Atlas Obscura - Curious and Wondrous Travel Destinations

The Mountain Submarine

Gilpin County History Museum

The first mountain submarine had its initial and last voyage in 1898. 

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No one is sure why, but in 1898 Rufus T. Owens of Central City, Colorado (elevation 9,000 feet) decided to build a submarine, which he named the Nautilus. He and a few friends launched it on nearby Missouri Lake. They ballasted it with three tons of rocks. Owens intended to captain the maiden voyage himself, but fortunately for him, the submarine sank before he had a chance to climb inside.

For nearly 50 years, the submarine lay on the bottom of Missouri Lake and became something of a local legend. Few people had actually witnessed its building and launch, and the idea of a “mountain submarine” seemed so preposterous that most assumed it was a tall tale out of one of the town’s many saloons. However, in 1944, one of the witnesses decided that the time had come to put the rumor to rest. The Nautilus was rescued from the briny deep using chains and a tow truck, while the whole town looked on and the high school band played.

Today, the mountain submarine is on display at the Gilpin County History Museum in Central City. The rest of the museum, which is also home to many other weird and wonderful historic artifacts and paraphernalia of an Old West mining town, is well worth a visit. 

Know Before You Go

Admission costs $7/person. The museum is open daily from May 27-October 1, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  


All other times by appointment or request (for groups of 5 or more) at the tour office, Washington Hall, 117 Eureka St. 


Directions: From Central City Pkwy, at the 2nd stop sign, turn right on Gregory St. Turn left at the Grand Z Casino (D St.) and left again onto Lawrence St. Turn right at Church St. (museum sign) and then left onto E First High St. Free parking on the street in front of the museum. 

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October 18, 2023

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