Skaguay Power Plant
"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 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
Skaguay Power Plant,
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
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).
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.
Waterfalls, V canyon, spires, historic Skaguay Power Plant Ghost Town..
- below Skaguary Reservoir
Steep V Canyon, roaring river, river bottom,
rock fields, artifacts.
10 mile roundtrip estimates seemed short and did not reflect
actual walking distance or difficulty
2,800 ft. - difficult to determine
down and 7 hours back - very slow in places - overnight likely
Difficult - some danger from rock scrambling
& flash floods - one of the
toughest ever for me
None at the bottom - rounded river bottom rocks -
scrambling - waist high water crossings (August)
Down and back
Summer - I would not consider this hike in
possible heavy rain or snow conditions
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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
Main living house
4 General Electric Turbines
create the electricity
Turn it on, turn it on, turn
"The big iron water wheels that spun for decades under
500 pounds of pressure stood in place, too strong and heavy for
"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."
Colorado Springs Gazette
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
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)
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
from the plant to the river - or "the trail"
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
'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.
Skaguay: The Miracle of the Gold Camp Near Cripple Creek & Victor
By Winfred Ward Clark
Published by s.n., 1989
By Otis Ellis Hovey
Published by American Institute of Steel Construction, 1935
Original from the University of Wisconsin - Madison
Digitized Jul 16, 2007
This Game of Ghosts
By Joe Simpson
Edition: reissue, illustrated
Published by The Mountaineers Books, 1994
ISBN 0898864607, 9780898864601