It was early that cold morning in late September, 1982, when we approached the Skyline Mine Portal at 11,776 feet of elevation on Treasure Mountain.
I had to rub my eyes at what unfolded in front of us. In a Neanderthal scene, a young man came out of the dark mine tunnel with a smoking, flaming torch held over his head. Implausible? Indeed. I had to ask him what he was doing. He responded sheepishly that he was working for Don Knight of Paonia, the mine owner, and he had forgotten his flashlight.
The Skyline Mine, also called Little Darling Mine, was mined for silver, lead and zinc. Three of us had hiked over 3,000 feet up from Yule Creek to explore the Treasure Mountain Ridge that towers above the Crystal River from Marble to Crystal City.
High above Marble’s Beaver Lake is Whitehouse Mountain at 11,975 feet. It is the northern prominence of Treasure Mountain and is named for the huge white square stone formation, resembling a building, which rises hundreds of feet out of the saddle between Whitehouse and Treasure Mountains.
The Treasure Ridge rolls southeast for almost eight miles from Marble to Elko Park at Schofield Pass. It turns into Treasury Mountain at one point. This is the southern extent of the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association’s (CVEPA) watershed boundary and is the Gunnison County boundary.
This massif holds great allure and mystique but also has environmental and geological significance. Hard rock mines seeking the Galena ore abound around Crystal City. The world-famous Yule Creek marble deposit spans both sides of the creek and much of Treasure Mountain marble.
Treasure Mountain is also a harbor for the most indisputably valuable of all resources… water! The cirques of Treasure Mountain are oriented dead-north and shade immense snowfields. These snow reservoirs rise 4,000 feet and encompass many square miles of snow water. Ice in this snowpack goes back decades if not a century.
Public access is restricted by private property. CVEPA encourages people to respect private property rights. The neighbors are an interesting potpourri. The Treasure Mountain Bible Camp and the Colorado Stone Quarries rest on the Yule Creek side and The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory borders the southwest side. The historic Crystal Mill is owned by Treasure Mountain Ranch which owns over 750 acres above Crystal City and is proposing an eco-resort with adventure skiing.
The importance of the environmental health of Treasure Mountain to our community cannot be overstated by CVEPA.
Last week, Senator Michael Bennet unveiled the draft Gunnison Outdoor Resources Protection Act (GORP). The senator is asking for your input over the next 60 days. The act has been in the works for 10 years and the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative (GPLI) has worked to build an encompassing group of stakeholders in the Gunnison Watershed. The coalition seeks to enlarge wilderness areas with existing public lands and create numerous Special Management Areas to protect habitat, watersheds and recreational values which are crucial to the quality of life and economy of this region.
Expansion of the Raggeds Wilderness Area would include the Treasure Mountain public lands, part of the White River National Forest. CVEPA supports the GPLI proposal and is grateful to Senator Bennet for making the GORP Act a priority. Accessing bennet.senate.gov will educate you on the act and gunnisonpubliclands.org is your source for more information on GPLI.
To learn more about CVEPA and to support our mission, please go to cvepa.org