Whether you are a history buff, photographer, hiker, ATV driver, curious adventurer or simply appreciate amazing scenic views, Tomboy is a must-visit venture certain not to disappoint.
One late June morning, before the town of Telluride began rubbing the sleep from its eyes, I began a solo quest, trekking the challenging five miles toward the base of Imogene Pass to the once booming town of Tomboy. I had visited this precious piece of local Colorado history by vehicle in the past and was eager to reach it on foot.
Standing anywhere in Telluride’s box canyon, elevation 8,750 feet, you can see the high San Juan mountain bowl that cradles the remains of the historic ghost town at an elevation of 11,509 feet. Tomboy is the second-highest ghost town in Colorado, and one of the highest in the United States.
Whether you are a history buff, photographer, hiker, ATV or four-wheel driver, curious adventurer or simply appreciate amazing scenic views, Tomboy is a must-visit venture certain not to disappoint.
Tomboy Road takes off from the center of town and hugs the side of the valley like a shelf, following the contours of the rocky mountain walls.
Enjoy many breathtaking waterfalls, raspberry bushes (help yourself) and wildlife including pika, marmots and birds that are all present along the way. I was rewarded with the view of a large herd of elk grazing in a mountain meadow high above Tomboy—quite a thrilling sight.
The hike was just me, my boots and nature, except for two friendly four-wheel drive vehicles full of adventure enthusiasts whom I enjoyed visiting with. They cheered for me once I met up with them at the Tomboy site.
Guided Jeep tours are available out of Telluride if you’d like to leave the driving to experts and learn about the town’s history and points of interest along the way. It also gives you the opportunity to take in the incredible scenery that leads up to Tomboy, as switchbacks, cliffs and occasional falling rocks require the driver’s full attention.
High country snowfall can limit access. July and August offer stunning blue skies and wild flowers, and September is spectacular as the aspens turn golden. Remember, afternoon showers are typical during the summer so it’s best to get an early start.
After enjoying Tomboy, spend some time at the Telluride Museum Town Park, ride the free gondola to the Mountain Village or browse unique shops along Colorado Avenue.
A link to the past
Tomboy is located in a mountainous region known as the Savage Basin, and the settlement’s original name was Savage Basin Camp. Eventually, the town changed its name to reflect nearby Tomboy Mine, which began producing gold ore in 1894.
The mine sold for $2 million to the Rothschilds of London in 1897. With the depletion of ore, the mine and town went bust in 1928.
Tomboy is one of the more impressive ghost town sites, and not only because of the dramatic drive or hike. It boasted modern facilities for the 900-some year-round residents that you wouldn’t expect in a late 1800s-era mining camp.
In the days of the Wild West, Tomboy had a school, store, stable, tennis courts, a bowling alley, YMCA, restaurants, bars and a post office. Tomboy also had a “social tunnel” midway along the Tomboy Road, where miners would meet women from nearby Telluride. A stagecoach carrying passengers and mail would pass daily through Tomboy during the seasonal months.
Brutal and unforgiving winter months have left these ruins true ghosts, a shadow of the past in this remote location. If you do visit, please do not help in the further destruction of these sites by carrying away any pieces of their history.
Ghost towns you can drive to
If you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle, you can still enjoy Colorado’s rich mining history. Many mining ghost towns are accessible by car.
• Camp Bird Mine was established in 1896 near Ouray and was one of the richest and most famous mines in the world.
• Red Mountain Town, located off Highway 550 between Ouray and Silverton is the site of the National Bell Mine. During its booming years, as many as 10,000 people lived in Red Mountain Town.
• Ironton is located along the Million Dollar Highway at the north end of the Red Mountain Mining District. The mines made their money with silver and lead until gold was discovered in the late 1800s. The mines closed because of sulphuric acid in the water, which ate up the mining machinery.
• Alta is located south of Telluride off Highway 62 and is known for the Gold King Mine, which produced gold, copper, silver and lead into the 1890s, then operated intermittently into the 1940s. The town’s three mills have burned down, but the town still has cabins, a boarding house and outhouse building still standing. Three scenic lakes sit a short distance up the road from the site.
•Animas Forks was established near Silverton in 1875 and lured more than 1,000 residents to town. Avalanches frequently destroyed buildings and isolated residents, but a number of buildings still stand.