveloped by a sense of otherworldliness.
Around us were dark green trees, and rising up above them were the jagged teeth of the Rockies. The forest seemed fit for demons, witches, and spirits of Medieval superstition. One could imagine the strangest things emerging from the void above us: my fellow operative and I spoke of mysterious zeppelins, terrible creatures that filled half the sky, faces of gods faintly looming overhead.
The path first emerged from the forest at a flat outcrop on the side of the mountain. Apparently there was once a luxurious mountain resort here at the turn of the century: it had its own fountain, and even a funicular! However, it burned down long ago: all that’s left of it is a hearth.
After continuing up the path a ways, to our surprise we encountered a cliff, and running along its edge a train track up on the mountain. A strange and high-altitude place for a railway.
A great doorway loomed out of the mist, plunging deep into the mountain. It bore the year ‘1948’ engraved on its left side, fitting in oddly well with the primeval and ancient forest that enveloped it.
We only went in a little way, knowing that soon dusk would arrive and we needed to return to Boulder to file our paperwork. However, one day we will return and find what is on the other end.
The end of the day was approaching when we finally trundled over the ridge of the mountains we’d been ascending for the last couple hours. As the topographic map had hinted, awaiting us on the other side was a valley, filled with century-old ruins: aging foundations, still-standing mills, mine tailings covering the mountain walls.
If you look closely, you can see the mill which is the subject of this report to the bottom left, the foundations of an old house towards the center, and another, larger mill slightly to the right of center further back. As we descended into the valley, we were greeted by the Mastodon Mill:
If you ever find yourself here, I highly recommend setting aside at least half the day for this valley alone. Dusk came quickly, and there was a lot we couldn’t make it to before the sun set completely. Looking at the angle of the light on the mountain, we decided to make a run for the mill we’d spotted in the distance before the sun set and we were forced back to town.
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Greetings from the Bureau of Exploration. This is the first section of a field report by the Mining Infrastructure and Geological Survey Corps on places of interest in the San Juan Mountains.
Entering Bagley Mill, my fellow Bureau operative and I wandered through rooms of long-silent machinery, rafters punctuated by sky, towering columns still standing after over a century of abandonment.
The initial area we entered has many lines of pillars supporting the floor above. A short stairway up, we reached a half-collapsed great room.
Immense, rusted funnels can be seen outside, and the remnants of various machines are still held up in the decaying ceiling. Records state that this mill, once one of the most productive in the San Juan Mountains, processed 150 tons of ore per day.
On the floor and high in the ceiling, the mill is full of stairways which lead to nowhere.
What struck me the most about the mill is just how much blue sky you can see from inside. One of the most interesting aspects of exploring these old buildings is the ambiguity of where exactly the interior ends and the exterior begins. How many walls does a room have to be missing, or how much of the roof must be gone, for a place go from being inside to outside?