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Skaguay Power Plant Ghost Town  

 Victor, Colorado 

"The miracle of the Skaguay Power Plant," wrote Winfred Ward Clark in a short history of the project, "is that it was built in the first place."

 

Skaguay Main Building

Skaguay Power Plant

"The power plant stood 25 feet high. Rows of tall slender windows topped by Romanesque arches bathed the inside in light. Decorative brickwork accented every wall. Wings on each side held small tear-shaped windows tucked like jewels between the arches."

"There are two kinds of wilderness: wild places that have always been wild, and wild places where civilization fought to chip a foothold but the land proved too tough. Beaver Creek is the second kind."

 

     

 

Trip Details:

Skaguay Power Plant, Victor Colorado 

Brief History

Construction of the Skaguay Dam and Power Plant began in 1899. The Skaguay dam is the first steel-reinformed, rock faced dam in the world. From the dam, 5 miles of 30" diameter pipe, made of wood and metal rings, ran to the power plant. It then dropped 1,165' through a metal pipe to produce the pressure needed to turn the turbines. Thru an architectural error, the piping was 100' too low on the hill, resulting in only enough pressure to turn three of the four turbines.

The Woods family of Victor promoted the project by borrowing $500,000.  The plant supplied electricity to Victor and Canon City. 

The Power Plant began operation in 1901 and continued operating until 1965 when the Gillette dam failed and caused 2 miles of dirt, moss & silt to plug the wooden pipeline. In its day, the Power Plant site boasted housing, a laundry, a commissary, a cookhouse and a saloon, dance hall and gaming room.

 

   
 

Directions:  

Trailhead: Take Highway 24 West to Divide. At Divide turn south on highway 67 and to Victor turnoff on Hwy 81.  Follow signs to Skaguay Resivior.  Park at top of the dam and walk through the gate.  A Park's sign at the top informs you that the Beaver Creek hike is 10 plus miles, is rated as "difficult," and will take a minimum of two days.

Skaguay Reservoir is located in far southeastern Teller County, approximately five miles east of the town of Victor on Skaguay Road (County Road 861).

Map Skaguay

Summary: The trail starts down a private road along the stream with fishing and beaver ponds, then across a cow pasture of aspen trees and beaver ponds.  Cow trails and light walking until the drop into the canyon begins.  The "trail" ends completely requiring the hiker to make his own way through a variety of terrain.  Much of the descent is through river bottom bush and wood along side the stream.  The route is a very sharp V sided  canyon with a fast windy stream and sharp descent. 

You can expect to have to push through chokeberry, raspberry, and thorny currant thickets as well as fir and pine trees as part of the trip.  I recommend strong gloves for your hands and some type of leg protection (shin-guards came to mind after the trip) to avoid the cuts from bushes and falls.  Full hiking boots with ankle support are recommended for the constant travel over river bottom smoothed rocks although your boots will feel like 10 lbs each after each river crossing.  Prepare to be in the water a lot as stream crossings are unavoidable.  A climbing rope would not be a bad idea to assist in pulling your pack up slopes or for groups to assist each other.  Rock scrambling in some fairly difficult places is required.  The Plant is located on a high shelf and is not easily seen from the river bottom.

Many people are contacting me for information on this hike.  Do not under estimate this trail regarding the energy effort to get through the rock sections or the difficulty of the river bottom.  One "tell" of this trail was the items left behind by hikers over the years such as guns, tents, sleeping bags, cook sets, and other items that are not left except in distress situations.  By the same token, hikers in good condition, with scrambling ability, prepared for an over night, will see a unique site of a civilization defeated by nature.  The warnings are to assist the qualified hikers, and not to discourage this trip.


Highlights:


Waterfalls, V canyon, spires, historic Skaguay Power Plant Ghost Town..

Near:

Victor, CO - below Skaguary Reservoir

Scenery:

Steep V Canyon, roaring river, river bottom, rock fields, artifacts.

Distance:

10 mile roundtrip estimates seemed short and did not reflect actual walking distance or difficulty

Elevation Gain:

2,800 ft. -  difficult to determine

Hike Time:

6 hours down and 7 hours back - very slow in places - overnight likely

Difficulty:

Difficult  - some danger from rock scrambling & flash floods - one of the toughest ever for me

Trail Condition:

None at the bottom - rounded river bottom rocks - scrambling - waist high water crossings (August)

Hike Type:

Seasons

Down and back

Summer - I would not consider this hike in possible heavy rain or snow conditions

 

 

 

Skaguay Top 

This picture from the "top" before the descent.

The top part of the trail is beautiful walk beside a slow moving stream.  Aspen trees and cow pasture dominate.

 

Skaguay Trail 

Skaguay Trail

I am not trying to be funny, but this represents the "trail" that you will need to walk down.  I made 32 river crossings during the trip down and back.  Most were mandatory in that there were no reasonable alternatives.  One was "hazardous" but crossings became somewhat routine during the course of the trip.  This trail is not for the faint of heart.  Flash floods are a danger in rainstorms.

 

Skaguay Waterfall

Waterfalls in the V Canyon

There are a long series of small waterfalls similar to this one with pools at their base.  To get around these portions of the route, some rock scrambling was required in addition to some ledge climbing.  But, what could go wrong when climbing on a sticker covered ledge with a 20 foot drop wearing a full pack, with wet boots?  I kept asking this.

 

Skaguay Up Look 

Alternate Trail

There are always choices.  During certain parts of the route, a choice exists to climb up, and to climb through the rock field or attempt the ledge rather than fighting the bush in the river bottom.

  

 

 

 

 

Skaguay Boiler 

One of the three metal pipings that indicate you are within a 1/2 mile of the Power Plant.  The Power Plant is located on a shelf on the west side on the trail and is elevated about 300 feet from the river.  It is easy to miss and walk by.  However, there is a barbed wire fence in the middle of river bottom that corresponds with the plant location.  Look up and the white outhouse is visible.  Sorry no picture, but it is the lower white house that is visible.

I climbed the rock field dump (trash from early days) to the fence line on the hill to reach the plant.  The other alternative is to go some to the south, and climb the hill.  There are even 5 cement stairs to make the first look even more dramatic.

 

 

Skauay Up to Plant 

Skaguay Plant

Main building

"It was the type of 19th century scheme that would be too labor intensive, too dangerous and too audacious to tackle today. To make the dam, the men packed an adjacent granite mountain top with 13,000 pounds of explosives, blew it to smithereens, then carted the rubble down to the canyon. The pipeline was crafted almost entirely of slender redwood staves fashioned together by hand into what was essentially a 5-mile-long barrel snaking along a shelf blasted into the cliffs."  Gazette

The laborers lived in remote, primitive tent camps. Their work was hard, and safety precautions were sparse. One worker was crushed by falling rocks. "The miracle of the Skaguay Power Plant," wrote Winfred Ward Clark in a short history of the project, "is that it was built in the first place."

 

The Plant

Entry Door 

 

 

 

Main living house

 

Plant Inside 

4 General Electric Turbines create the electricity

 

Turn it on

Turn it on, turn it on, turn it on!

"The big iron water wheels that spun for decades under 500 pounds of pressure stood in place, too strong and heavy for looters."

 

  "Engineer R.M. Jones hired 500 men who worked simultaneously at three camps. One crew built a steel-plated rock dam to create Skaguay Reservoir. One crew built a pipeline that snaked along the canyon cliffs to carry water to the plant. And one crew began blasting a level spot on the side of the canyon where a thick metal pipe would plunge 1,200 feet to the canyon floor, providing the pressure to turn five turbines."  DAVE PHILIPPS Colorado Springs Gazette

Electric panels

In 1942 a flood washed out the tram track and cut Skaguay off from the outside world for three weeks.

The big one came in 1965. Fifteen days of rain caused flooding all over the state and killed 21 people. On June 17 it started to pour and just kept pouring. Woodland Park's rain gauge climbed to 6 inches, then overflowed. A tornado swirled near Guffey. In Cripple Creek, 8 inches of hail piled up. Locals watched a 2-foot wall of water surge down Second Street.

High above Skaguay, Cripple Creek had three reservoirs on Beaver Creek to store drinking water. No one knows how much rain fell on the slopes that drain into Beaver Creek, but it was enough to tear a 30-yard gash in the dam of the highest reservoir. More than 2 million gallons gushed down and wiped out the next reservoir, which knocked out the reservoir below it. The flood formed a tsunami churning with cabins, trees and dozens of cows, and it slammed right into the Skaguay dam. Witnesses saw a 5-foot wall of water pouring over the dam. Beyond all expectations, the dam survived.

The plant didn't.

The little Eden was untouched by the flood, but the slurry of gravel and cattle and trees plugged the pipeline to the power plant with more than a mile of silt. Another half-mile of pipe was destroyed. The reservoir was filled with 15 feet of debris.

At first, the power company vowed to restore the plant. But the repairs must have looked too costly, especially since by 1965 the country was focused on innovative nuclear power and cheap coal. Fixing an antiquated hydro plant may not have seemed to make sense.

The place was abandoned.

It was too rugged for the power company to salvage the generators or even bring in equipment to knock down the buildings. The land reverted to the government. In the remote canyon, almost everything was left in place. (from Gazette)

 

Bunkhouse

Another Outbuilding

Warren, Harry & Frank Woods entered the Victor scene in 1892.  Their largest project, aside from the Gold Coin Mine, was the development of the Pikes Peak Power Company, which supplied Victor with hydroelectric power from a dam they built forming Skaguay Reservoir. The plant sold power to Victor, Cripple Creek and Pueblo and was the forerunner of the Southern Colorado Power Company. The power station has long since shut down but the Woods’ innovation began the modernization of the Victor area in 1899. The Woods’ empire ended in 1927.  (link below)

In 1900, the main ore vein of the Gold Coin Mine pinched out and its profits declined precipitously.  Then, to heap even more misfortune on misery, the expensive and inefficient Economic Mill burned.  The vultures began to circle above Victor.  The Woods empire was worth $45 million, but who knew how much debt it rested on?  Rumors of an impending collapse caused a run on their First National Bank of Victor.  Another important source of cash and credit dried up.  The vultures pecked at the Woods empire until it could no longer be sustained.  It slowly collapsed under a mountain of debt until finally the Woods Investment Company closed its doors in 1910.

Harry moved to California to start a new fortune in the oil business.  He died in moderately comfortable circumstances in 1928.  Frank suffered many personal tragedies, first losing his son in a mining accident, and later his daughter and two wives.  Frank made every attempt at a financial comeback, but great success eluded him.  When he died in Los Angeles in 1932, his friends had to take up a collection to pay for his burial.

 

Looking down from the plant to the river - or "the trail"

 

 

View from the Plant. 

"The dry, vertical country resisted all attempts to be tamed. There were no precious metals to attract miners, no real forage or trees to attract ranchers or loggers, no easy way through to attract road builders. The only potential draw was the water surging over the boulders on its way from Pikes Peak to the Arkansas River, and that too, proved tough to tame. "  Gazette

Looking up - no easy short cuts
 

Skagway Power Plant Found! this from Guy Mason

Guy Mason account

'Some of my friends have been trying to get to an old abandoned hydroelectric powerplant in out in the wilderness for years. This place was built in 1901 and was used until 1960something when flooding knocked if offline permanently. They have conducted about 14 trips looking for it, unsuccessfully. On recent trips they followed the penstock, the old wood and metal hoop water pipe, but could only get so far as sections of it were washed away and bridges were missing or unstable. This was my third trip, and second one when I had some idea where it was supposed to be. Last time I took a route on the canyon floor along the creek. There is a sort of "trail" here so it should be easy, but in many places the trail disappears and you're stuck between a fast flowing creek and a 600 foot high wall of rock. I've opted to climb over the rocks most times, and it was grueling. Last time I ended up getting stranded with thunderstorms, soaked, in the dark, and it took me six hours to get back to my motorcycle, where on the way home I ended up with hypothermia. This time similar things happened, but I was smarter and camped and took my new AWD vehicle which can handle the dirt roads that get near the location nicely. As it turned out it was right off the creek about 75 feet up and only 5 miles down the creek. Considering I still couldn't figure out how to hike along the creek without making severe climbing detours, it was by far the most grueling hike I've ever taken. Hazards included; slippery wet rocks and trees, a boulder that came loose and pushed me down a hill, temporarily pinning me against a tree, water way above my boots, trees across the creek, and apparently a christian fundamentalist camp somewhere. I made it though, battered, bruised, and tattered. Hooray! I don't think I'll be doing more hiking soon."

This account is likely typical.  I did not go hiking for a month after this trip.

 

my Links

Skaguay

http://www.gazette.com/articles/canyon_37887___article.html/skaguay_power.html

http://www.flickr.com/groups/skaguay/ 

http://odd-1-out.com/Skaguay.htm

http://www.victorcolorado.com/history.htm

http://gorp.away.com/gorp/resource/us_wilderness_area/co_beave.htm

http://www.web-xpres.com/stcfgdrtour.htm

http://cripplecreekpackages.com/images/page29.pdf

Skaguay: The Miracle of the Gold Camp Near Cripple Creek & Victor
By Winfred Ward Clark
Published by s.n., 1989
Steel Dams
By Otis Ellis Hovey
Published by American Institute of Steel Construction, 1935
Original from the University of Wisconsin - Madison
Digitized Jul 16, 2007
122 pages
This Game of Ghosts
By Joe Simpson
Edition: reissue, illustrated
Published by The Mountaineers Books, 1994
ISBN 0898864607, 9780898864601

 

 

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