MARBLE, Colo. (CBS4) – From the town that bears the name of the Colorado state rock, Glenn Smith, better known as “Smitty,” pilots a 1954 Willy’s Jeep.
Starting out in the town of Marble, home of the famous Yule Marble quarry, CBS4’s Doug Whitehead rumbled up to the small burg of Crystal with Crystal River Jeep Tours. Julie Walker is along for the ride with her family from Los Angeles.
“We have a 4-wheel drive truck, but I’m not taking my mom, my daughter, myself up here,” Walker said.
On the rugged drive along the remote Crystal River, the palette of high country color changes from wildflower summer to aspen leaf autumn.
“But you get more than just the gold. You get all the russets and reds and greens and everything else with all the other tress and underbrush,” Smitty said.
The road between the towns Marble and Crystal first carried miners deep into the Colorado wilderness.
“What they were mining up here was silver, copper, lead, zinc, iron, a little bit of gold; not much gold. Never did find much gold up here,” Smitty said.
Smitty took the group past the Crystal Mill. Water turned a wheel to power a stamp mill that processed silver from a nearby mine.
“It operated from 1872 to 1917 full time; and then the last operation it ever did was in 1927.”
Just above the mill is the town of Crystal. A handful of summer residents keeps the torch proudly burning in the town where the census once counted 600 souls.
“There was a mining camp across the river at the Inez mine. There was a mining camp at the Black Queen. There was a mining camp up at the Crystal Tunnel and so they had them all over the place. We had over 100 mines in the area,” local historian Roger Neal said.
Neal has written books about the area. He credits a strong community spirit for the town’s survival.
“The people of Crystal are one of the big draws. Because if the people weren’t here, this wouldn’t be Crystal,” Neal said.
The people — and the mill — keep Crystal on the map.
Call Crystal River Jeep Tours to reserve a trip into the Crystal River Valley. Tey also do tours into Lead King Basin and the Devil’s Punchbowl. Call (970) 963-1991 or log on to smithfamilycolorado.com and click on Crystal River Jeep Tours. You can drive your family car to Marble by taking Highway 82 south from Glenwood Springs to Carbondale. Continue south on Highway 133 through Restone and follow signs to Marble, where the jeep tours begin.