Swansea Gulch  
USGS 7.5' Map: Silverton and Howardsville
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 3 CR32 5.40 9,360 to 11,080 ft. NA 1-2 hours
County: San Juan
Adopted by:      
Managed by: San Juan County 1557 Greene St, Silverton, CO 81433 (970)387-5766
Summary: The county road up Swansea Gulch climbs high on Kendall Mountain. It connects with the Arrastra Gulch road.
Attractions: History, Mining
Natural - Closed by heavy snow.
Best Time: June - Best
July - Best
August - Best
September - Best
October - Early snows possible
Trail Heads
Camping: There are no dispersed campsites.
Base Camp: This area would be a good place to base camp. There are many scenic 4WD roads and ghost towns in the area.
Fall Colors: Poor - Most of the road is in pine forest.
Navigation: From Silverton, CO head northeast on Greene Street for 0.4 miles. Turn right onto East 18th Street and go 0.2 miles. Turn left onto Cement Street and go 0.4 miles. Turn right onto County Rd 32 and cross the Animas River. This is the start of the road up the edge of Swansea Gulch.
History: In the late 1870s, Thomas Higgins invested in the Lackawanna Mine, which was within a short walk from Silverton and consisted of a group of claims that covered several veins on the gulch's east side. The other mine in the gulch, the Scranton City, lay at treeline at the base of a cliff on the gulch's west side. With the coming railroad and the smelter in Durango, Higgins sensed that the time was right to bring the claims into production and he hired several miners to work with him in initial development.

In 1882, the Lackawanna Tunnel & Mining Company drove two tunnels to undercut veins on Kendall Mountain. A short distance up Swansea Gulch, miners pushed the Scranton City Tunnel toward another vein. Almost one mile to the west, above Silverton, prospectors discovered a vein with potential in Idaho Gulch and staked the Idaho Group of claims. During 1883, miners leased the Idaho Group property and shipped ore to a Denver smelter for testing and treatment. The ore was visually impressive but difficult to treat, making it non-profitable to mine.

The Lackawanna Mine was promising enough to draw significant investment. In 1898, George Whitelaw and John Norton, principals with the Four Metals Mining Company in Pueblo, added the property to its growing roster of mines in the San Juans. By driving exploratory passages on several veins, miners found enough ore to sustain a constant but limited production, which encouraged the company to invest in surface improvements. One was a double-rope reversible tramway and a set of ore bins on the Animas River. The Four Metals Mining Company enjoyed such success with the Lackawanna that one of the directors proposed a concentration mill at the base of the mountain. After several years of regular production, the rest of the directors felt confident enough to agree and financed a modest facility. The Lackawanna Mill was finished in 1903, which is when trouble began. Similar to the Black Prince in Little Giant Basin, the ore was too complex for the mill and the veins featured less material than expected. By 1904, the operation had become unprofitable and work stopped.

During the 1907 recession a group of miners optimistically took a lease on the Lackawanna Mine, but as the economic climate disintegrated and metals prices slipped, they were unable to find the capital necessary for exploration and suspended operations.

During the World War I boom, the Lackawanna Mine became the focus of an important project. In 1917, John M. Wagner, who owned a number of mines in San Juan and San Miguel counties, confidently purchased the Lackawanna group of claims. During the winter, he made a deal with William A. Way, R.E.L. Townsend, and Melvin Smith to lease the main complex as the Lackawanna Mining & Reduction Company. The Lackawanna failed to meet expectations, and the partners dumped the lease during the year and moved on to other mines around Eureka.

In late 1917, a group of investors from the east assumed the Lackawanna Mine lease as the D.L. & W. Mining & Reduction Company. A crew of twenty attempted to ready the operation for work through the winter. One team accompanied master tramway builder O.F. Sackett to the Titusville Mine, dismantled the idle Huson tramway, and rebuilt it at the Lackawanna. The upper terminal stood near the main tunnel, and the lower terminal was on the Silverton Northern Railroad. A second group erected a concentration mill at the lower terminal. A third workforce developed ore and engaged in minor production. While the mill was under construction, the company leased the Silver Lake Mill to process high-grade ore that miners discovered in 1918. The compressor house and mill subsequently burned, and after the company collected insurance money, it rebuilt the structures and then dissolved.

C.H. Smith, J.E. Storey, and F.P. Despain held the same optimistic outlook about the Lackawanna Mine in 1926. The three Utah investors organized the Lackawanna Mining Company and hired a crew of ten to rehabilitate the surface plant and underground workings for production. Instead of immediately extracting ore, however, they waited to build a concentration mill. Upon completion in 1928, the mill was equipped with flotation to treat the Lackawanna's complex ore. Initially, the mill generated enough concentrates to justify a shipment to the Durango Smelter.

A.B. Crosby, who specialized in leasing proven mines, recognized enormous potential and assumed the lease on the Lackawanna. In 1948, he and J.H. Harvey organized the Osceola Mining & Milling Corporation to provide capital for more development and buy the Lackawanna Mill. A handful of miners generated around six tons of ore per day and processed the material in the mill. The operation changed hands in 1951 but remained a sound producer for several years after.

Twitty, Eric Historic Mining Resouces of the San Juan County, Colorado United States Department of the Interior: OMB No.1024-0018, Print.
Swansea Gulch begins just east of Silverton. After crossing the Animas River you will follow County Rd 32 as it climbs the side of Kendall Mountain. The road is in fairly good shape here. Before the first switchback you will come to the remains of the Lackawanna Mill. This is private property, but you will pass abover the mill remains. After doing a series of switchbacks, that continually climb the mountain, the road will get rougher with larger rocks making up the road base. You will cross a longer section heading east and will come to an intersection with the Aspen Road.

From here if you continue right you will climb a few more swtichbacks before coming to an old mine site high on Kendall Mountain. From here there are views of the Animas River Valley below. Retrace your route back to the intersection and take the other road now to your right. The road will become smoother with fewer large rocks. It will work its way through the forest passing driveways to private homes. You will cross Blair Creek and continue heading west toward Arrastra Gulch.

Along one section of road you will pass the remains of the old wooden tram towers that once brought ore down to the Aspen Mine and Mill.
Wooden tram tower

photo by:
Adam M

Around the corner from here is a large steel tram tower next to the road. This is one of the towers used for the Silver Lake mine to bring the ore down to the Silver Lake Mill.
Steel tram tower

photo by:
Adam M

The road will switchback again and then connect with the Arrastra Gulch road. Take a left to head back down to the Animas River, crossing it on the short bridge. A short climb will bring you up to County Rd 2, which heads down, to Silverton, or up to Howardsville.
Data updated - March 27, 2016       4WD Road driven - August 12, 2015       Copyright 4X4Explore.com - 2000-2016