The Boston Mine formed in the late 1800s when gold was found near Mayflower Gulch, Colorado.
The gold was deemed impure, so settlers abandoned the mine and camp, leaving behind a ghost town.
Today, the land is protected — but $15 million to $50 million worth of gold might still be there.
Soaring mountains surround a cluster of abandoned buildings in Summit County, Colorado. Decaying today, the structures were once home to miners who dreamed of gold in the late 1800s, according to Backpacker.
The abandoned buildings make up the Boston Mine ghost town, which sits in the V-shaped valley of the Mayflower Gulch.
In the late 1800s, miners were on the hunt for gold and silver across the West. A group discovered a vein of gold in the mountains surrounding the Mayflower Gulch and built mines, trams, homes, and a boarding house, according to Backpacker.
But as reported in Backpacker, the gold they mined had impurities and wasn't profitable. The same source reports that miners abandoned the valley for more prosperous areas and left behind a ghost town.
Early one summer morning, I set out on Highway 91 heading toward Leadville, Colorado, to hike the Mayflower Gulch Trail and explore the abandoned buildings.
After an hour-and-a-half drive from Denver, I reached a parking lot. There, visitors have two options: They can park and hike to the abandoned Boston Mine or drive along an old wagon road to the ghost town's entrance.
Unsure whether my Subaru could handle the road's conditions, I opted to hike to the ghost town, which added an extra 3 miles to my 6-mile hike. The trail has a variety of routes, and the main ghost town is a short hike from the upper parking lot.
As I hiked up the wide, rocky path through spur and fir trees, I spotted my first sign of the region's mining past: a wooden cabin along the old wagon road. This would be the first of nine structures I saw scattered along the trail.
I peered inside the crumbling cabin and eyed what looked like a rusted oven, which would be decades old by this point, I thought.
Farther up the trail, I spotted more ruins. Slightly above eye level, there's an abandoned structure that was part of the old mining process, according to Summit Daily. Called an ore chute, this was used to move the heavy rock into wagons.
Source: Summit Daily
Dotted along the mountains are mine entrances, and sure enough, behind the structure was an opening. Today, the areas are often fenced off and unstable, so I admired this one from a distance and continued along the path.
After hiking a little more than a mile, I reached the largest portion of the ghost town. In the vast expanse, I could spot three buildings at the base of the grand mountains.
Standing amid the ruins, I had a nearly 360-degree view of mountains. To the south, north, and east were mountains reaching nearly 14,000 feet above sea level. To the west was a vast valley and a trailing creek.
As for the abandoned buildings, there wasn't much left from the mining camp. The first building I approached was by far the largest.
According to Backpacker, the Boston Mine camp had a boarding house, where unmarried miners would most likely have lived while working at the mine. This large building could've been that, and I imagined it'd be similar to hostels I've slept in — crowded and filled with just the necessities. Though, I had no way of knowing for sure.
According to Breckenridge History, the miners of Summit County walked from their homes to the mine each morning before 7 a.m. I was hiking on a sunny day, and I couldn't imagine trekking through the snow with a long day of work ahead.
I continued along the trail and spotted more empty, eerie buildings. I peeked inside one, where I saw insulation that was peeling from the ceiling and floorboards that had chipped away over the years.
Unsure whether there were any more abandoned buildings along the trail, I kept hiking. I was glad I did. In the distance, I spotted another cabin and a narrow, tall building.
The tall structure was likely another part of the mine.
I've seen plenty of abandoned cabins dating to about the same time, but I've never seen anything like this before. The building was at least two stories tall, and I was impressed it was still standing all these years later.
From the building, a long cable stretched more than halfway up the mountain, which I imagine was part of the mining process. As I followed the cable, I spotted an entrance to another mine.
According to Breckenridge History, these entrances would be used by workers who would enter the mine with their drill steels, hammers, and lunch, with their days illuminated only by candlelight. Miners would mine, muckers would shovel crushed rock into ore cars, and trammers would push the cars to the surface, the same source reported.
Source: Breckenridge History
All around the narrow building I saw relics from the past. It made my morning feel more like a scavenger hunt than a hike.
Along one sloping hill, I noticed dozens, if not hundreds, of rusting cans.
On another section of the trail, I spotted what appeared to be abandoned mining equipment with thick layers of rust.
I later learned that some of the equipment could've been more recent. According to Copper Colorado Condos, people returned to the area in the 1980s to try their luck again when the price of gold skyrocketed to $800 an ounce.
Source: Copper Colorado Condos
The same source reports that the new residents stabilized the abandoned buildings and attempted to mine. But like the original miners, they were unsuccessful. They, too, left behind a ghost town.
Source: Copper Colorado Condos
Today, the surrounding mountains still have deposits of gold, according to The Denver Post, and one expert estimated in 2009 that anywhere between $15 million and $50 million worth of gold may be tucked away in the mountains. But it would most likely need to go through an expensive refining process to be of any value, according to Britannica.
But the treasure will remain buried deep in the rock. Today, the ghost town and its gold are protected by Summit County. In 2009, the county expanded the trail and purchased an additional 129 acres of adjacent land, which included the tall building and surrounding mountainous area, according to The Denver Post.
Source: The Denver Post
I wrapped up my hike by scarfing down a sandwich and admiring the abandoned buildings. While I didn't strike gold, I did gain a new appreciation for the miners and their ambition.
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