SERIES – PHOTOS OF A FAMILY ROAD TRIP ADVENTURE
High up in the San Juan Mountains of the Colorado Rockies is a late 19th century ghost town sure to draw on the imagination. It’s name is Animus Forks, and it’s our next destination on this adventure-packed family road trip in Colorado and Utah.
Animus Forks was once a robust, thriving mining community set high in the remote San Juan Mountains. Today, this mining village is on the National Register of Historic Places, no longer thriving, no longer robust. The nearby mines have long been shut down, the village long ago abandoned. Let’s check out what remains today!
Snapshots of An Abandoned Mining Village
Our adventure begins just outside Silverton, Colorado, about an hour north of our home base in Durango. Animus Forks is located about 12 miles past Silverton along a fairly accessible, yet challenging, section of the San Juan Mountains’ oh-so-scenic 65 mile Alpine Loop.
Though the last several miles of the drive to Animus Forks are not for the feint of heart, and a high clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended, the rewards at the end of the road are stellar, breathtaking higher elevation mountain vistas and the experience of an abandoned Colorado mining town.
And high in the San Juan Mountains it is! Situated at an elevation of 11,200 feet, Animus Forks is more than two miles above sea level. It’s hard to imagine this very remote region of the Colorado Rocky Mountains was once a fairly bustling mining town back in the 1870’s!
The first log cabin was built here in 1873. By 1876, that one cabin had transformed into a village, complete with 30 cabins, a hotel, a general store, saloons, a post office and more. At its peak, about 450 people eked out a life within this remote mountain valley.
Today, all that remains of this former mining village are a few dilapidated buildings, and gorgeous high altitude scenery that make this sometimes treacherous, certainly adventurous, drive worth the effort.
Though a shell of it’s former life, today’s Animus Forks provides its visitors a glimpse into the less than glamorous life of late 19th century Colorado miners. Several Animus Forks buildings are open to the public, beckoning one forth for a close-up view inside this mining village.
Step inside the Duncan House, where many of its original features still remain, albeit quite worn with age. The house was built in 1879 with the intent to carve out a life in Animus Forks. That dream didn’t last. By 1884, the Duncan family had moved on, leaving their home behind.
Wander along paths much like those late 19th century miners once did. Imagine life inside these tiny homes, families huddled together to keep warm in the frigid night hours. Hang out on the front porch as they might have over 100 years ago. Soak in all the fabulous scenery, and the remains of a mining village lost to time.
Winters were quite rough at this altitude, driving residents south to nearby Silverton before heavy snows blocked their way. Eventually, they no longer returned to Animus Forks come the spring thaw, and by the 1920’s Animus Forks was completely abandoned, left to become the ghost town it is today.
Imagine having to dig out from an early snow storm that could dump several feet of snow, isolating the village from the outside world. There were no snowblowers, nor snow plows to assist with snow removal in the late 1800’s! It’s not so hard to imagine why the miners abandoned Animus Forks and its challenging climate after all!
Stand amidst the remains of a life that has moved on. The former mill, collapsing in on itself. A mine shaft sealed off for public safety. A mining equipment shed whose door no longer keeps the elements out. A wagon wheel, discarded nearby.
Yet, when one looks out from the shell of this building, framed with gorgeous mountain views, one can understand what might have brought people here over 100 years ago. Though simply stunning in the warm, summer months, ponder for yourself. Could you have lived here, in the middle of these remote mountains?
A San Juan Mountains Hike
Exploring the Animus Forks ghost town is not the only adventure here! Nearby hiking trails simply beg to be explored. Take the time to hike up a nearby trail. Perhaps several of those 19th century miners also hiked up this very trail hoping to strike it rich on their own!
Follow the creek up, up, up, to the point where you feel as if above the clouds. Experience that incredibly fresh Colorado mountain air. Enjoy expansive panoramic views of the snow-capped San Juan Mountain range set in a backdrop of evergreen trees reaching for the sky.
Oh what a perfect ending to this adventure. But alas, our journey on the Alpine Loop ends here in Animus Forks. It’s time to head back down that rough and rugged road to Silverton. Neither our vehicle, nor our driver, is quite prepared to proceed beyond Animus Forks and further up the Alpine Loop.
Planning an Animus Forks Adventure
Whether the day’s adventure ends in Animus Forks, or continues up the Alpine Loop, to Engineer or Cinnamon Pass, advance preparation is a must! Here are several key points to keep in mind when planning a day trip into this region of the San Juan Mountains.
- Animus Forks can be accomplished as a day trip from Durango.
- Stop in Silverton for road conditions advice, hiking options and the general store.
- Animus Forks is an hour long, rough and rugged 12 mile drive from Silverton.
- Pack water and snacks or lunch. No food is available for purchase at Animus Forks.
- A high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended for Animus Forks.
- A high clearance 4-wheel drive strongly encouraged if continuing past Animus Forks.
- 4-wheel Jeeps can be rented for the day in either Durango or Silverton.
If you have a fear of driving along cliff edges with no guard rails, and rough, narrow roads, consider booking a guided drive. There are plenty of tours departing from both Durango and Silverton that will do the driving for you. Also, consider long and hard if deciding to self-drive the complete 65 miles of the Alpine Trail. The road becomes quite challenging beyond Animus Forks, and is certainly not for the less experienced driver, nor the tentative driver.
Have You Been to Animus Forks, Colorado?
Oh the fresh mountain air! Though as ghost towns go, Animus Forks itself may not be the most impressive, getting there is half the adventure, as is its setting in the San Juan Mountains. All in all, this was a day trip we all thoroughly enjoyed.
How about you? Have you been to Animus Forks? Did you adventure beyond the ghost town? Did you complete the Alpine Loop drive? What do you think? Was it worth your time and effort? Do share!
Catch the rest of the Series – Photos of A Family Road Trip Adventure:
- Road Tripping in Colorado and Utah – Photos of a Family Adventure
- Exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Colorado.
- A Fascinating Experience at Aztec Ruins National Monument, NM
- Welcome to The Iconic Four Corners Monument, USA!
- Inside The Oak Tree House Cliff Dwelling, Mesa Verde National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park – Snapshots of an Amazing, Enlightening Experience
- A Day of Experiences In Canyons of The Ancients & Hovenweep Nat’l Monuments
- Hiking Into The Devil’s Garden – Arches National Park
- 5 Favorite Moments – A Photo Journey Through Arches National Park
- Exploring Sego Canyon’s Ancient Rock Art & Historic Ghost Town
All images by C.Biederman.