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After our last trip to Colorado, I can honestly say our future travel adventures will never be the same. While on vacation, we made the split-second decision to stay near Marble. We wanted to experience slow travel, taking our time in exploring the Central Colorado area. Part of that experience was to take a Jeep tour from the small town of Marble, Colorado, to the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life… Crystal Mill.
Crystal River Jeep Tours
While you can drive there yourself (it is a 4WD road), we decided to give the Jeep Tour a try. No stranger to mountain roads, we were excited for the journey ahead. The road to Crystal is a very narrow shelf road, built by settlers in the late 1800’s. They offer several tours, including Lead King Basin, Devil’s Punchbowl, and Sheep Mountain. We chose to take their Crystal Tour.
Highlights from Our Drive to Crystal
We piled into the Jeep with our driver, Chuck. The boys sat in a rumble seat in the back that allowed them to see from a slightly higher vantage point.We learned that Chuck spends his summers in Colorado working with the tour company. He was full of stories and knowledge about the area, pointing out landmarks and sights along the way, telling stories of past residents of the area. One such resident was Captain Helen Jack. Her story was so interesting, we purchased a book written by her when we arrived back home from this particular trip.
We passed by Beaver Lake as we made our way to the road that leads to Crystal. The road quickly changes from paved to unpaved.The Crystal River Jeep Trail is narrow and rocky as it winds along, much of the time beside the Crystal River. We noticed wreckage along the way. We’d read stories, especially about the Devil’s Punchbowl area.
There are small turnouts along the way. This ensures that if two vehicles meet, one can maneuver mostly out of the way and let the other one pass; though most of the time, one will have to back up to find said turnouts.
As we drove along, Chuck pointed out sights like waterfalls and signs that this was once a thriving mining community. We had originally read that there were spots for camping along the road and had planned to camp there. But we found that the land had private property signs all around. The mill itself is on private property, as well. I could share pictures of the road and the mountains all ’round all day long, but they would not do the beauty of this backcountry justice. The mountains themselves are a sight to behold. As you drive, you’ll see natural spring waterfalls flowing down from the mountains. Chuck told us that normally it’s not as green as it was while we were there. It was green, and there were gorgeous colorful wildflowers everywhere.
Beautiful Crystal Mill
A historical landmark and one of the most picturesque photogenic places on the tour was Crystal Mill. Crystal Mill once operated as a powerhouse or power plant for mining operations.We actually have a photo of the mill hanging in our home; that’s how beautiful we found it to be. Its rugged appearance gives it a haunted look… The stories I bet it could tell, if old walls could talk. The river swirls and flows below the mill, while mountains tower behind. I could have stood there forever just drinking it all in. I long to go back.
Exploring Crystal City
At one time, the town of Crystal (just around the bend from Crystal Mill) had 400 residents, most of whom were miners and their families. Now it’s pretty much a ghost town, though there are people who come there to spend their summers. Roger Neal, an author who has written extensively about the area, spends his summers there, sharing Crystal Tale Books with visitors who come to Crystal. We bought more than a few of his books while visiting. He’s written books with the history of Crystal and creepy tales of some of its residents. He shared with us that his family spent summers there when he was a child.
There are cabins and small houses still standing and in use in Crystal, some of which are available for short-term rental. You’ll also find a general store (Crystal Store) and an outhouse. The top “snow door” in one house gave us some perspective as to how deep the snow gets in the winter time. A small stream flowed beside the road, a great way to keep drinks cold since there is no electricity in this mountain town. A flag in the center of town whipped back and forth in the wind. If I had the opportunity to spend a week (or more) in this quiet mountain town, I totally would.
The road continues on through the town of Crystal and winds its way to Crested Butte via Schofield Pass. I’m feeling adventurous enough that some day I would love to go back and do the entire loop, even the Devil’s Punchbowl, which is considered one of the most dangerous 4WD trails in Colorado.
What to Know Before You Go
Before you book a tour with Crystal River Jeep Tours, be sure to pick the right tour for you. Some tours involve hiking, and some require you to bring a sack lunch. Bathrooms are few and far between (though there is one at your starting point in Marble), and the roads are quite rocky, meaning lots of bumps and jolts. Take your own drinking water and pack anything you think you may need for the long trek. Jeeps are open, and mountain weather can change on a dime, so dress and pack accordingly. Reservations are recommended, but they do take walk-ins. You’ll want to be sure to arrive 15 minutes early, so you can pay and fill out paperwork, including signed waivers.
Tours operate from Memorial Day to November 30. Be sure to take your camera and/or your binoculars!