Engineer Pass  
USGS 7.5' Map: Handies Peak, Redcloud Peak, Uncompahgre Peak, Lake City
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 2 Hinsdale Cnty 20
Ouray Cnty 18
23.62 8,700 to 12,800 ft. Rocky, Ledge Road 3-4 hours
County: Hinsdale, San Juan, Ouray
Adopted by:      
Managed by: Hinsdale County

San Juan County

Ouray County
311 N. Henson Street
Lake City, CO 81235

1557 Greene St
Silverton, CO 81433

541 4th Street
Ouray, CO 81427


Summary: Engineer Pass is a historic pass into the San Juan mountain region. It is part of the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. It connects Lake City with the ghost town of Animas Forks. It passes through the ghost towns of Henson, Capitol City, and Rose Cabin.
Attractions: Scenery, History, Ghost Towns
Natural - Closed by heavy snows
Best Time: July - Late after spring snow melt
August - Best
September - Best
Trail Heads

Camping: Their are dispersed sites at the very estern end of Engineer Pass near Lake City.
Base Camp: This would be a good area to base camp. Other 4WD roads in the area include Cinnamon Pass, Wager Gulch, and Jarosa Mesa.
Fall Colors: Good -
Navigation: From Silverton, CO. head northeast on County Rd 2/Greene Street toward 11th Street. Continue to follow Greene Street for 0.7 miles. Continue onto County Rd 34 and go 0.4 miles. Continue onto County Rd 2 for 7.6 miles. Take a slight left to stay on County Rd 2. Go 5.1 miles and turn right to stay on County Rd 2. Go 0.1 miles and turn right to stay on County Rd 2. Go 0.4 miles and take a slight right to stay on County Rd 2. This is the start of the Engineer Pass 4WD road.

From Ouray, CO. head south on US-550/Main Street toward 5th Ave. Continue to follow US-550 South for 3.9 miles. Turn left onto County Rd 18 and go 4.3 miles. Continue onto County Rd 17 and go 2.7 miles. Take a sharp left onto County Rd 2. This is the start of the Engineer Pass 4WD road.

From Lake City, CO. head south on CO-149 South toward 4th Street. Go 0.3 miles and turn right onto 1st Street. Go 0.1 miles and turn left onto County Rd 20. This is the start of the Engineer Pass 4WD road.
History: Engineer Pass was constructed by Otto Mears and was completed in August of 1877. By 1880 the Rocky Mountain Stage and Express Company was providing daily stage service between Lake City and Animas Forks using Engineer Pass.

The town site of Henson is where the Ute and Ulay mines are, and are the reason for the town. They were some of the best know silver and lead producers in Colorado. From 1874 to 1903, the mines produced $12 million worth of minerals. The area was explored in 1871 by Joel Mullen, Albert Mead, Charles Goodwin, and Henry Henson who discovered the Ute and Ulay veins. The mines were in the Ute Indian territory and could not be developed. The Ute's gave up the San Juans in the Brunot Treaty of 1873 and the Henson party returned to the area and began develpment of the mines. In 1876 the Crooke brothers, Lake City mill owners purchased the mines for $125,000. With the toll road over Engineer Pass completed in 1877 along Henson Creek transportation of the ore from the mines was in place. As the Ute Ulay mines were developed they were once again sold for $1.2 million in 1880. As the mines were developed the town site of Henson was laid out, named after Henry Henson. In 1882 a concentration mill and concrete dam were constructed along Henson Creek. A flume brought the water from the dam to the mill to power the machinery.

In 1883 a post office was opened in Henson, but closed again in 1884. In 1892 the post office reopened and stayed open until 1913 during the peak of the mining activity. Henson did have a miners strike by the Italian miners, no bloodshed took place as the strike was settled peacefully by the Italian Consul. After the strike, the mine owners expelled all of the Italian miners, to the dismay of the Italian Consul.

Further up Henson Creek, where the north fork of Henson Creek joins Henson Creek, in a wide open meadow surrounded by high mountains the town of Capital City was started. In 1877 the founders had high hopes of Capital City becoming the state capital, even though it was in such a remote location. This dream was most strongly held by resident George S. Lee. Lee had built a smelter along Henson Creek out of 150,000 bricks. In 1879 Lee's smelter produced $3,900 of bullion and he purchased a second smelter above town. Later that year Lee's optimism was so great for Capital City that he brought his wife to the town and built a two story brick mansion for them to live in. His hopes were that the Mansion would become the home of the Colorado Governor.

Capital City prospered through the late 1880s until silver prices started to drop. Later a small gold boom took place, but in the end the town of Capital City faded, though it did not become the state capital it did last longer than the other towns along Henson Creek. In 1957 the Lee mansion was still standing though half of it had collapsed. Within a few years it was completely gone. By 1982 a new house was being constructed on the site of the mansion. Today, two restored log cabins stand beside the road in the picturesque meadow.

Past the site of Capital City following the main branch of Henson Creek is Rose's Cabin, a stage stop along the toll road from Lake City over Engineer Pass. The "Cabin" was an expansion of Charles Rose's cabin done in 1876 to make room for travelers. In 1880 Charles Schafer took over the Cabin and constructed a larger building allowing William Boot of Mineral Point to operate a store there. The hotel at Rose's Cabin had twenty two small rooms above the main floor, which was a saloon. Hard to imagine anyone got any sleep in the upstairs rooms. Unfortunately the Cabin was not preserved and nothing remains of it. Only the fallen walls of the livery stable mark the site.

Engineer City, though not really ever a town or city, sits below Engineer Pass to the east in a high alpine bowl above timberline. Engineer Mountain had its first claim staked by H. A. Woods in 1874 for the Annie Woods lode and then a year later he located the Polar Star lode near the summit of Engineer Mountain. Woods was not the only prospetor to know about Engineer Mountain. In March of 1875 a Silverton mill owner hired "Sheepskin" Miller to take a party up to Engineer Mountain to stake a claim and bring back ore samples for assessment. Woods also put together a party of three men to travel up Engineer Mountain.
Both parties met on the way to Engineer Mountain and camped near each other at Animas Forks. In the night will the Miller party slept the Woods party quietly left camp and headed up Engineer Mountain arriving at the summit at sunrise. They staked claims and headed back to camp to catch up on their sleep. At around 11:00am they were woken by the sounds of the Miller party preparing to head to the summit. When Miller saw the snowshoe tracks he asked what this meant and the Woods party happily told him he had been scooped.

To provide access to these new claims on American Flats below Engineer Mountain a trail was constructed across the south shoulder of Engineer Mountain and over a slide area. Later the trail was widened to a wagon road and then finally to the wider road across Engineer Pass of today. Following after Woods, Frank Hough also discovered a large silver lode on the other side of Engineer Mountain and established the Hough Mine which became the primary producer of the area. By 1882 a large tent city had formed around the mine. Jack Davison set up a large tent and started the Davison Hotel. By July Davison had upwards of 50 boarder. He packed in food each day to feed his guests. The food being of such good quality that most miners were content with no saloon in the tent city. Finally the name Engineer City was given to the camp. It is not known when Engineer City was abandoned, but the last story about the town was in 1883. Today only the collapsed ruins of a stone power house below Engineer Pass marks the location of the Hough Mine and Engineer City.

Jessen, Kenneth Ghost Towns Colorado Style, Volumn 3, 1st ed. Loveland, Colorado: J.V. Publications, 2001. Print.

Koch, Don. The Colorado Pass Book, 3rd ed. Boulder, Colorado: Pruett, 2000. Print.

Helmuth, Ed and Gloria. The Passes of Colorado Boulder, Colorado: Pruett, 1994. Print.
The west end of Engineer Pass 4WD road begins high above timberline above the ghost town of Animas Forks to the south and the remains of Mineral Point to the west where County Road 17 and County Road 2 connect. You will immediately begin to climb up a series of short and long switchbacks as you ascend the side of Engineer Mountain. The views of the surrounding mountain ranges will be grand. At the second long switchback after starting Engineer Pass will be a side road that contines around a ridge. This road will dead end at a large rock outcropping. From here are views of the Henson Creek drainage on the other side of Engineer Pass. This road once dropped down into Hurricane Basin and Shafer Gulch, but today the talus slope below the rock outcropping has reclaimed the road.

Back at the switchback continue up along a long ledge road that loops around the west side of Engineer Mountain. You will pass some side roads to mine claims and faint trails to prospect holes. As you come around to the north side of Engineer Mountain you will drive onto a long saddle that is Engineer Pass.
View from Engineer Pass

photo by:
Adam M

There is lots of room to park and enjoy the views of the San Juan mountain range. From the pass you will continue down into the Henson Creek drainage. This section of the road will have some rougher parts with areas where run off has rutted spots. The road will still be wide for the most part with areas to pass oncoming traffic. There will be more side roads to old mines, but the main road will be easy to distinguish.
Engineer Pass from the east (road is left of center)

photo by:
Adam M

As you drop down below timberline you will come to an intersection. The road to the right will take you to Shafer Gulch and Hurricane Basin, which dead ends at an old mine site. The left will continue with the main Engineer Pass road. About three quarters of a mile from the intersection is the site of Rose Cabin. The Shafter Gulch road will also tie back into the Engineer Pass road. Past this intersection you will come to the remains of the Bonanza-Empire mine.
1996 photo of Bonanza-Empire mine building

photo by:
Adam M

As the road continues following Henson Creek you will see lots of waterfalls on the opposite side of the valley flowing down the sides of Gravel Mountain. Some are small dropping down the steep slope, others are much larger.

After awhile you will enter into a large flat area where the North Fork of Henson Creek ties in. This is the site of Capital City, once a ghost town but you will find a few private residences in the area now. At the intersection in the road take the right to continue down the valley following Henson Creek. The left will take you up the North Fork of Henson Creek where the road will eventually dead end. The road will drop down closer to Henson Creek as you head down the valley. The next area where you find mine tailings and residences will be the town of Henson.

Just past the town of Henson are the Treasure Falls where Alpine Gulch drops down from Red Mountain. From here the Henson Creek drainage gets narrow again with short sheer cliffs along its banks. After a mile or so you will come out into Lake City.
Data updated - January 20, 2015        4WD Road driven - July 27, 2010        Copyright - 2000-2015