Gilman – Red Cliff, Colorado - Atlas Obscura


Red Cliff, Colorado

Once an unstoppable source of gold and silver, this town came to a grinding stop when the groundwater proved deadly. 


John Clinton couldn’t believe his luck. 

The settlement he was developing near Redcliff, CO had revealed two vertical chimneys filled with both silver and gold. Business was booming, and by 1879, the Colorado Silver Boom was in full swing. The new town of Gilman was overflowing with resources…but sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing.Clinton built a town on the mineral rich cliffside to keep his miners close—a school, a boarding house, and a local rag to keep the population of 300 informed of the swiftly growing town’s happenings. By 1882, the railroad reached the nearby town of Belden located at the bottom of the cliff that Gilman resided on, and the area became the richest in all of Eagle County.

Some boomtowns went on to die slow, stubborn deaths, while others just seemed to end as swiftly as they began. For Gilman the demise was held off for longer than average, as the town rolled with the punches of the mining industry, updating equipment and focusing on new resources as the old ones dried up. The mines in Gilman operated steadily until the 70s, and the mine didn’t close completely until 1984. 

It wasn’t a lack of product that finally ended the life of this once-prosperous town, it was the EPA. During an inspection of the outpost, it was discovered that Gilman and the cliff it occupied were beyond toxic, contaminated with “high levels of arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and zinc in the soil and in surface and groundwater”. The agency immediately called for an evacuation, and Gilman, along with 235 acres of its radius, and the tenacious town that was once a prosperous haven for hopeful settlers became an abandoned health hazard, unlikely to see human habitation again any time soon. 

While still off limits and currently undergoing an arduous clean up, the old town an its remaining schoolhouse, homes, rec center , grocery and bowling alley can still be glimpsed, and graffiti suggests trespassers foolhardy enough to explore. The site is patrolled and located in a fairly unforgiving environment, poke around at your own risk. 

Know Before You Go

The mine from highway 24, between Vail and Leadville. There are a few pull-offs where you can see the mining buildings from the cliff. The old town consists of several homes, a school, grocery store, and a recreation center (with a bowling alley).

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