West Elk Loop
"Gateway to the Crystal Valley"
Carbondale stands on an alluvial plain created by the Crystal and Roaring Fork Rivers. The town got its name from nearby coal deposits, but its mainstay was agriculture on the fertile river bottom.
Surveyor Ferdinand Hayden of the U.S. Geological Survey visited the area in 1873-74, mapping extensively and providing the first photographs of the area by the legendary photographer William Henry Jackson. William Dinkel, a Virginia gentleman seeking gold and adventure, in 1881.
Present-day Carbondale is known for its vibrant community spirit and its focus on clean energy, healthy food and unique festivals--such as Mountain Fair, held every year in July. Solar Energy International and Colorado Rocky Mountain School bring many visitors to the area.
"Ruby of the Rockies"
Between Carbondale and Redstone on Highway 133, the Crystal River cascades through a granite gap which produces 120-plus degree water. The white rocks seen along the river on the old railroad grade are chunks of marble from the quarry at Marble. These trimmings and rejects were used as ballast against the erosion of the Crystal River.
John Osgood, born in Brooklyn in 1851 and orphaned at nine, first visited the Crystal Valley by Wells Fargo stagecoach in 1882. He acquired an old mining claim and developed it into a personal fortune. Some of the profits were used to build workers’ cottages that reflected Osgood’s European tastes. Many cottages still line the streets.
A footbridge provides access across the Crystal River to artisan and gift shops, where you may inquire about tours through the historic Redstone Castle.
Before it was improved in 1947, McClure Pass was little more than a rough wagon road. The Ute Indians had used the pass as their route between the Muddy and Crystal Valleys. "Mac" McClure built and ran a two-story hotel at nearby Bogan Flats on the Crystal Railroad line in the early 1900s. The pass is named for him.
The original road, easily identified by a series of switchbacks, served for many years as a cattle trail.
Early Spanish explorers visited the Muddy Region in 1776. It was later settled by miners in the early 1880s and finally by farmers and ranchers who founded the long since deserted townsite of Ragged Mountain, located two miles west of Highway 133 at the turn-off to Collbran.