Historic & Educational
Points of Interest
Take a step back in time by visiting some of Gunnison's historic sites. Many mining communities went through boom to bust cycles and are now ghost towns. Some of the more historic sites are the Alpine Tunnel, Gothic, Tincup, and White Pine.
The Alpine Tunnel Historic District consists of a two hundred foot wide right of way along thirteen miles of original Denver, South Park and Pacific railbed between the town sites of Quartz (in Gunnison County) and Hancock (in Chaffee County). The District consists of property located on the Gunnison National Forest and the San Isabel National Forest as well as two separate parcels of private land.
The Alpine Tunnel Historic District is a joint Project sponsored by the Gunnison County Lodging Tax Panel, the Alpine Tunnel Historic Association, and the U.S. Forest Service.
The Alpine Tunnel Historical District is normally open from July to September.
Visitors to the District can follow a 10 mile auto tour. The auto tour begins northeast of Pitkin at the junction of the Cumberland Pass Road (FDR 765) and the Alpine Tunnel Road (FDR 839).
An absolutely awesome way to spend half a day or more! Spectacular scenery. The road is in good condition and is considered an "easy" drive, at least until you near the top. Next to spectacular cliffs, the road crosses a narrow man-made terrace known as the "Palisades." The ledge is supported by a wall of hand cut native stones, two feet thick by 33 feet high and 425 feet long. The entire wall was dry laid without the use of mortar. A tribute to its talented builders, the wall remains today in the same relative condition as when first constructed in 1881.
Locals and visitors alike stroll and bike along the sidewalks of Crested Butte’s National Historic District, creating an atmosphere of friendliness and hospitality and further enhancing this mountain town’s Victorian charm, which is still reflective of turn of the century mining life. On each side, the street is lined with unique shops, colorful buildings and other examples of one hundred year plus architecture and the coal mining history of the town is evident everywhere you look.
Tincup, which changed its name from Virginia City in 1882, is a small community featuring many summer residences and beautifully restored structures that hint at its colorful past.
The name Tincup reportedly comes from the container Jim Taylor used to carry his newly found gold from Willow Creek in 1860. Soon after word of his discovery got out, Taylor was joined by other fortune seekers. A base camp that would eventually become Tincup was established on Willow Creek.
In its hey day in the late 1880s, Tincup had a population of 6,000, all of whom were dependent on the numerous and profitable mines that had been discovered in the area. The town flourished, accommodating 20 saloons, five grocery stores, two butchers, four hotels, a school and a number of shops….it also had a Red Light District!
Once a mining boom town, Gothic, Colorado has faded into ghost town status like many early mining communities. While vivid stories of the old days abound and historic buildings dot the landscape, Gothic also is rich in science and summer activities due to the longtime presence of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL). Gothic brings together Colorado's mining history with cutting-edge, modern-day science.
Located eight miles north of Crested Butte at 9,500 feet, Gothic is situated at the confluence of Copper Creek and the East River in the shadow of the 12,625-foot Gothic Mountain. In 1879, two prospector brothers, John and David Jennings, discovered silver high above Copper Creek and the rush was on.
Gothic grew to more than 1,000 residents and was a major supply point for mining camps to the north. It was not uncommon to see 400 - 500 jacks packing supplies from the "City of Silver Wires" to Aspen over East Maroon Pass, still a popular and extremely beautiful hike between the two towns. By 1893, the year of the Silver Crash, the town was mostly deserted.
The town of Gothic was acquired by RMBL in 1928 through the initiative of Dr. John C. Johnson, a professor of biology at Western State College in Gunnison, located 38 miles south of Gothic. Johnson, his wife Vera Adams Johnson, and three other biologists founded the RMBL, a private nonprofit organization, to facilitate research and education in the biological sciences.
Today, the RMBL owns approximately 245 acres and more than 60 structures, including three buildings from 1880, several buildings from the early 1900s, and a number of buildings associated with the founding of the lab. The RMBL is one of the world's premiere field stations, promoting the understanding and protection of high-altitude ecosystems through research and education.
May 25, 1879 saw the first prospectors traverse Old Monarch Pass and open the Parole and Iron Duke Mines on Contact Mountain. The rush was on and three prospectors found the rich North Star, Carbonate King, Eureka and May Mazeppa Mines on 11, 592 high Lake Hill. The town was founded in 1880 on the west side of Tomichi Creek in a narrow gulch. By 1884, there was a population over 1,000 and the town boasted five stores, three saloons, two livery stables, three hotels, a barbershop, meat market and even a photographic gallery. The town was served by a circuit preacher, the Rev. Isaac Whicker, a Methodist minister, who traveled from Leadville & Salida to White Pine on foot! By 1885, the big boom didn’t occur and lawsuits between miners, and the failure of the sampling works at Crosden sealed the doom of the town. The silver panic of 1893 occurred and the town was deserted by 1894. A small boom occurred between 1902 and 1953 when Akron Mines Co. drove the Akron Tunnel 4000, into Lake Hill and mined Lead, Zinc and Cooper during World War I and World War II. Today it is a summer residence town in a predominately ranching area.
Gunnison Valley Observatory
Following a successful, albeit often-times cloudy and rainy season, the Gunnison Valley Observatory is now closed for public viewing until late Spring, 2014. We hosted 1,300 visitors from the Gunnison Valley, around Colorado and the nation. We also welcomed visitors from several foreign countries. Visitors not only enjoyed looking at distant objects in the night sky but enjoyed a variety of educational astronomy lectures on everything from the Science of Science Fiction to learning what the ancient peoples knew about the dark night sky. The Observatory hosted over eighty 4th graders from the Gunnison Community School and also students from Lake City. A boisterous evening of learning was held with the Gunnison Cub Scouts and the belt-loop earning event will sure to become an annual program. The Observatory telescopes will spend the winter in hibernation while the GVO Board of Directors plan the 2014 season. Be watching for information about the educational research programs to be conducted in the Dr. Ted Violett Memorial Observatory, located adjacent to the main facility.
As a ghost town, Ohio City is most memorable for the number of times it has boomed and collapsed, with a history of at least four separate mining periods beginning in the early 1860s, with the latest collapse occurring around 1915. Today, a number of the original cabins and other buildings, including the original city hall, are still standing.
The ghost town of Pitkin isn’t a true ghost town, as there are still a few local residents, but this semi-ghost town is still a great place to come and see original buildings and relics from bygone mining days.
With the discovery of silver in the 1870s, Pitkin, Colorado became a booming mining town, although never as large as some of the better-known towns. During the mid 1890s, mining slowed in Pitkin until the 1930s, when the town further collapsed. Despite the economic state of the town, many of the original buildings have been kept in good repair, and a number of mining relics can also be seen around town.