The Stability of the Lewis Mine
By Rick Olson
The undulating topography of the San Juan mountain range truly exemplifies the motivation of striking it rich in the four corners. Complex mines built miles outside of town along steep, steep terrain evoke images of the immense difficulty involved with hauling enormous iron mechanisms. The process nowadays would be aided by helicopter and still considered a serious undertaking.
Beyond Telluride’s infamous crown, Bridal Veil Falls, the Lewis Mine clings to the side of a gully in the labyrinth of 12,000’ peaks. Established in 1907 the mill has been defunct for nearly 80 years but stands in remarkable condition thanks to its distant proximity from anything. Hikers are not as eager to pack out the cast iron machinery as the miners were to pack it in.
Cold winters and bright summers have naturalized the exterior aesthetic of the mine, as if the mountains were reclaiming the structure as it’s own. Oxidized copper and sun-cured wood create an organic facade that mends with the rocky landscape, concealing the industrious core.
Inside the mine is like being cast in a Tim Burton set. Rough sawn joists criss cross in patterns that can’t be discerned between planned or improvised construction. Wilfley tables, roll crushers and Frue Vanners, state-of-the-art in their time, remain steadfast and fazed less by years of operation than idleness. They haven’t processed ore in nearly 80 years but retain a history as lustrous as the gold they mined for. Rickety ladders and scaffolding twist and dodge to every nook and cranny of these mechanisms and connect so many decks, floors, platforms, and bridges that perspective is challenged. Bets could be made and forever disputed over how many stories the Lewis mine actually is.
The stability of the Lewis Mine despite it’s seemingly hasty veneer is a testament of the miners ethic. No time was wasted, but no structural detail was overseen. Rugged terrain was greeted as a challenge rather than a restraint, so long as the prospect was promising.
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