Little Giant Basin  
Maps:        
USGS 7.5' Map: Howardsville
Statistics:
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 2   2.70 10,200 to 12,050 ft. Ledge Section 1-2 hours
County: San Juan
Adopted by:      
Managed by: San Juan County
BLM, Tres Rios Field Office
1557 Greene Street, Silverton, CO 81433
29211 Highway 184, Dolores, Colorado 81323
 
(970)882-7296
Summary: The Little Giant Basin 4WD road leaves the Arrastra Gulch road and climbs the side of King Solomon Mountain to reach the Little Giant Basin. There is one short ledge road section to navigate. At the top are the Big Giant Mine and the Black Prince Mine.
Attractions: Mining, Lakes
Seasonal
Closure:
Natural - Closed by heavy snow.
Best Time: June - May still be snowed in
July - Best
August - Best
September - Best
October - Early snows may close
Trail Heads
Accessed:
 
Camping:
Base Camp: This would be a good place to base camp and explore the mining roads around Silverton.
Fall Colors: Average - The lower section passes through some aspen groves.
Navigation: From Silverton, CO. head northeast on Greene Street toward E 13th Street for 0.3 miles. Turn right onto County Rd 2 and go 2.0 miles. Turn right onto County Rd 52 and go 1.1 miles. look for a sharp left turn. This is the Little Giant Basin 4WD road.
History: In 1870 Dempsey Reese, Miles T. Johnson, Abnah French, and Thomas Blair, who were members of the original Baker Party that explored the area where Silverton is today in 1860, were searching for the source of the placer gold. They started searching in the exposed rock above timberline along Cunningham Gulch but found and staked three silver claims, no gold. They continued searching in Mason Gulch, later known as Arrastra Gulch, and found a gold vein in a side drainage to the east naming it the Little Giant, thus claiming the first hard rock gold claim in the area. The group brought the ore down from thier mine using a 1000 foot tram and used an arrastra to crush the ore. An arrastra is an enclosed circular stone bed with a post in the center that an arm is attached to. An animal, like a mule, pulls the arm which has large stones attached around the circle. Ore is placed in the stone bed that is crushed by the larger stones. This was the first profitable mine in the San Juan area, and the first milling process to take place, after Charles Baker and his group explored the area in 1860. The group kept the discovery a secret. After collecting enough ore to fill the pack train of mules they headed out of the San Juans and the strike was revealed.

News of the strike spread fast and by the fall of 1870 other prospectors were searching all around Arrastra Gulch. The original group took thier ore to Santa Fe to be assessed and the samples were found to be very rich. Reese and French returned in the spring of 1871 with financial backing from the Governor of New Mexico Territory as well as six other men. Late in 1971 they sold a part share of the Little Giant Mine to E. M. Hamilton who as partial payment had a prefab crushing mill shipped to the mine. The mill parts made it to Santa Fe by 1872 but went no further as no freighter wanted to haul the heavy equipment into the San Juans, which was still Ute territory. Martin Van Buren Wason came to Hamilton's rescue and secured ten heavy wagons to freight the mill into the San Juans. The mill was sent over Stony Pass in 1872 by the first wagons to cross the pass. The freighters made the wagons into sleds and lowered them down the western side of the pass using ropes around trees to slow their decent. The mill did not arrive until late in the year and would have to remain un-built until July of 1873. The Little Giant Mill was built 1,600 feet down slope from the mine. It used a Dodge crusher to pulverize the ore into small cobbles, then a battery of stamps broke these to sand and gravel. Next a ball mill pulverized the sand and gravel to a slurry which was flowed over tables coated with mercury to leach out the gold. With the mill running the ore was reported to assay at $1000 to $4000 a ton. The Little Giant was only worked for a few years after 1872 producing a few hundred tons of ore. The vien turned out to be small and the claim was filed before the area was the property of the United States causing disputes over title. The mine became abandonded in 1874.

Up in Little Giant Basin, as early as 1879, prospectors were driving a tunnel south into a cliff on the floor of Little Giant Basin to undercut the Big Giant vein at depth. They erected several buildings including a tunnel house to support activity underground. A small crew of miners drove the tunnel to the impressive length of 400 feet where they struck a vein laced with gray copper and silver ore. Down the gulch to the north, a party of prospectors hoped for the same result and pushed an exploratory tunnel toward the Black Prince vein.

In 1902, W.B. Severn, L.H. Chadwick, organized the Black Prince Gold Mining Company with the intent of developing the forgotten Black Prince vein. With Contention's mill and tramway, the Black Prince was almost a ready made mine. During the fall, the company put a large crew to work driving the main tunnel toward the vein and erecting a well-appointed surface plant. The tramway from the Contention Mill to the North Star Mine was shortened to connect with the Balck Prince. Workers erected a new terminal directly under the original Contention system and linked it to the Black Prince with a rail line. When the adjustments were finished, the Black Prince company operated the mine and mill with success at first. But, the ore increased in complexity with depth and the mill was only recovering a fraction of the metals content. By 1904, the company closed the mine but continued to run the mill as a custom facility with ore from other mines in the area.

The Big Giant Mine saw renewed activity during the World War I revival. William Keith drove a tunnel to the Big Giant Vein and built a mill in 1895, but the ore was too complex and Keith abandoned the operation within several years. Peter Orella came to the conclusion that the vein had high potential that Keith left undeveloped. When metal values began to increase in 1914, Peter Orella leased the Big Giant, Contention Mill, and Contention tramway. He rehabilitated the surface plant and underground workings and connected the Big Giant with the Contention tramway. Originally, the Contention Mining Company built the tramway to connect the Contention Mill on the Animas River with the North Star Mine outlet at the head of Little Giant Basin. In 1902, the Black Prince Gold Mining Company bought the tramway and adapted it to their operation around one-half mile below the Big Giant. In so doing, the Black Prince company shortened the tramway, leaving a gap between the Black Prince terminal and the Big Giant. To span this distance, Orella built a double-rope reversible segment and reused the old Keith Mill structure as his upper terminal. Orella wisely realized that the Contention Mill would probably not treat the complex Big Giant ore and sent batches to the Silver Lake and Highland Mary mills for testing. In 1916, Orella hired Louis Bastian to install a flotation flow path almost identical to that at the Highland Mary Mill. Once finished, the facility treated ore not only from the Big Giant, but also from independent customers. Although Orella continued to lease the mine, he bought the Contention Mill to retain his investment in the facility.

During the fall of 1916, Orella collected up the tailings left in Little Giant Basin by the 1889 North Star Mill and sent them to the Contention Mill to be processed. The terminal at the Big Giant was the nearest place to load the tailings, but a deep chasm blocked easy access. To overcome this, Orella built another double-rope system that ascended from the terminal up to a loading station on the basin floor, where workers transferred the material. Orella's complicated tramway system now included the tailings segment from the upper basin down to the Big Giant terminal, the double-rope segment from the Big Giant terminal to the Black Prince, and the Bleichert tramway to the Contention Mill. By 1917, Orella realized that despite the flotation installed by Bastian, the Big Giant ore was still too complex to be easily treated. Because shipping the ore as crude material was not feasible, he closed the Big Giant by 1918 while continuing to run the mill as a custom facility.

In 1920, the high value of silver caused the Black Prince Mine to be worked again. J. Robert Crouse and H.A. Tremaine of Chicago recognized the property's potential because, like its Big Giant neighbor, the vein had never been developed to depth. The property required little capital because it already featured a 500-foot tunnel and an excellent surface plant. In 1920, a crew completed necessary repairs and began driving a haulage tunnel. By the end of 1920, the Black Prince had all the makings of a great operation. By the spring of 1921, miners made the long-awaited breakthrough into the main vein. In driving the haulage tunnel, the engineer followed the proper practice of undercutting the formation at depth so miners could work the ore body from the bottom up. There was one problem, however, there was no ore. The vein was highly mineralized, but lacked payrock of economic worth. The company was forced to suspend operations.

P. David Smith The Road that Silver Built Lake City, Colorado: Western Reflections Publishing, 2009. Print.
Twitty, Eric Basins of Silver Lake City, Colorado: Western Reflections Publishing, 2009. Print.
Twitty, Eric Historic Mining Resouces of the San Juan County, Colorado United States Department of the Interior: OMB No.1024-0018, Print.
Description:
The road up into Little Giant Basin begins off of the Arrastra Gulch road east of Silverton. You will take a left turn off of County Road 52 and climb up the north side of the lower section of Little Giant Peak. The road will be a two track with spots to pass other vehicles. The road climbs through the pine trees and will come to a short narrow ledge section where the road is cut into a small cliff. Be cautious here.
Heading up from Arrastra Gulch

photo by:
Adam M

After getting around the ledge section you will continue to climb up into the forest through three switchbacks. The road will level out a bit after the last switchback. From here it is less than a mile to the Balck Prince Mine.
Black Prince Mine

photo by:
Adam M

Black Prince Mine

photo by:
Adam M

At the Black Prince mine there are some cabin remains, a tram tower and a well built rock retaining wall that was once a covered access from the mine shaft. The mine was in a fault in the cliff, which was later converted to a tram stations. The remains of the station are still there. After leaving the Black Prince Mine you can continue up Little Giant Basin to the upper basin. The road will be on the east side of the basin climbing up behind the mine.
Heading to the upper basin

photo by:
Adam M

In the upper basin the road will pass by the remains of the Big Giant Mill and tram sation and continue up to the head of the basin.
Big Giant Mill and tram station- 2015

photo by:
Adam M

Big Giant Mill and tram station - 2000

photo by:
Adam M

Big Giant Mill and tram station - 2000

photo by:
Adam M

In the upper basin is a small lake. The road will end just past the lake at the tailings of the Big Giant Mine.
Lake in the upper basin

photo by:
Adam M

Upper basin, Little Giant Peak in the center.

photo by:
Adam M

From here you will head back down the way you came up.
Heading down from the upper basin

photo by:
Adam M

Switchbacks down to the Black Prince Mine

photo by:
Adam M

Tight ledge section ahead, going down.

photo by:
Adam M

Data updated - March 6, 2016       4WD Road driven - August 14, 2015       Copyright 4X4Explore.com - 2000-2016