Gilman, Colorado, July, 2016-All rights reserved.
Colorado is my favorite state. I love the mountains, the incredible wildlife, and the down to earth, laid-back people. My husband and I both want to move there at some point. It came to no surprise that she has many places to be explored.When I found out we were going on vacation to Estes Park, Colorado, naturally, I had to research abandoned places in the area. There were many foundations strewn throughout the mountainous landscapes, and rotting ruins of old mills and mines I explored, but one really caught my attention and I HAD to explore it. The abandoned and forbidden mining town of Gilman, Colorado, which was a 3-hour trip one-way from where we happened to be staying for the week, but I could not stop thinking about it, so I planned a day-trip.
Gilman, Colorado was once a booming mining town nestled in the cliffs of Eagle County, at an elevation of 8,950 feet, on a cliff overlooking Eagle River. Next to Battle Mountain, what remains of Gilman are visible in multiple places along the stretches of highway, and to patrolling rangers, sheriffs, and highway patrolmen. This is not a location where they welcome visitors, and there are many signs warning against trespassers. The main road is visible from inside the town, and the town is very visible from the main road, so if you trespass, be aware-they can see you, unless you are very good at hiding. I am not a ninja! I am a clumsy middle-aged woman :-), and I had a mild anxiety attach while I was in the middle of this town. Needless to say, I did not last long.
The photographs I took, however, were worth my panic or at least I think so. This site is nothing like I have ever explored, and is by far the largest abandoned location I have ever visited. From the moment I stepped onto the property, the knot in the pit of my stomach twisted itself into a giant ball of twine, and the hand that is normally a well-controlled essential tremor trembled violently. A general feeling of uneasiness crept over me, so I shot as many photos from the cover of the trees as I could, and ran right back out from where I snuck inside. My initial plan was to document as much of the site as possible, but something was off… and my gut overruled.
Gilman was founded in 1886 during the Colorado Silver Boom, becoming the center of lead and zinc mining in Colorado. Abandoned by force in 1984 by the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) due to toxic pollutants, such as contamination of ground water, and soil.
The most recent housing of the town is situated on the steep mountain near the former mines, and is clearly dangerous. When I walked through, I did not venture all the way, even though I really wanted to. Some of the ground felt unstable, and I feared falling though into the mines, although I read since my trip they have been filled in. I was not aware how serious it would have been if I would have been caught inside the town or perhaps I didn’t realize it, so I’m glad I did not venture too far inside. I’m used to having local farmers, and police come and talk to me as I photograph local places in the Midwest, and I am usually allowed to continue taking my photographs. I am always respectful, and I don’t touch anything. However, federal laws are an entirely different animal. Other explorers took photos of the entrails of the homes, the school, the rusting bones of cars baking in the sun, but I just had to get out. I have thought many times, long and hard about the light shining through the cracks of broken windows, lost children’s shoes, dust-covered books, and furniture wasting into tattered heaps that I missed capturing.
John Clinton, a judge, and a prospector from Redcliff, developed the area as a town, acquiring multiple mining operations in the area. In 1889, it had a population of approximately 300 people, with a school, a boarding house, and a newspaper–all to keep the hard-working miners near-by. By the ’60s, Gilman was up to a few hundred, with a grocery store, a bowling alley, and an infirmary.
Gilman In the 1930’s, per Eagle County Historical Society.
Photo above courtesy Eagle Valley Library District and Eagle County Historical Society
At least half of Gilman was destroyed by fire in 1899 including a hotel, a school, and a business district. During World War II, Gilman’s population exceeded 1,000 residents, while the mine employed over 700 workers. In the 1960’s, only an estimated few hundred people inhabited Gilman. In spite of the turmoil that seemed to surround the town, Gilman always recovered.
In 1966, Gulf Western obtained New Jersey Zinc Company, and by 1977 had fundamentally shut down Eagle Mine. In 1984 the town was abandoned by order of the EPA- Environmental Protection Agency, due to toxic pollutants, including contamination of ground water, and top soil. In 2007, The Ginn Company had plans to build a private ski resort, and developing the land to make it safe enough for future use. However, as of 2016, it still sits, perched upon the ledge, overlooking the highway; the once thriving boomtown is now abandoned and discarded, an empty shell.
The area has not been deemed safe to enter for the public, which is why, I think, they are so strict about the no trespassing rules.
Sometimes it’s so easy as we explore these sites to get caught up in the adventure; the danger, and the experience of chasing the past, we forget to enjoy the journey, and the story. Gilman is so much more than a rotting corpse. Before becoming the infamous abandoned mining town, Gilman had a beating heart, and soul in all of her residents. The laughter of children, and the murmurs of bustling workers still echo throughout the mountainside, if you close your eyes and imagine, you can still hear them.
“There are no wastelands in our landscape quite like those we’ve created ourselves.” -Tim Winton
The shaft house below, where countless men worked daily for years, now is the of graffiti and other vandals. As long as there are buildings left standing, people will find a way to get to them. Let’s face it, while dangerous, the town practically begs to be seen by some eyes. Without them, it fades into nothing, the stories of the people who once lived behind the walls left untold.
Trish Eklund is the owner and creator of Abandoned, Forgotten, & Decayed, and Family Fusion Community, an online resource for blended families of all types. Trish’s photography has been featured on Only in Nebraska, ListVerse, Nature Takes Over and Pocket Abandoned. Check out the new Bonanza Store for AFD merchandise! Follow on Instagram and Facebook. Trish is regularly featured on The Mighty, Huffington Post Divorce, and Her View From Home. She has also been featured on Making Midlife Matter, and The Five Moms, and has an essay in the anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz.