Sunday, September 14, 2008

Marble and Crystal

Not the objects, but the towns in Colorado. On Saturday, Phil offered to drive Diana, Ron, and me in his 4-wheel drive jeep - that's what it takes to get to tiny Crystal.

But first we started the day by celebrating John's birthday. He seemed to enjoy his card, cupcakes, and really big candle.

Then we were off! On our way past Redstone, we stopped to read about the 'beehive' coke ovens from the late 1890's. Yes, Coca Cola is that old, but these ovens were used to carbonize or 'coke' coal mined locally.

On to Marble which is known for its pure white marble used in the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknowns. The marble quarry is located 4 miles from town and I was disappointed we couldn't go there, but giant blocks of marble are stockpiled right in town.

Marble was the location of a large marble processing mill which is now a National Historic Landmark. You can see several buildings and pillars from the mill shop, but they also found a modern use for this area. . .

An ice skating rink. How clever!

Here Ron and Phil discuss the finer points of marble carving.

The mill was plagued by floods from the Crystal River and avalanches from the mountains right across the river. They even used marble to build an avalanche wall in 1912 which eventually reached a height of 70 feet! This is what remains today.

Then we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Woody's Barbecue. Yes, folks, quaint little Marble now has a restaurant! And they had the best pulled pork and sauce I've had in a long time. We loved the decorations too.

Then it was time to head up the scary 4-wheel drive road to Crystal. What's worse than a back-seat driver? Phil will tell you - a back-seat shooter!

The road is a one-lane rocky track and, in some places, has cliffs on one side and a drop off down to the river below on the other. If you meet another vehicle, somebody has to back up until they find a slightly wider spot where two cars can squeak by. It requires high clearance for the giant rocks in the road and I certainly wouldn't have gone without 4-wheel drive.

After 4-6 miles (who knows, it seemed like 50,) we arrived at Crystal where we were greeted by the local bookseller Roger Neal. He was very knowledgeable and informative about the town which seemed to have about six buildings and fewer summer residents. Nobody stays in the winter. At one time it was a fairly populated town. Although the actual number is unknown, it was somewhere between 50 and 200 in the late 1800's. They mined for silver, lead, copper, zinc, and some gold. The ore was usually found in quartz crystallite formations, hence the name of the town.

But today Crystal is world famous to photographers as the site of the Crystal Mill. This is my shot of one of the symbols of Colorado. Does it look familiar?

Ron climbed down to river level and took it at another angle.

Our aforementioned friendly bookseller (we did buy his book on Crystal) recommended that we return to Marble by way of the loop through Lead King Basin. We figure this would add six miles to our trip, but he said the road was a little better. Well, some of it was, but the rest was just as bad if not worse than the way we came. Phil was a good sport and said he had fun driving through woods. . .

Across the river. . .

And up, up, up, until we felt like we were on top of the world.

And you know what they say - what goes up, must come down, down, down. You can see some of the switchbacks in this picture and the valley we went down to get back to Marble.

It was a beautiful drive, but I'm just glad I didn't have to drive it!


  1. Very nice photos. I do miss Colorado but am reliving it through your travels. We haven't posted anything for two weeks - guess we had better go someplace soon.

  2. Oh I am so glad that someone I know got to see that postcard in real life!

  3. Beautiful pictures, especially of the Crystal Mill. I went on that
    4x4 ride on a 4-wheeler. It was scary enough on a small vehicle. Can't imagine doing it in a regular sized vehicle.

  4. Well, this all looks very familiar... Guess we must have been in the same car. Great narrative and pictures.