Rio Grande Southern RR - Exploring the Old Route

OK - confession time. Up until June 07, I had never actually explored the old RGS right-of-way. My only trip to the area (before this) was in 1991, to Durango. I loved the area and the D&S of course, but didn't even know the RGS had existed back then.

Fast-forward to 2007, when I had learned a lot more, and was able to spend 3 days poking around the area. The list below are tidbits I've collected or written myself about how to explore the old route. It should give a good start, should you have the chance to drive this famous old line. You can easily drive the entire route in a few hours, but a better exploration could take 2-5 days.

Note that in many cases, my Remains page will have more detailed information and photos of specific remaining items; this page tries to focus just on how to find and explore these areas.

Here's a Google map of the route of the RGS, right here in the world of today. Some years ago, preparing for an RGS exploration trp, I discovered mapping, on Google maps, and started 'drawing' the RGS right-of-way, looking at satellite imagery, and pairing what I found with the old right-of-way maps in various RGS books. Later, Jim Marlette discovered it, and started filling in more details, and adjusting the accuracy of specific locations, and filling in some of the gaps. Then more recently, Don Bergman discovered it and spent last fall and winter making massive updates, especially by adding icons and photo links. It's now a rather amazing resource - check it out!

Dave has a wonderful Overall Map of the area of the is a great resource. And now he's created another map, w/ more photos.

Mark Evans' Narrow Gauge Circle site has some wonderful 4x4 trip accounts from his explorations of the area, as they drove the old roadbeds and passes. There is a section specifically about the RGS that has a lot of details, maps, photos, etc. Make sure you check out this site. And, the RGS home pg has a town-by-town listing of remaining items along the route, with more directions and photos for exploring the route.

Of course, be respective of private property. Obey the signs, and if you want to see something on, or hike across, private property, make sure you find the owner and get permission first.

Comments or corrections? As usual, just email me at and let me know. Thanks, and enjoy!

Start your shopping here - with Amazon, Alibris, eBay.

Maps Photos Information
Google -Ridgway NG Circle -Ridgway Info

The old depot still exists, with the freight house shortened - it's a residence now.

Definitely visit the Ridgway RR Museum.

  Dallas Divide
Maps Photos Information
Google -Dallas Divide Dallas Divide NG Circle -Dallas Divide Info

Dallas Divide had a two-track siding, stock pens, and a cluster of buildings including tool sheds, a section house, a bunkhouse, and more. The location is right beside highway 62, and it's easy to find. The actual right-of-way here is on private property (a huge million-acre ranch owned by Ralph Lauren, as I understand), but you can stop and see most of the area from the road.

Maps Photos Information
Google -Brown
Brown area

Green Mountain Ranch

During my trip in June '07, we weren't able to find any traces of Brown, but perhaps we weren't looking in the right places. We did find a number of old trestle footings beside highway 62. Just north of Brown was the Leopard Creek trestle, 22-a, which stood just behind Green Mountain Ranch. We did find the footings of this bridge; it's easy to see and is right on highway 62, at side road X-48. The ROW here is 30' to 50' above the highway, and you can hike it for a good distance; I guess it's a horse trail now. Have a look at my photos; we explored this area pretty thoroughly, although we walked only a little way along the ROW.

Maps Photos Information
Google -Placerville Placeville NG Circle -Placerville Info

The Placerville depot has been moved but is still standing although in bad shape. Once you are in Placerville (heading south) turn left up the main side street, go up one block, turn left and the decaying remains are on the right. Well worth the 5 minute side trip.

The rest of the town is worth exploring as well. We had some great sandwhiches at the general store, still in its original location. The depot grounds are right next to the river; we didn't have time to really explore that area, although I suspect there might be some of the area that's not covered by the current highway. We also explored the area of the wye; there's nothing left there now, but you might be just able to make out the old roadbed of the wye.

Maps Photos Information

An ore loading tipple, very similar to the one still standing at Sawpit, existed in Omega until a few years ago, when it collasped. Omega is just north of Placerville via the RGS. The land there is private, but some binocs will show you the pile of timbers.

Maps Photos Information
Google -Sawpit Sawpit

The Primos ore loading tipple at Sawpit is still standing, in fact, it has been partially restored. You can catch a glimpse of it by the old roadbed to the right (if you're heading south) as you get close to the town of Sawpit. The roadbed is accesible, and you can drive right up to the spur and the bin; the roadbed here runs along the river, below the highway.

Maps Photos Information
Google -Vanadium Vanadium Here's a pic of the roadbed south of Vanadium (Don Paulson)

The site of Vanadium's mill, passenger shelter and 19-car spur is on the left (if you're facing south) of the road north (should be south???) of Placerville.

  Vance Junction
Maps Photos Information

Google -Vance Jct / Ilium

Vance Jct

Tender pics: p1   p2   p3   p4   p5   p6   p7  
NG Circle -Vance Jct Info

Easily accessible on a forest service road. The US Forest Service has restored the coal pocket here, and it's well worth seeing. The forest service road south from Vance is through Trout Lake and beyond (although note that the housing community in Trout Lake has their road on the old ROW for a while).

When driving south on the forest service road, from Vance Junction (or Ilium) south toward Ames and Ophir, keep looking on the left, up on the hill before you cross the Telluride branch grade. The twisted tender for RGS #19 is still up on the hill after it ran away in 1907. This is probably one of the few remaining artifacts that's easily visible from a public road. From the tender, the ROW goes straight up the hill, and is far above Vance Jct by the time it's doubled back that far.

The old roadbed from (I believe) Ilium up Keystone Hill towards Telluride, on the old Telluride branch, is now called the 'Galloping Goose trail', and is open to hiking or biking. It's a really nice trail on the opposite side of the valley to the main road.

Herb Kelsey (in 6/01) and Tom Casper (in 7/05) write that the trick to finding Telluride's branch is to locate Vance Jct. where the old 8 pocket tipple still stands. The line to Telluride branched off there and went South to Anderson, then looped around and went back up the east side of the canyon on the 4% of Keystone Hill. You can hike the roadbed from the Anderson trestle (the Forest Service road intersects the trail at this point) to Keystone, and even all the way into Telluride. If you take State 145 north (west?) from the highway jct where the road goes off to Telluride, you can see the top of Keystone hill across the canyon to the south and see Vance Jct in the valley below.

And then Ron Profitt wrote (3/05): "If you are standing at Vance and look East across the valley the grade is visible and hugs the canyon wall going North for about 1/4 mile (?) and then makes the turn East to Telluride, still on the right side of the canyon going into Telluride. This grade is visible from a small pulloff on Hwy 145 as the highway makes the turn East from the Vanadium area towards Telluride. The grade is across the valley to the South but you "have to look for it" or you won't see it. Also back at Ilium, the Keystone hill grade intersects the valley floor forest road, but, you "have to look for it" and also the "the trestle abutments" for the loop around Ilium and back to Vance. If I remember correctly, this location is about a 100 yards south of the "Church Camp" area, which is where you cross the river and can drive up to the RGS grade and drive back to vance or south to the Ames parking area. I was there last May and I've been in that area quite a bit over the last few years but had never "looked for the grade" going into Telluride in the Condo area you mention, but it is there.

John (from the HOn3 Yahoo list) writes further about how to access the line near Vance Jct and the branch to Telluride, based on his trips in 2005 and 2006: "If you take the forest road which leads down from the Telluride highway, follow it until you reach the church camp at the old powerhouse area in the valley (I forgot the name of that area on the RGS) [Ames power plant?]. Across the river over a new concrete bridge is an area you can park your car and walk a short distance on a connector road up to the high line [the mainline from Vance Jct to Ames] roadbed. This part of the [main] line is an "improved" gravel road up to the Sunshine mesa. At the parking area you can see (looking south) the low line [the branch to Illium and then up to Telluride via Keystone Hill] which a little further down crossed in RGS days the river over a curving trestle and then at 4% climbed the other side of the valley in the opposite direction in a roundabout route to Telluride.

"From the parking area looking north is the low line [ie Telluride branch] which merges further north with the mainline at Vance Jct. The [branch] at this point is on private property in both directions so stay off of it.

"If you hike the [mainline] north, maybe a half mile or so, you will reach Vance and a little bit north of it are the coal pockets. You can follow the RGS grade north still further and you will reach the river and the site of Bilk trestle and its remains in the river."

Maps Photos Information

Google -Telluride

Telluride Depot
NG Circle -Telluride Info

The depot still exists, and is an art school today. The foundation has been replaced, and Fritz Klinke writes that the location was been shifted south somewhat during that rebuilding. Several of the warehouses east of the depot still exist as well, including one used as the Daily Planet, and another that's currently Smuggler's restaurant. There are also good resources on the RGS available in the library and historical society.

Fritz also notes that further east (further into the box canyon) the Idarado mill complex is still standing, and armed with a Sundance book (The RGS Story Vol 2 - Telluride, Pandora and the Mines Above), the place comes alive, and it is a spectacular location, under the Bridal Veil hydro plant, still in operation producing electricty.

Pacific Avenue along the San Miguel river in Telluride is the former right-of-way into town, at least for a ways toward the depot. Beyond the depot, through the old warehouse district, the yard tracks are now all streets. The depot itself was moved and that immediate area has since been developed. From a parking lot at Pearl Street to Society Turn, the right of way is mostly intact, but large sections of it now cover the Telluride main sewer line to the sewer plant. Other right-of-way is covered by the Lawson Hill development, main power transmission lines laid down the middle of the right of way, etc., plus much of the line in public ownership in the national forest is now known as the Galloping Goose Trail and is a very popular biking and hiking trail as it heads towards Ophir. Mark Evans notes he's walked about 5 miles of it, from Vance Jct toward Ophir, noting that it's basically the old roadbed; no bridges left in that portion, though. He did note, however, that the views of Ophir's Cathedral Spires were spectacular.

Goose #4 usually resides in Telluride, and is owned by the Telluride Volunteer Fire Department. They maintain it as a civic responsibility. It sits on the grounds of the county courthouse. Fritz writes that the county is looking at that site for possible underground expansion of the courthouse. A space and utilization study of the courthouse is presently (2/04) underway. Phase I of a restoration of the courthouse is about to start.

There are several discussions taking place on what may happen to the Goose, but it is permanently leaving San Miguel county as far as I know. In the fall of 2008, it was moved to the Ridgway Museum for cosmetic restoration, which is expected to take a couple of years. There is a county historical group that has formed, and their first area of concern has been the stabilization of the San Bernardo mill building, South of Ophir, with the hope of acquiring that structure. With that site is a fair chunck of RGS main line, adjacent to the highway. I'd love to see ties, rails, and an operating Goose at that location. Presently, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has contracted Fritz's company to do initial structural stabilization of that structure, and they are about halfway complete on that work.

Pandora's ball mill (a mile or two east of Telluride proper, toward the box canyon) was standing a year or two ago, but will apparently be demolished soon to make way for new condos.

The branch's right-of-way west out of town, down Keystone Hill and toward Vance Junction, is now a hiking trail. You pick it up at some stores about 1/4 mile outside of town(?), along the the road to Ophir.

Maps Photos Information

Google - from the south

Google - from the north

Dave's map & photos

Ames power plant - L.L. Nunn collection

Somes ways south of Vance is Ames. To the right (if you're facing south) is Vance Junction, and to the left you can continue and drive basically to the Ames trestle location on the old roadbed.

Ames to Ophir: David Dye writes "The map and photo links here detail a hike that I made on the 4th of June 2005. This is part of the Galloping Goose trail located at Ophir CO. The trail follows the grade of the Rio Grande Southern between the Ames water tank site and the butterfly trestle, Bridge 44-A (Dave then jumped uphill and documented the first three of the high-line trestles, coming downgrade toward Ophir, as far as bridge 46-C). The trail starts where forest road 623 leaves the grade and starts winding up the hillside. I found it to be a very enjoyable hike with the lush mountain side and the only encounter I had was two mountain bikers on the return trip. To view photos from my hike simply click on any of the blue text on the map." (copyright David Dye June 19 2005)."

To get to this location, Dave describes his access: "I came up highway 145 from the south. As you come around the curve at the Ophir loop there is a dirt road that turns off to the left (forest road 625). You may have been on it if you went to Ames to hike into the Butterfly trestle. If you take road 625 4 or 5 miles you will eventually run into road 623 that turns off to the west. It is near some buildings and it crosses the river so it shouldn't be too hard to spot.

Once you head across the river and start up the side of Sunshine you will be on the grade. Continue driving along this long tangent until you hit a hairpin curve that will take you up the mountain. The trail starts right at this hairpin curve. If you walk in a little ways there will be a trail marker with something about the Galloping Goose Trail.

Greg Jackson adds a bit more about the Trail: "Unless I'm mistaken, there really aren't any bridges left in that section. For the most part it does follow the old roadbed and just goes around areas where the trestles once stood. Bridge 51-A intact at the back of Trout Lake, but you're not allowed to go out on it. It is a hikeable and maintained trail - a lot of bicycle traffic. Marked by little goose pic-signs. I know there is a manmade bridge replacing where Butterfly was, but I haven't been on the upper loop to tell you how it gets around toward Matterhorn. Once thru to Matterhorn, it picks up on a regular road - Mears Puzzle area and works up to Trout Lake, which then goes right up to Lizard Head pass. My opinion is this scenery is some of the best in the state."

If you are coming from the north you can also get to 625 just past Lime on highway 145. You will drive past Vance Junction and 623 is probably a couple miles down the road."

Fritz Klinke writes about the Ames Power Plant: Go to the Ophir turnoff, take the dirt valley road to Ilium and Vance Junction, and there you'll find the Ames Station powerplant -- well worth a visit. All of that structure's power generating equipment (Pelton waterwheel and generator) came in on the RGS and was lowered down to that site from the railroad above. Pictures of all that are in the L.L. Nunn collection at Cornell University, including construction photos of the stone building housing the still operating equipment. This is the site of the first commercially generated AC electricty in the world. Waste water from Ames was taken by flume down valley to the Ilium plant, where a second generating station was located. That plant was destroyed (and later rebuilt) in the 1909 (?) flood that occurred when one of the dams on the upper two reservoirs above Trout Lake gave way, took out the Trout Lake dam, and caused havoc all down the San Miguel valley, including taking out large portions of the RGS line.

And John (from the HOn3 Yahoo list) writes further about going from Vance Jct south along the main to the Ames tank and the Butterfly trestle below bridge 46-F: "Back at Vance, continue on the [main]/road south and eventually you will come to where the Sunshine Mesa road separates from the [mainline]. Then through a gate you can continue to hike the [main from Ames] to Ophir past the Ames water take remains, Ames trestle site and Windy Point. At Windy Point if you have a good telephoto lens (200mm or better) you can get some some great pictures of the highline bridge sites. I did not have such a telephoto lens unfortunately, and in 2005 a wicked rainstorm popped up at that point.

"Anyway, the trail will lead you down to the river crossing of the Butterfly trestle over a new low bridge for bikers and hikers, although the little bridge is built around the concrete supports for a portion of the old improved Butterfly trestle. You can also look up the side of the hill toward Ophir and see some of the remains of the Butterfly trestle bent locations. The actual timbers are lying on private property next to the trail.

"At Butterfly you can veer off the bike trail and get back on the actual road bed to the site of Butterfly, where the rails left the road bed and started over the trestle to go north to Vance. Along the side of this roadbed is a road which will take you to someone's little mine which I would suppose is near the site of the mill and mine sometimes shown in pictures of the Butterfly area around 1900."

Maps Photos Information

Google -Ophir

Dave -Ophir area
And more -Ophir map2
(zoom in to see roads & details)



Jim K's
NG Circle -Ophir Loop Info

The site of the famous Ophir Loop. Traveling on the highway take the turnoff to old Ophir. You'll immediately see the restored Gilton building, right next to the road. Returning to the highway just as you make the sharp right turn at the center of what was the loop, look for an unmarked road descending to the right. Gives you access to both parts of the Loop roadbed. You can hike/ drive about to the Butterfly mill site/ trestle on the lower part, but the road from the highway is a little rough and steep to get to the roadbed (probably best done with a 4WD vehicle). The lower grade is hikeable, but the high-line really isn't. You can hike from the bridge 46-F to Lizard Head.

See above (under the Ames heading) for Dave Dye's fantastic photos of this area and a detailed description of hiking the area. Note that the land above trestle 46-F is private; a dirt road leaves the highway up there that is posted and has a gate. Hiking the grade near the high bridges is challenging. You can get down between two bridges from the highway above, but hiking back up is steep and tiring at that altitude.

John McKenzie writes that you can stand above the high-line at Ophir loop and see the Ophir Needles and Butterfly and Windy Point and a large portion of the upper San Migual River Valley with Vance Junction and Keystone Hill, all in one view. There no photo I've ever seen that can do justice to that kind of and all encompassing view.

John also writes that, if your weather is dry, you can drive the right away from the top of Ophir loop where the track crossed the roadway to Lizard head pass, right along through and around Trout Lake water tank and the trestle on your way to Lizard Head pass, it's beautiful best done in mid to late Sept. for the fall color, but anytime will do.

Bob Hyman writes that the area near the Butterfly Trestle is accessible by hiking/bike trails from Colorado hwy 145 and from the National Forest road to Ames. He usually parks at the site of the old Ophir Loop and scrambles down where Bridge 45-A used to cross the Howard Fork, fords the creek, climbs up the other side, and walks down the old ROW to cross Lake Fork at Butterfly. [Actually, I believe most of this lower line is drivable w/ a 4-wheel vehicle, although it's very narrow and high].

And John (from the HOn3 Yahoo list) writes further about hiking from Butterfly to the site of bridge 45-A: "Continuing now easterly along the trail [from Butterfly, moving south and away from Ames] you will come upon the lower section of the highline which you can walk to the 45-A trestle site. Just to the side of the trail near the 45-A location is the connector trail [which is drivable - you can see on this photo album] up to both the upper portion of the highline and the highway. You can actually get down to the ground level and see into the little canyon where the RGS built a concrete pier and wooden supports for the trestle over this portion of the river.

"The highline at Ophir end is not really accessible very far. You can walk up to the concrete abutment of Bridge 46-A, but that is about as far as I dared to go. From the highway above or from the lower portion of the highline you can see some of the supports for the westerly end of the high trestle bridge 46-D."

Maps Photos Information

Google -Matterhorn

Jim K's

A short distance south of (and above) the Butterfly trestle area is Matterhorn, and just south of that Matterhorn mill is on the right (if you're heading south). The owner hates people getting anywhere near the building. There's a little dirt road here, leading off of Hwy 145, that goes up to the mill. The road right alongside the mill is the old RGS spur. The main when thru a rock cut nearby, now clogged with conveyor machinery. Beyond the mill, the ROW wrapped around the mountainside toward Ophir bridge 46-F.

The grade crossed the highway, and on other side in another dirt road leading into a campground. This is the RGS main, and it's drivable right thru the campground, and eventually leads to Lizard Head. We drove from Trout Lake to Lizard Head, but I'm not sure if you can get to Trout Lake from this campground road. A few years ago (since 7/05) the portion between Lizard Head and Trout Lake wasn't open to vehicles, but it is now (as of 6/07).

John McKenzie also has notes about this area: "The old right of way is getting used more and more from all the people making that area their summer home. The right of way from Vance Junction is totally walkable with with the Ames trestle out and a make shift trail around to the other side. As Greg stated there is a walking bridge over the San Miguel river where Butterfly trestle was. You will be able to walk up the lower "high line" but you will have to walk the main highway as the upper sections of the "high line" are not walkable, but from the highway you'll see the same scenery as you would on the high line as the road is just above where the railroad grade was. You will be able to get back on the right away at MP 46.5 just before where Matterhorn section house was and walk up through the section called Mears Maze to Trout Lake. It's all on the original right away and beautiful to see! You will be at about 10 miles from Vance Junction by then with another 5 miles to continue around the east side of Trout Lake, seeing Trout Lake water tank (in very good condition) and the Trout Lake Trestle, at the north end of the lake and finish up a little further at Lizard Head Pass. 15 miles of 4% grade a difficult walk to do in a short amount of time, plan accordingly. Remember the weather up there at 10,000 feet can change without notice.

Fritz Klinke writes: "At the very bottom of Dave's map is Matterhorn and an aerial tramway is shown on the map. That one is still there and terminates in the Matterhorn Mill building that sits right next to the former RGS mainline. The mill building is reasonably intact and most of the machinery is still inside. It is privately owned and is locked. The new San Miguel county historical society is working on obtaining this mill, and last year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation paid for the emergency stabilization of the interior supports to keep the roof from caving in. It is the only mill building I am aware of on the RGS that is pretty much the way it was when the railroad was operating. There is a series of good photos of this mill in operation in one of the Sundance RGS books. My company did part of the work that was paid for by the National Trust."

  Trout Lake
Maps Photos Information

Google -Trout Lake

David Dye - maps & photos


Jim K's
NG Circle -Trout Lake Info

You can drive the roadbed from Trout Lake to Lizard Head.

Upper and lower Gallagher trestles. As you descend beyond Lizard Head, the roadbed is visible on the hillside to the left (if you're facing south). You used to be able to take a jeep road off to the left, ford the stream and -voila- you were on the lower roadbed. New guardrails now block access, but if you have wading boots or are willing to get your shoes soaked, you can park on the highway, and still access the old grade. It's a fun hike if you have the time.

Dave Dye has more amazing photos, linked from his maps & photos, this time highlighting the area near the Gallagher trestles. He writes "The map provides links to various photos that I took while hiking the grade on June 4, 2005. Prior to starting the hike I stopped along highway 145 at the location marked by 'Hill Shot'. From here I tried to capture some shots down the ravine that would show where the 3 trestles were located. The hike was then started at the location marked by 'Ties and Trees'. I parked the truck alongside the highway and struggled up the steep hill to the grade. I then hiked south towards bridge 57-A. The location marked 'End of Grade' was explored on my return trip back up the grade. [...] For those exploring this area and on up to Ophir I would highly recommend Volume IV of 'The RGS Story'. One could conceivably try to spot all of the wooden culverts marked on the map along this stretch. I found one still being put to good use while hiking near the bend. It is also interesting to try and line up your own shots with those taken 50+ years earlier." (copyright David Dye 2005)

  Lizard Head
Maps Photos Information

Google -Lizard Head

David Dye - maps & photos

Jim K pics
NG Circle -Lizard Hd Info

And another set here of Dave Dye's photos, linked from his maps & photos, this time highlighting the wye at Lizard Head and the area around Trout lake and bridge 51-A. The pass is pretty easy to drive to. Dave says the wye is pretty easy to see at the pass, although south of the pass the route is difficult to find (probably the highway used or obscured it) until to you get near Gallagher.

We drove up here during the explore in June 2007 from Trout Lake, near dusk, and enjoyed both the drive and the pass area when we arrived there. At dusk it was hard to see all the details, but the little cut between a low hill as the RGS entered the area was plain to see. Very little remains here, although we didn't have time to thoroughly explore it.

  Coke Ovens, Burns Canyon (Rico)
Maps Photos Information

Google -Burns Canyon

John H - p1   p2

Greg Jackson writes that around Coke Ovens, there is little to nothing to find. When you come off the hill at Lizard Head Pass, you'll pass thru a "slot" where the RGS looped back to the Gallager trestles. You'll pass by the site of the meadow creek trestle on your left and the highway turns sharply to the right (West). A bit further downhill the road swings back south. Coke ovens is right in this area. Look for a small creek coming downhill into the Dolores river that was most likely the water source for the tank at C.O. There are the remnants of a coke oven just slightly south of Rico. Just outside of town, keep an eye on the hillside across the river to the west.

Jeff Reynolds writes that the site of Coke Ovens is just upgrade from the stream crossing. At least the stream is still there. No buildings or foundations of any kind. You can kind of make out where the siding was on the river side of the tracks on a slightly wider area. The highway is more or less right on the old RGS grade at that point.

George Cook writes that at Burns Canyon, the road was built right on the track and it was hard to prevent collisions between Iron Horse and the other kind. The road is on the track for another 3.13 miles north from here to where it crosses the river to the east side. Through Coke Ovens, the road used to cross the tracks where they were parallel but now the highway covers some of the grade, say about 1 mile.

John Humphrey's remains page, on his RGS site, notes that the foundations of bridge 64-A still exist. Burns Canyon is an area just north of Rico, where the ROW passed through a narrow canyon, sharing a small ledge with the highway. The highway stayed on one side of the river here, but the ROW leaped across on (in later years) a bridge with concrete footings - 64' long and 8' high. Remains of those footings are still visible in the river.

  Enterprise Branch (Rico)
Maps Photos Information

Google -Rico & the Enterprise branch

Enterprise Branch

The Enterprise branch was a steep (5% grades!) branch leading to the Blackhawk and Enterprise mines, above Rico. I've always been fascinated by the branch because of its many switchbacks, and steep twisting path into the mountain forests. In June '07 we were able to explore the branch a bit. The switchbacks seem to all still exist, as a series of dirt roads. It's difficult, once you're there, to determine exactly which of these roads are the old grade, but it's obvious some of them are. After some driving around on the lower switchbacks and roads, we found ourselves on the obvious grade, and followed it up to both the Blackhawk and Enterprise sites (see my photos!). It's a great route to explore, and easily driveable. We didn't find any original mine buildings left, although we did find some scraps that were, perhaps, from the Blackhawk mine.

We did find the intact ore bin of Union Carbonate, though! This sat on the RGS branch to Enterprise, and was used to transfer ore into railroad cars. The road here is the old Rio Grande Southern right-of-way.

Craig Symington writes that there is lots of the Enterprise branch left. He said you can drive up the leg on the northern side of the gulch - it's a road to a reclaimation area. The other side of the gulch is accessable too. A 4x4 would be recommended, but Craig's rental Grand Am did the trick. :) He didn't know much about the area while there, and thus couldn't really say what's left in the way of mining buildings.

Maps Photos Information

Google -Rico

NG Circle -Rico Info

George Cook writes that coming up from Stoner on highway 145, the grade is good into and through Rico to Burns Canyon. I believe the grade through this area is all under or occasionally next to the road.

In Rico, the old water tower is still standing, fenced in and with its roof recently restored. The RR tracks in Rico are off to the right (if you're travelling south) down by the river, somewhat below the town proper. The large ramp down to the depot / yard area, visible behind the depot in many old photos, still exists and is a now an access road of some sort.

The Van Winkle mine, a big producer in the 40's is accessible up the hill a bit at the north end of town as is a drive on a part of the old Enterprise branch leading up toward the Rico-Argentine mill.

Michael Allen writes that as you're coming up 145 from Dolores, about halfway to Rico, look for the Bear Creek section house on the left, well below highway level. The original sign is on the building, which appears to be a private dwelling no now.

Maps Photos Information

Google -Stoner area

George Cook writes that there are 4300 ft of right-of-way covered by highway 145 west of Stoner, but from there north the line is in the farm fields all the way to Loading Pen Canyon, where 1.54 miles are covered to Taylor Creek. From there, heading east, Route 145 was improved by using 7.9 miles to School House creek. Another mile is vacant, but next 2.6 miles is covered by pavement to Wildcat creek.

Maps Photos Information

Google -Stapleton area

The right-of-way runs under 4 miles of highway 145 in this area, where the highway was widened.

  Dolores / Lost Canyon
Maps Photos Information

Google -Dolores

Glencoe & Lost Canyon
NG Circle -Dolores Info

A must-not-miss is the replica of the depot (offset a bit west from its original location, out of the middle of the street) and the restored and operating Galloping Goose #5. There is a small museum in the depot, and the Goose is sitting outside on a few feet of track. The Goose does operate, traveling to the C&TS or the D&S now and then. There is an effort underway to relay track from Dolores to Mancos, so the Goose can operate more often.

The old ROW into town from the south follows Road 30. Just one mile of the ROW is covered, on 145 through the main town area.

Heading south/east out of Dolores on 184, and some distance past Road 30, look for Road S going to your left. This will take you down into the lost Canyon, but you won't be able to drive the ROW. You will need to get back on 184 and look for Road 30, which will take you into Dolores along the ROW.

W. George Cook writes about some of the exploring you can do in and around the old town site of Glencoe, if you have permission to get into that area (it is private):

"From Glencoe, do not fail to walk a short distance north and discover the wonderful rock formation in which the lower switch-back tail was built in between and around. It would make a wonderful model on any layout, but I failed to get any photos there when I measured the length of the tail. As we discovered, the logs cars were not handled down the switch-backs so the tail was not needed to be long, and only service cars and cars of ties were handled on the steep grade.

Also, climb up the grade of the log chute and discover where the logs were unloaded and dropped down the wood chute. You can see the old ties of the run-around and walk north to discover how the tail of this run-around was so close to the mesa edge that a 8-bent trestle had to be built to make the tail long enough to cut #1 (ex-D&RG #56) off and run around on the open siding track. This would make a wonderful model subject also, for those who want to build something that looks crazy.

Your model layout visitor would say "they never did that" and you can show them the actual fact that it was true. See page 130 of RGS Story Volume 8 as it shows the side view of the short trestle centered behind the pine tree, in the original photo.

Tom Casper writes "When you mention Lost Canyon I hope you are referring to the part just east of Dolores; I drove to the 2nd Smalley (lumber mill site) twice and hiked to 1st Smalley once in the 80's. The other end of the canyon past Glencoe is a road open for car travel from Millwood. Part of it is on Indian land so is not always open to drive. [the spur is named for R.O. Smalley, who operated a sawmill south of Lost Canyon with a 1-car spur (called Smalley) at MP 109.0 in 1917. As was often the case with these small mills, it was moved north to MP 108.5 (near Lost Canyon), existing there from 1917 to (approx) 1920 with a 6-car spur.] Anyway here goes:

Tom also refers to Road S, which turns into Forest Service Rd. 556 (and eventually becomes Haycamp Mesa Rd) When you turn on this road, it drops down grade to the bottom of the canyon and cuts the old roadbed. Just past the grade and as the road starts back up the hill, there was a field road that could be driven with a high clearance vehicle that goes to the creek and would get you on the grade. I haven't been back there since the late 80's so don't know if it is fenced now or not. The trail to the grade was getting thin in a few spots from creek erosion so maybe by now all you can do is walk.

Past Smalley, the grade crossed the creek and that is as far as one could drive. There are trestle bents and a few stringers left in the canyon when I hiked it plus lots of ties. In a couple of spots, there was stacked stone retaining walls to keep the grade from washing out." [sjh - We hiked this portion, see the photos above].

And finally a warning - when on foot along many stretches of the old roadbed, but particularly through Lost Canyon, be on the lookout for rattlesnakes. Big 'uns! (this from Brian Svikhart).

  McPhee (Dolores)
Maps Photos Information

Google -McPhee branch location

The McPhee reservoir completely covers the site of the sawmill and town of McPhee, but the grade on the mesa and where it goes north up the mesa can be followed. The RGS Story on Dolores covers this really well.

The McPhee and AA Rust branches are nearby and are hikeable. McPhee itself is underwater now, but apparently you can still hike the ROW of the logging road beyond McPhee.

When we explored it in June '07, we also found the beginning of the branch to McPhee (see my photos); we didn't have time but it seems one could drive at least the beginning of this branch. The town of McPhee is now underwater, but from the maps I've looked at, I think a good portion of the branch may still exist.

Maps Photos Information

Google -Mancos area

NG Circle -Mancos Info

Michael Allen (8/06) continues his trip from Cima (see below) on US 160: Once you hit Mancos, turn right on route 184. 160 covers 1.13 miles of the roadbed (in the town proper, I think). The grade will cross just before Bauer Lake. At Bauer Lake, turn right on road 40, and take it until it dead ends at Road P. Turn left and at the second intersection, you will see the grade curving in from the left. Turn right and you will be on the grade, heading for Millwood. Follow the grade as far as you can towards the Lost Canyon, but when you finally reach a gate you will have to back track out to route 184.

Just east of Mancos, north of US 160 and just west of Echo Basin road is a small bridge that has no track or ties, but the rest of the timbers remain. Much of the grade between Mancos and Cima is still quite visible, or drivable as noted above, but be aware that most of the line is on private land once you are in Montezuma county. (Philip Walters, 11/04)

There used to be a few pieces of rail on the ROW just north of Hwy 550 (I think Philip meant 160) as you drove west towards Cortez, on the west side of Mancos. If you keep your eyes peeled, you can spot the ROW as it curves to the north on it's way to Dolores. It's in the middle of a cow pasture, but easily seen from the highway. The rails are not spiked down, they are just laying there, maybe two or three pieces. This was in April, 2003, driving thru on way to Moab. (Philip Walters, 11/04)

  East Mancos
Maps Photos Information

Google - East Mancos

The tank and the rotting remains of two cars exist at East Mancos, but they are on private property, and the owners (Yoder Ranch) really dislike people trepassing here. There was an effort some years ago, by the owners, to have the tank area carved out and acquired by BLM (or some other Federal entity). Not sure if anything came of that effort.

If you start hiking on Grady Mesa, you can follow the grade down to the tank. The tank was remarkably well preserved in 1995 - someone had reroofed it with asphalt tar paper. The two car bodies stood to the east of the grade, across from the tank. They were totally overgrown by wild roses. Because it's private, I must recommend ending your hike when you get to the fence (not sure how close that is to the tank). East Mancos is on very private property and I understand that the owners get very upset when they find folks poking around out there.

To get near the tank, go east from Mancos on Hwy 160 to FR316 (a forest access road, also called Madden Peak Rd). Turn north on 316 (left coming from Mancos), drive about 1.25 miles until the grade crosses the road (you'll have to watch for it, but I guess it's not hard to find). Then turn left on the grade (you'll need to walk now) and hike another 1 to 1.5 miles. The tank should be visible, but I understand there is a fence across the road as you approach it. The property beyond is private, so don't cross it.

John Humphrey writes that if, instead of turning left up the roadbed to the East Mancos tank, you turn right, you can travel about 6 miles (~MP132.7-139), on forest road 568. You will pass the remains of the Starvation Creek trestle, (the road bypassed the trestle). Be careful of the time of the year or else the creek will be too deep to cross. He recommends a 4-wheel-drive (4WD) on this part of the grade.

John Stutz writes: "Several of us drove in to the tank last fall (Fall 2008), with permission and an escort. The site is quite interesting, with triple reverse loops, two practically on top of each other near the tank site. Quite a succession of cuts and fills were needed to fit the loops into the topography. The tank was still standing. Not much left at the trestle site, but there are a couple car bodies collapsing into the brush. There is a long borrow pit along the lower part of the middle loop, easily a 50' wide bench in alluvial soil, so I suspect that the RGS ditcher spent a lot of time loading dirt here. Or perhaps they had the D&RGW shovel in?

"Afterwards I went around to the ridge top road and hiked down the RR RoW, through National Forrest land to the private fence line. It would be an easy hike both ways, but I elected to climb out along a pipeline RoW east of the loops, with a very clear view down on the loops. That was a real puffer - straight up the ridge face. Would have been a lot easier going around the other way and down the pipeline."

  Cima Summit
Maps Photos Information

Google -Cima area

Tom Casper writes "I was out on the RGS last week (9/00) and found out you can now drive on the grade on the east side of Cima Summit. A developer has made an access road for the La Plata Ranch Estates that will take you to the old grade. Some of the grade is on the road and then the new road peters out and you are on the grade a ways. Nice view to the west. This entrance is east of the Cherry Creek Access road."

Michael Allen (8/06) confirms this - there's a big horseshoe curve on US 160 where it crosses a ridge ( Hwy 160 and FR316). If you turn north, onto county road 316, you can drive back to the grade and if you turn right, you can head toward Cima hill, even with a car. East Mancos is to the left off this road, but private property will prevent you from driving the grade or getting in to the tank.

Maps Photos Information

Google -Hesperus

NG Circle -Hesperus Info

Michael Allen's route from Ute Junction (see below) continues - after you hit 140, continue on it and rejoin US 160 at Hesperus. Follow it towards Mancos. The ROW will be on your right and there are several dirt roads that let you get back to it. If you have a 4WD, you can drive most of the grade on Cima Hill, between May Day and East Mancos.

  Ute Junction
Maps Photos Information

Google -Ute Jct

Michael Allen's route from Durango (see below) continues on D&RG Drive (thru a subdivision) to about RGS MP 152. From here, the line heads in a straight line towards Ute Junction. You will need to backtrack a bit towards Durango and go left on County road 125. This will take you up to route 140, but you will cross the old grade right about at Ute Junction. This is Indian land, so you probably should not try hiking the 1/4 mile or so in to Ute Junction.

Robert Alford writes (6/06) that "it is possible to still see and photograph the Ute Mine, It took me a month to get approval from the southern Ute indian tribe; it's their land. The mine area still has ties and some rail in place, the mines and tipples and a few buildings, I was taken in with one of their guides on horseback so as not to disturb the land. We talked and photo'd all day; it was fun.

  Porter / Perins Peak / Franklin Jct
Maps Photos Information

Google maps of the area:

Hwy 160 to Wildcat Canyon road

D&RG Drive

Mule Shoe Curve

BC&F grade

David Dye:

BC&F beginning

Perins Peak map & photos

Near the old site of Porter is Wildcat canyon. You can trace the roadbed (heading north) and find the site of Porter. Much beyond, one used to be able to see the roadbed but development has made this more difficult or outright impossible. George Cook writes that "One mile just west of Durango and then in Wildcat Canyon where the grade reached BM 6884 the next 3.9 miles are covered."

Dennis Liles (3/05) says to head west on Hwy 160 to Wildcat Canyon road. Look right to where the Lightner Creek trestle (bridge 160-A) was, then turn left onto Wildcat Canyon road. The RGS roadbed is visible above you on the right. After about 2 miles along this road, you'll arrive at Porter.

Herb Kelsey noted (in 6/01) that along Wildcat Canyon road you'll see lots of roadbed out to Pine Ridge, first on the right side as it comes around from Bridge 160-A and goes up Wildcat Creek, then crossing to the left as you enter the Porter site. Before you leave US 160, look where the Southern crossed US 160 and you'll see the banks that were the ends of Bridge 160-A. On the east side of the canyon you can see the old Franklin Jct. yard.

Michael Allen (in 8/06) adds that you can then follow the roadbed for about five miles until it turns sharp right at around RGS MP 154. Just before the tracks turn, look for D&RG Drive on your right and turn into the subdivision. If you follow D&RG Drive, the grade will come back onto it from the left. You are now on the RGS grade and will go around the lake at Mule Shoe Curve! You can follow D&RG Drive to about RGS MP 152. From here, the line heads in a straight line towards Ute Junction.

Brian Bass added a sad note in May 2005, that Wildcat creek south of the canyon (around MP 157) will be turned into another reservoir, and the roadbed in this area will be submerged soon. Bummer!

Tom Casper writes that he's hiked the branch, and found remnants of two scale pits. One looked like for the BC&F and one for Triangle.

Continuing north at Pine Ridge the roadbed disappears into Ft. Lewis and you have to go west to State 140. Turn right up to Hesperus but don't miss the Ute Jct. Coal tipple on the right before you get to Hesperus (I believe this has now been torn down, as the owner was afraid of liability issues).

Dennis writes that if you continue a bit further west on 160, the Lightner Creek Road (207) on your right takes you (apparently) to a place you can stop and hike up Perins Peak.

And then Mike Conder adds "Porter in Wildcat Canyon is just outside the "twisty", tight canyon, where the canyon opens up, after a right turn to the west. At this point, the road bed is on the east (left side as you leave Durango). There is now a house close to where the tipple was, and just past it is part of the dump. It's easy to find if you take your RGS Story on the area. You can see some dumps in Hesperus, on the east slope of the hill on the west side of town. I haven't hiked that area (yet!) but have seen some dark dumps that I assume are coal."

The BC&F branch (Boston Coal & Fuel) (or Calumet branch) to the Perins Peak coal mine is also hikable, as I understand. See my attempt at mapping the BC&F grade here.

Tom Casper writes "We drove up Lightner Creek road (207) to one of the apartment complex's there and parked out back in their lot and then set out east by northeast to intercept the grade on foot. We bushwhacked up the hill and eventually came to the grade. We went upgrade for a ways and then headed back.

Back in 2000, I went from Franklin Jct all the way up to the mine and back. That was a nice hike. A lot less bush whacking. Most of the grade is a jeep road but it is gated and locked. There is another way in from the creek road to the mine area because it is a animal refugee and there is a road for that access but haven't checked that out."

David Dye highlighted an aerial photo of the apartments and first part of the branch, and then hiked the branch and created a wonderful map with linked photos to document the hike and items that he found. It's great stuff!!

And Ray Loose, who lives in Durango, writes: "Last summer (summer 2004) Ron Keiser, fellow railroader, and I hiked around Franklin Junction and the Perins Branch on a couple of short afternoons. One afternoon was spent at Franklin checking the Triangle Mine and the yard trackage. We were looking for traces of the water tank and engine house. No remaining traces, but we did find fresh bear droppings! We got a little ways up the grade and ran out of time. Soon after that first day we went back and got almost two miles up the grade before we ran out of time. Each time we had pushed our time so hard that we came back "overland" and down gullies!" Ray did find (and photographed) the remains of what I believe was the Triangle scale pit - see the remains pg for the photos (at the end of the 'Structures' section).

The gate before Perins is a "Division Of Wildlife" gate. I believe they are protecting Falcons nesting in the area. I understand that the area is open certain times of the year.

The jeep road is on the grade almost half of the way. It intercepts the grade past MP2 and then moves away from the grade to access the Perins town site quickly compared to the RR grade. In my opinion, it could be completely rebuilt with ease."

Robert Alford writes in July 2006: "I was reading about the trials of reaching the mine. In 2003 I lived in Durango, I made the trip with a friend, we hicked up from Franklin Jct fallowing the switchbacks found several spikes along the way. We first found the remains of the only trestle going up. Then, with the help of a little map of the area, we found the Club House, Office, Boarding House, School House , Blacksmith Shop, and Water Cistern (which is a buried tender from some sad loco). And, we where able to find the Tipple; the entrance can still be found.

"There is another old mine in the area and the looks of two prospectors cabins. Still with Old stuff. The map of the area I got was from a former resident and a member of the school for a while.

"The Franklin area is on private property and on our way down we ran right into him. He warned us we were on his land, and we said we were leaving considering he had a rifle in his hand. We expressed how sorry we were and what we were looking for then he smiled and said that is why he bought the land because he loved and rode that train. He said we were welcome anytime just to let him know his home sits up and behind the junkyard there on 160 just below the junction. He did state that he would only let a certain amount of people in due to trash people leave behind them so please no trash."

Maps Photos Information

Google maps:


Mule Shoe Curve

NG Circle -Durango Info

Durango, of course, still has the depot and most of the yard in existence, now owned by the Durango & Silverton RR. The north yard, going toward Silverton, has recently been torn up, and a ballon loop now exists where the cutoff to the RGS toward the west once existed. The D&S has tours of the shops and yard available for a small fee - I have done this and it's well worth the cost. The roundhouse is not original, as that burned in 1989 and was rebuilt. The depot is original; the RGS offices used to be on the second floor.

Tom Casper writes (in 9/00) that another area that has opened up in the last few years is Mule Shoe Curve, west of Durango. There are now big homes back in that area and the old grade has been turned into a street (see Franklin Jct above for details on how to get there) It is used to hold back a small pond. Use DRGW Lane for access.

© Steven Haworth 2022. All rights reserved