Upper Pomeroy Lake and Pomeroy Mountain
Nearly seven years have passed since I made this journey up to Chalk Creek and the ghost town of Saint Elmo. Although I remember this journey well, the particular details have mostly faded with the passage of time. Chalk Creek drains into the Arkansas River between Salida and Buena Vista, two small cities in Colorado. Saint Elmo was a small city as well but having been directly allied with mining interests it faded when they did. Now, all that remains are some relic buildings, mining ruins, summer homes and much pollution.
To get there, I drove over U.S. 50 east of Gunnison, my home, and up and over Monarch Pass before turning north on U.S. 285. There is a turnoff for Chalk Creek and this I took, following the narrow road up into the mountainous country of the Sawatch Range. The western slope of said range drains down into the Gunnison Country and the waters pass by my house. My interest in this area had been piqued by sighting the several ruins from the crest of the range above the ruins of the old Alpine Tunnel.
I don’t remember entirely if I had brought along Sheba the German shepherd and Lady Dog, but I believe that I did. Regardless, the first stop I made after driving up past the Chalk Cliffs and their concomitant hot springs was to inspect the old town itself and some of the foundation ruins of what looks like an old mill. Incidentally, the old main line of the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad led up this drainage to the Alpine Tunnel. There are places were the road follows the old grade and others where the grade can be seen from a distance.
Next, the car bore me up the road past Saint Elmo to Pomeroy Gulch where I parked the mechanical beast and began to hike up the steep, four-wheel drive road. Here, at the gulch, lies the abutments of the old railroad bridge as well as a large structure used during mining’s heyday. This building was the terminal for an aerial tram that carried ore from the mines to the waiting transportation. I did spend a bit of time here investigating the ruins and became amazed at the past industry that once called this now quiet area home. According to the map, the railroad siding here was a townsite called Romley.
I remember the waters cascading down Pomeroy Gulch and the thick conifer forest found along the way. Most folks were driving up here in their Jeeps and four-by-four pickups, but I had wisely left the Subaru below. The land ownership in the area is confused, much of it being private property interspersed within the surrounding San Isabel National Forest. Therefore, for the most part, I remained on the road although I am not sure that public passage is a deeded right-of-way.
About a mile up the road I came upon many parked vehicles and numerous mining ruins, including the other end of the aerial tram. The United States Forest Service, the bureaucracy that manages the various National Forests, was attempting to mitigate much of the pollution that still emanates from the various glory holes and adits found throughout the region. Simultaneously, they were attempting to preserve the historical aspects of the site.
What caught my attention was that much of the machinery remaining in the upper wheelhouse was reminiscent of some of the earlier models of two-seated chair lifts I saw as a child at some of the ski resorts. Although fascinating to see, I am glad that most of the mining in this area has been relegated to the past as I enjoy the quietude, clean air and fresh water found in most mountain settings. Still, looking at the old boarding house I could not help but wonder that so many people called this place home for a time.
I continued to hike another mile to the end of the road. From here on the passage could be made, legally, only on foot or horseback. Nearby was Pomeroy Lake and another mile of fairly level hiking brought me to Upper Pomeroy Lake. This latter body of water sits under its namesake mountain high up above treeline in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. An old trail, one which is not maintained and only shows on older maps, could be seen leading up and over an unnamed pass to the east of Pomeroy Mountain. Apparently, it leads to another mining district in the vicinity of Billings Lake although I have never been there.
My recollections of the lakes are of a mixed variety. Although very scenic, with pockets of snow lingering in the deep, shaded crevices, I could discern a certain forlorn aspect to the region as if the ruins of the mining and accompanying pollution yet haunted the hills and valleys of the area. Given time, this will heal, but for the time being it is a warning to our modern society regarding the trade-offs that come with the industrialization of our landscape.
I ate lunch, something I clearly remember, at the upper lake before deciding to wander back down to the main road where my car was parked. Prior to that, however, I walked over to the small ridge that divided Pomeroy Gulch from its neighbor Grizzly Gulch, a larger and deeper parallel defile. From this vantage I could stare down at the lush grasses below and the expanse of Grizzly Lake. The surrounding eminences cut into the sky with their serrated rocky ridges. Pockmarked with old tailings piles and mine sites, the vista still retained a grandeur of mountain majesty.
Once I had walked back down past the trailhead and the steep road I drove the car up to the old Hancock townsite. According to the signage put up by a local historical society there had once been a plethora of structures here, but now naught remained but one old shell. This was also the site of the train’s final approach to the tunnel waiting above.
Having now had my fill of mining heritage I drove back down the Chalk Creek Road to the Chalk Lake Campground managed by the Forest Service. I found this setting to be to my liking, being full of my favorite tree, the ponderosa pine, and thought that this would be a fine place to spend a night or two. However, I have yet to fulfill that whim. On this day, though, I did make the short hike up to Agnes Vaille Falls. The name of the falls was conferred by the local citizenry upon the cascade to honor a Colorado woman, a mountaineer, who had long made her home in the state and perished attempting to climb the east face of Long’s Peak in early Nineteen Twenty-Five.
The falls are quite beautiful but are now closed to public access. Four years after my visit a large rockslide killed five people hiking on the trail. I thought it odd at the time that I felt a distinct queasiness when I stood at the base of the cascade but now I realize that my intuition about the inherent hazards of the area were correct.
I don’t remember anything about the remainder of the day. I would guess that I simply drove home, back the way I came, to Gunnison. Regardless, I had a full day of hiking and exploring and was happy for that. I do recall feeling exalted at having discovered so much. The weather was also pleasant, and although I appreciate the rain, I do enjoy hiking under blue skies!
Agnes Vaille Falls in Cascade Canyon
Mountains slowly reclaiming the ruins about Saint Elmo, Colorado
The foundation ruins are all that remains of this old structure near St. Elmo
Mining ruins near Romley
Old railroad abutments on Pomeroy Gulch
Tin sided ruins on Pomeroy Gulch
Part of the old aerial tram in Pomeroy Gulch
Extant machinery in these mining ruins
Close up of machinery in the lower wheelhouse on Pomeroy Gulch
The interior of the lower wheelhouse on Pomeroy Gulch
Old shack in Pomeroy Gulch
What might have been an old boarding house or offices adjacent to the upper wheelhouse in Pomeroy Gulch
The upper wheelhouse in Pomeroy Gulch
Vehicles near the old boarding house-type structure in Pomeroy Gulch
Possibly an old grave in Pomeroy Gulch
Looking down Pomeroy Gulch to the crest of the Sawatch Range
Hiking along the road in Pomeroy Gulch
Pomeroy Lake on a fine, blue-sky day
Pomeroy Lake nestled in the Colorado Rockies
Mining sites in Grizzly Gulch
Alpine tundra at the upper end of Pomeroy Gulch
On the divide between Grizzly Gulch, seen below, and Pomeroy Gulch
Chrysolite Mountain and Grizzly Lake, below
Grizzly Gulch and Lake
Looking down on the upper wheelhouse in Pomeroy Gulch
Tree planted to stabilize the tailings pile about the upper Wheelhouse in Pomeroy Gulch
Tailings pile about the upper wheelhouse in Pomeroy Gulch
Interior of the upper wheelhouse in Pomeroy Gulch
Old boiler next to the upper wheelhouse on Pomeroy Gulch
Barely together, the upper wheelhouse in Pomeroy Gulch
Scenic outhouse in Pomeroy Gulch
Where the flywheel turned the tram in the upper wheelhouse on Pomeroy Gulch
The workings of the machinery in the upper wheelhouse on Pomeroy Gulch are reminiscent of early ski lifts
Looking down the Hancock Road near Pomeroy Gulch
The ruins of the lower wheelhouse at Pomeroy Gulch in Chalk Creek above St. Elmo
Pomeroy Mountain seen from near Hancock
In the vicinity of Hancock
A fine day near the Agnes Vaille Falls
Upper Pomeroy Lake and Pomeroy Mountain