“Crystal is snowbound. The stage road...is under ten to fifty feet of snow and the mail carrier has only been able to come through once in the past week and then on snowshoes.”
Crystal City is arguably one of Colorado's most unique ghost towns, and most certainly it occupies one of the most stunningly beautiful spots in the state.
At the end of a rough five mile four-wheel-drive road starting on the eastern side of Beaver Lake in Marble lay the remains of the Sheep Mountain Tunnel powerhouse. The powerhouse is often mistakenly called the "Crystal mill" (something that never even existed). There was a mill here; it stood to the right of the powerhouse. But it wasn't the "Crystal mill," it was the Sheep Mountain Tunnel mill. It collapsed many years ago, but its powerhouse is still perched proudly at the edge of a cliff overlooking the Crystal River. It remains one of the most photographed historic sites in the country. It's not a challenge to find postcards featuring its picture in almost every gift shop you come across, no matter how far you may be from Colorado. Before the closure of the Sheep Mountain Tunnel Mine, this structure harnessed the Crystal River to provide power to the mill.
Continuing on ahead just a short distance and around a curve in the road, you'll come to the lovingly maintained remnants of Crystal City. The site is still very much occupied during summer and residents have worked hard to not only protect and maintain the powerhouse, but also the remaining buildings in town. Without their dedication, these structures would have collapsed long ago.
The little town of Crystal City never amounted to more than 500 people. In its heyday, it had two fine hotels, several general stores, the ever ubiquitous assortment of saloons, a post office, and a very popular men's establishment called the Crystal Club. It even had two newspapers, the Crystal River Current and the Silver Lance.
Rich silver strikes were made in the early 1880s and Crystal City was the result. Lead and zinc were also found. There were at least six decent mines that supported the population, including the Sheep Mountain Tunnel. The best of the mines was the Lead King. It continued to produce until 1913, long after the rest of the properties had shut down after the silver panic of 1893.
Besides the silver panic which largely killed the town's industry and caused its exodus, Crystal was also hampered by the seemingly ever present transportation problems that plagued so many of Colorado's mining towns. The first road into the town, really just a trail, came in from Gothic over Scofield Pass. Even today this route is one of the most renowned four-wheel-drive roads in the state. Eventually another route from Marble was opened up, but it too was a rough road and transportation was not easy. Adding to its troubles, Crystal was largely abandoned during the winter and was usually always snowbound with drifts sometimes reaching as high as fifty feet.
Thanks to the Lead King Mine, Crystal City as a mining town hung on until 1913 when it finally stopped production. Since then, Crystal has become home to a small summer population of people who are privileged to spend some time each year in one of the most beautiful places in all of Colorado.