Immediately east of the town of Leadville, is the site of a vast abandoned silver mine. Pocked with all manner of twisted and decaying mining structures the disaster area takes on an immense and tragic beauty. Thousands of waste rocks and smelting piles litter the desolate landscape, standing in sharp relief to the area’s stunning skies.
The California Gulch/Yak Tunnel mining area was originally staked as part of Colorado’s gold rush. The district’s biggest claim to fame didn’t come until two decades later when, in 1879, speculators found repositories of silver large enough that it single-handedly spurred what became known as the Colorado Silver Boom. Though silver mining had petered-out by the end of the 1800s, the last mine in operation didn’t close its doors until 1999, leaving the mining district officially forsaken.
The greater Leadville area was designated a Superfund site in 1983 after the Environmental Protection Agency determined that public health and the environment were in danger due to high levels of lead in the soil and toxic substances (including arsenic) flowing directly into the groundwater and Arkansas River.
Note: Tasting the dirt and water is a bad idea, and therefore it is not advised to take young children or geologists to this site.
Know Before You Go
Drive due east of the town of Leadville, following the snaking county roads through the area.