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Destination: The Historic Crystal Mill in Crystal, Colorado

The Crystal Mill with fall colors

Destination: The Crystal Mill in Crystal, Colorado

Colorado has plenty of beautiful destinations and scenic vistas, and more often than not, a handful always seems to rise to the top, like the Crystal Mill, aka, the Sheep Mountain powerhouse. It’s one of those images of “classic Colorado,” and I’d wager a guess that you’ve already seen photos of it, even if you don’t live in the state.

First, some history. The Crystal Mill was constructed on the banks of the Crystal River in 1893 to support silver mining operations in both the Sheep Mountain and Bear Mountain mines. The structure, a rustic wooden cabin with a vertical wooden penstock (which looks like a stack of Lincoln Logs), housed an air compressor that derived its power from the river and a water turbine. This air compressor powered mining equipment, allowing workers to drill holes for blasting to extract the precious silver ore from the labyrinth of tunnels nearby.

But mining in the state of Colorado was a fickle industry, characterized by boom and bust cycles. The difficulty of sending ore down the valley to the well-maintained grades and what is now Colorado’s I-70 corridor is ultimately the reason that town of Crystal was eventually abandoned. By 1917, the Sheep Mountain mine closed and the Crystall Mill fell into disuse. Now part of the US registry of historic places, this mining relic is maintained by the local Gunnison and Aspen Historical Societies as well as local history enthusiasts.


Getting There

The Route:Via Marble, Colorado

From the town of Marble, head East on FS Route 314 for approximately 5 miles.

Via onX, the route is described as an “uneven, rutted dirt trail with loose rocks, sand, erosion, and washes. Potential water crossings up to 18 inches deep, mud holes, and obstacles up to 2 feet, including ledges and short, steep grades.” Keep in mind that this description entails the entire Devil’s Punchbowl 4WD route (the Crystal Mill is just 5 miles into the route).



For more information about the Crystal Mill, check out the Marble Tourism Association’s website.

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When he's not publishing campervan content or gear reviews on ExPo, Matt Swartz is honing his paragliding skills, hiking a 14er, or exploring the backroads of Colorado. His love of travel has seen him bike across the United States, as well as explore more exotic destinations like the Amazon basin and Patagonia. Matt spent three years living in a 1964 RV with his partner, Amanda. He's worked as an Interpretive Ranger and Wildland Firefighter and his photography and writing has been published in Rova Magazine, the Leatherman blog, 'Hit The Road' by Gestalten Publishing, and Forbes.