San Juan County Road 2 and the Las Animas Mining District

San Juan County Road 2 runs from Silverton to Engineer Pass on the Alpine Loop. We will only drive as far as Animas Forks for this trip, a distance of about 12 miles. CR 2 is a dirt and gravel road that parallels the Animas River for most of its length. It can be driven in most any vehicle, but there are a few gnarly sections and it's a lot more fun in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. There are several campgrounds along the way, and access to popular four-wheel-drive roads such as Burns Gulch, Maggie Gulch, Picayne Gulch, California Pass, and Engineer and Cinnamon Passes (the Alpine Loop).

San Juan CR 2 travels through the heart of the historic Las Animas Mining District. The district was active from the middle 1870s through the early 1900s, with hundreds of mines, dozens of mills, and 4 or 5 boom towns. CR 2 passes through the old mining towns of Howardsville, Eureka, and Animas Forks. We should include Silverton as well. Lackawanna, Silver Lake, Mayflower, Sunnyside, and Gold Prince mill sites are also located along the route.

Lackawanna Mill

The Lackawanna Mine and Mill are located near Silverton (0.45 mile) just above the Silverton Lakes RV Resort. The Lackawanna Mine is an underground mine that produced lead, zinc, copper, silver, and gold. The mine had a checkered past, and never was a big producer. The Lakawanna Mill is located a short distance downhill from the mine just east of the Animas River at coordinates 37°48'35"N, 107°38'54"W. A tram line operated from the mine to the mill. Much of the mill site was cleaned up in 2016 by crews from the BLM and the city of Silverton.

Lackawanna Mill

Animas River

Silverton Northern Railroad

1.36 miles from Silverton to Silverton Northern Railroad track. The Silverton Northern narrow guage Railroad was built by Otto Mears to service the mines and mills of the Las Animas Mining Distric. The line was originally projected to run from Silverton to Lake City, but only made as far as Animas Forks, which it reached in 1896. The railroad was gradually shut down during the 1930s, with the last of its equipment sold to the US Army and rails torn up in 1942. All that remains are a few sections of narrow gauge track.

Narrow gauge track

NS narrow gauge track

Silver Lake Mill

The remains of the Silver Lake Mill are 1.98 miles from Silverton just across the Animas River from CR 2 near the Mayflower Mill. The mill was designed and built by Edward Stoiber in 1900. Otto Mears provided direct rail service to the mill. In addition to the mill, the complex included a tram terminal that received and crushed ore from Stoiber's Silver Lake Mine, ore receiving bins, an electrical powerhouse, shop buildings, and a boarding house.

Silve Lake Mill foundation

Remains of the ore receiving bins and shop buildings

Mayflower Mill

Two miles from Silverton to Mayflower Gold Mill turnoff. Construction of the mill began in the spring of 1929 under the direction of Charels A. Chase, and was completed in six months. The mill started processing ore in February of 1930. Operation of the mill spanned a period from 1930 to 1991, with only 12 years of downtime. The Mayflower Mill produced 1,940,100 ounces of gold, 30,000,000 ounces of silver, and 1,000,000 tons of base metals.

Click to tour Mayflower Mill

Mayflower Gold Mill

Mayflower Mill


Howardsville is located around Cunningham Gulch, 4.4 miles from Silverton. The town was established as Bullion City in 1874, but renamed Howardsville later that year. It served briefly as the first county seat of new La Plata County until Silverton took that title in 1875. The Silverton Northern Railroad laid tracks to Howardsville in 1896, with an extension into Cunningham Gulch to the Old Hundred Mine in 1905. The town served as a supply center for the local mines during the mining boom from the 1870s through the early 1900s. Operations of the Little Nation Mill and the Pride of The West Mill kept the town going through the 1920s, but its demise came in the 1930s. The post office closed in 1939 and the Silverton Northern Railroad pulled up its tracks in 1942.

If you've got all the time in the world, take a side trip up County Road 4 from Howardsville for a tour of the Old Hundred Gold Mine. Tours generally last about an hour and there is an admission fee.

Take a tour ot the Old Hundred Gold Mine


Little Nation Mill

Pride of the West Mill

Pride of the West Mill

Vintage buildings

Old homestead


Eight miles from Silverton to Eureka. A community formed at Eureka in the early 1870s, primarily as a result of the discovery and development of the Sunnyside mine. By 1875, Eureka had a post office, and the Silverton Northern Railroad reached the town in 1896. The Gold Prince Mill from Animas Forks was deconstructed and moved to Eureka to become the Sunnyside mill. The town quickly declined after 1939 when the Sunnyside Mill closed for the last time. The only remaining structure is the Eureka jail, which has been restored. Foundations of the Sunnyside Mill and various remains of other structures still exist today.

Free Range Sheep

Eureka jail

Sunnyside Mill foundation and ruins

Building foundation

What's this?

Discarded lumber

Mill foundation

Building foundation

Unidentified mine workings

There are vestiges of old mines, mills, and other structure all along the Animas River valley between Silverton and Animas Forks.

Might be the Tom Moore Mine

Might be the Tom Moore Mine

Dilapidated bridge

Mine ruin between Maggie and Minnie Gulches

Burns Gulch

Don't know what this was

Animas Forks

12.5 miles from Silverton to Animas Forks. The town's first log cabin was built in 1873 and by 1876 the community had become a bustling mining community. At that time the town contained 30 cabins, a hotel, a general store, a saloon, and a post office. By 1883 450 people lived in Animas Forks and in 1882 a newspaper, the Animas Forks Pioneer, began publication and lasted until October 1886. Every fall the residents of Animas Forks migrated en masse to the warmer town of Silverton.

Click to visit Animas Forks

Animas Forks Historic Site

Animas Forks

What's left of Gold Prince Mill

Background info:, Basins of Silver 2009 by Eric Twitty, Wikipedia.
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