Stuck in Silverthorne? Visit Officer’s Gulch for a nice hike
Yellow Bulldozer. Brown Trout. Black Top.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife produced an old 16-mm movie in the late 1970s by that name. It was about how Ten Mile Creek was relocated through Ten Mile Canyon between Frisco and Copper Mountain to accommodate a new four-lane Interstate 70.
Ten Mile Creek drains the spectacular Ten Mile Range, which stretches from the Continental Divide near Climax, north to Dillon and Silverthorne. This range features a plethora of jagged peaks, including 14,264-foot Quandry Peak, 13,633-foot Peak 10, 13,005 Peak 8 above Breckenridge and 12,933 Tenmile Peak.
As Ike’s interstate highway system crawled through the mighty Rocky Mountains in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, these huge peaks and this little creek were in the way of our four-lane highway builders.
The creek had discovered the path of least resistance, so it was moved a few feet over to make room for the highway.
Yellow Bulldozer. Brown Trout. Black Top.
Great care was taken to maintain the integrity of the stream. At least, that was the premise of the movie.
In the middle of this canyon lies an obscure and lonely exit — 198 — between Frisco and Copper Mountain. It’s called Officer’s Gulch.
I assumed it was called that because officers of the Colorado State Patrol often sit here with radar guns unholstered, busting speeders through this sometimes dangerous and slippery canyon.
The Gulch, however, was actually named after an old coot named Officer, who lived and worked the Monroe Mine in Ten Mile Canyon. The mine was known for iron sulfide, but also produced gold and a small amount of copper.
Just off this same exit from the interstate highway lie the remains of an early labor camp.
A few stone huts are still visible today on the east side of I-70 (the highway actually travels north and south through this canyon).
These stone huts weren’t for the highway workers who built I-70. Rather, they were occupied during the late 19 century as “temporary” dwellings by immigrant workers completing railroad construction in Ten Mile Canyon.
It was the path of least resistance, and they needed a way to move iron, gold, copper — and people — through these rugged Rocky Mountains.
Of course, the rudimentary stone huts were used year-round. Summer would be great, but I wouldn’t want to live in one of these 6-x-8 huts at 9,500 feet in elevation with two other guys during a raging 10-day winter snow storm.
The architecture of these buildings is unique enough to qualify for historical status. Native stone was dry-laid or mortared with packed earth to form the walls. Roofs were constructed of log and brush.
At one time, more than 50 structures existed in the canyon, housing somewhere from 100 to 300 laborers, according to the Frisco Historical Society. Those laborers must have been tough.
You can still find some of the structures. Just travel on I-70 east from Grand Junction to Exit 198. It’s 171.25 miles from 4th and Main in downtown GJ.
The exit is located 2.5 miles northeast of Copper Mountain and 2.5 miles southwest of Frisco.
To reach the old labor camp, park on the east side of the highway and walk on the dirt path downstream from the parking area over a wooden bridge.
Follow the path as it goes between two small rock outcrops. Soon, the path forks. Take the right fork. Several yards past an old campfire area, the trail splits again. Take the path on the right and follow it to the cabin ruins on the right-hand side of the trail.
If that historical stuff doesn’t turn your crank, you can also access the Ten Mile Canyon National Recreation Trail from this exit. This is a 22.5-mile bicycle trail that runs from Vail to Frisco, but it’s not just for bikes. It’s open to inline skating, fishing, horseback riding and walking and is wheelchair accessible.
It’s just not open to motorized travel. For that, use the interstate.
You can also park on the other side — the west side of the interstate — and find yourself on the southern edge of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. There’s a pretty little pond located behind the trees and beyond the old, now-closed forest service campground at Officer’s Gulch.
Walk-in access is allowed, and Officer’s Gulch Pond is stocked regularly by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. There were little trout raising when I was there just the other day.
Next time you’re stuck waiting for your spouse at the outlet stores in Silverthorne, check out Officer’s Gulch. Escape for a while and think of yellow bulldozers, brown trout, black top, and your own path of least resistance that brought you here.