Toward the end of our visit to the Salida area we drove north to visit an old ghost town. But first we made a brief visit to the town of Buena Vista. North of town we crossed the Arkansas River on County Road 371 to visit a large boulder called Elephant Rock. Just before the boulder we drove through a series of tunnels that were once part of the Midland Railroad.
Just past the tunnels is Elephant Rock.
Driving back down US 24 from Buena Vista we turned west on Chalk Creek Drive just south of the little crossroads community of Nathrop. After 16 miles (partly paved and partly maintained dirt) we came to what is essentially the end of the line in the restored mining community of St. Elmo. Nearly 2,000 people settled in this town when mining for gold and silver started. The mining industry started to decline in the early 1920s, and in 1922 the railroad discontinued service. Few people continued to live in the town. Postal service was discontinued in 1952 after the death of St. Elmo’s postmaster.
St. Elmo was originally named Forest City but was later changed because of the multitude of towns with the same name. The name St. Elmo was chosen by one of the town’s founding fathers who was reading a novel with the same title. The community is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the St. Elmo Historic District. It is one of Colorado’s best preserved ghost towns.
Along the road to St. Elmo is the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort. The resort is built around an odorless hot spring with water reaching the surface at 140 degrees.
On our last day in Salida we decided to visit the downtown area of the city. But first we drove west on US 50 to check out Monarch Pass. We would be driving the motorhome over the pass the next day but wanted to go up and enjoy the views in the Jeep first.
The Monarch Mountain Ski Area is located just east of the summit.
Returning back down from the summit of Monarch Pass we drove into the city of Salida. With a population of about 5,300, the town sits right along the Arkansas River and is the county seat of Chaffee County.
As we drove through some residential areas heading for the downtown we noticed a number of deer just meandering through the neighborhoods enjoying the plentiful vegetation.
Across the river from the downtown area is Tenderfoot Hill which has a large communications tower on its peak and a large “S” on its west side.
A narrow dirt road winds its way up to the top of the mound, with a great view of the city below.
Salida takes full advantage of the Arkansas River for recreation. A nice path runs along the water on the town side of the river.
Near the center of town there is an area where you can sit and watch kayak racing during high water in the spring, or just enjoy a cold drink from that national chain coffee house located in the nearby Safeway Market.
The next morning we left the Salida KOA and headed west over Monarch Pass to the town of Gunnison. Since the drive was only about 60 miles and with the climb over the pass, we didn’t hook up the Jeep.
Our original plan was to drive from Salida to Montrose. But in researching road conditions in Colorado we discovered that there was a major construction project on US 50 between Gunnison and Montrose. During the week the road is closed for most of the day, with a limited number of vehicles guided through the construction three times a day. If you don’t get into a group, you have to sit for hours until the next crossing. But there is no construction on weekends and the road is full opened from Friday evening until early Monday morning. So we stopped in Gunnison and waited a day before continuing across through the construction during the weekend.
The drive across US 50 was easy, except for two areas where they are cleaning up a rock slide and widening the road. A look at the photos confirms why they close the highway during construction as there is no way they could maneuver heavy equipment in those narrow areas with traffic behind them.
After crossing US 50 we turned south on US 551 and drove about 15 miles to Ridgeway State Park where we had a reservation for three nights. We stayed there two years ago and did a lot of exploring, but wanted to return to drive some Jeep roads we missed on that visit. However, the weather report was for one nice day followed by a couple of days of rain. Since exploring dirt Jeep roads in the rain isn’t very much fun we changed our plans, cancelled the second two nights in Ridgeway, and continued our journey south to Cortez, CO.
More on that later . . .