Telluride’s historic mines are scattered along the walls of the picturesque box canyon. The five largest mines in the area—Tomboy, Pandora, Smuggler-Union, Nellie, and Sheridan mines—left behind more than 350 miles of underground tunnels that are now closed off and out of commission. In its heyday, the wealth of the mines in the Telluride area inspired Butch Cassidy to make his first high profile robbery. Cassidy escaped with more than $24,000 from the San Miguel Valley Bank. In total, the mining district yielded more than 210 tons of gold through 1959 (more than both the Leadville and Central City-Idaho Springs mining districts in that time period) in addition to an enormous amount of silver, lead, and copper. The Tomboy Ghost Town, situated in Savage Basin almost 4,000 feet above Telluride, was once the hub of mining activity in the valley.
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At its height, the town housed 900 hardy people, including Harriet Fish Backus, the wife of a mining engineer who wrote an autobiography about her life at 11,500 feet entitled, “The Tomboy Bride”.
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Entrepreneurs L.L. Nunn and Westinghouse utilized Nikola Tesla’s alternating current electric technology to create the oldest hydro-power plant for industrial purposes in the country. The lines ran for more than 2.5 miles from the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant to the Gold King Mine.
The Rothschild bought the Tomboy mine for $2 million in 1897, four years after the silver market crash. The discovery of a gold vein kept the mining in the area alive and profitable in spite of the silver market crash.
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Today, Tomboy and the summit of Imogene Pass can be reached by a skilled 4×4 driver or intrepid hikers. The pass connects Telluride to the town of Ouray.
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