Gunnison County Road #3, Crystal Mill

#1
While you plan your week long epic journeys through the mountain passes around Telluride, Ouray and Silverton, I highly recommend taking an excursion to the north towards the town of Marble and Crystal.

The Crystal Mill is an air compressor station that has been noted for being the most photographed spot in Colorado. Marble, the town at the trail head, is a small mining community where they quarry.......you guessed it...Marble. Yule Marble, which most of us have at least seen in pictures as the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unkowns were made from the stuff. The town is cool, and has marble parking spots, sculptures, etc. It's a bit of a tourist trap thanks to the mill, but it's much smaller and has a more "raw" feeling to it than the typical "Silverton" style Colorado towns. There is only one smokehouse/bar in the town, and it's worth stopping at, the food is great.

The trail rates as a light 3 on the 10 point scale, any stock 4wd with low range will traverse it easily and the view of the mill at the end is breathtaking. If you are planning a longer overland trip, I suggest looking into taking the Schofield Pass on your way out (I haven't done it yet), but we did do the Lead King Basin loop to get back to Marble (highly recommended). For beginners, it might be better just to come out the way you came in. Both Lead King and Schofield are more technical in nature.

I've made a quick trip video you can find below and skip through it for some views of the scenery, or tolerate my narration for some more history of the area:
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Ace Brown

Adventurer, Overland Certified OC0019
#2
I have done this run several times, usually doing Lead King as a loop. But have also gone over Schoefield a few times. Your description is excellent but a few additional comments are warranted. The road to Crystal is easy unless you meet others. Plenty of places where passing can be quite difficult. Lead King is a bit more difficult and dangerous if wet.

Now speaking of danger, Schoefield is considered the most dangerous trail in Colorado. The area around the Devils Punchbowl has claimed, I believe, 19 lives. The trail is very narrow with very few places for passing. If a vehicle goes off a shelf road it's probably going to be fatal. I just lead a big group up there in September and decided never again with more than three rigs. That sign is no exaggeration.
 
#4
I agree. We did the Lead King loop on the 24th (that was the non-fall footage in the video). We had a big group, but we were ok. It wasn't wet, so thanks for the heads up. The Crystal Road was fine wet, even the mud bogs weren't that bad.

Schofield pass scares me. Mainly due to the width. I've heard of people doing it in their 4Runners and having to stick a wheel over the edge. Did you have to do that too, Ace Brown? My H3 and Range Rover all have a track width a few inches wider than a 5th gen 4Runner and I don't trust my disco 2 brakes yet. I'd probably attempt Black Bear before Schofield. I don't like trails where I can die if I take a wrong line...
 
#5
In the last two or three decades many of the 4WD trails have deteriorated significantly. The states and federal agencies are not spending the money to maintain them. Without maintenance, gravity and water always win. Trails fill in on the high side, erode away on the low side and wash out down the middle.

The high profile destination trails, e.g Alpine Loop, are maintained. Many of the secondary (low tourist dollar potential) routes do not.
 
#8
Thanks for posting, I really enjoyed your video. I've been there a number of times going all the way back to 1964 when I was 11 years old.

"In the last two or three decades many of the 4WD trails have deteriorated significantly."

That is so true! In 1974 I actually drove a '74 Dodge Charger with bias-ply highway tires from Marble to Crystal. I was there in 2014 on a dual-sport moto and rode up to Crystal and couldn't believe how much the road had degraded since the 70s.
It's such a beautiful area, my favorite part of Colorado. The road up to the marble mines was also really fun. Last year I visited from the Crested Butte side but didn't make it down to the Punchbowl.
 

Ace Brown

Adventurer, Overland Certified OC0019
#9
I agree. We did the Lead King loop on the 24th (that was the non-fall footage in the video). We had a big group, but we were ok. It wasn't wet, so thanks for the heads up. The Crystal Road was fine wet, even the mud bogs weren't that bad.

Schofield pass scares me. Mainly due to the width. I've heard of people doing it in their 4Runners and having to stick a wheel over the edge. Did you have to do that too, Ace Brown? My H3 and Range Rover all have a track width a few inches wider than a 5th gen 4Runner and I don't trust my disco 2 brakes yet. I'd probably attempt Black Bear before Schofield. I don't like trails where I can die if I take a wrong line...
I doubt I ever hung a tire off but I never got out to look. Black Bear is nothing compared to Schofield. Picture BB with two way traffic; that’s more like Schofield.
 

Ace Brown

Adventurer, Overland Certified OC0019
#10
Nothing too tough about those roads there. I used to take a 1964 VW over them.
You are doing no one a favor by down playing the danger of the trails in this discussion. Not sure of the exact number, but I believe 19 people have died running between Chrystal and Crested Butte. That is dangerous in anyone’s book!
 
#11
You are doing no one a favor by down playing the danger of the trails in this discussion. Not sure of the exact number, but I believe 19 people have died running between Chrystal and Crested Butte. That is dangerous in anyone's book!
Most info I know of says 17, and 9 of them were in one accident in 1970, so the numbers are a bit skewed.


My advice when running a long section of shelf road like that is to have the most capable rig/most experienced driver go first while the rest of the group waits behind. As the leader gets to wide spots where it's possible to pass, they radio back to the rest of the group to move to their position. The leader then goes ahead again and this continues until you're off the shelf road.
 
#12
That's not a bad idea. And if you are in a drone-friendly area, it wouldn't hurt to send the bird down first, you'll want the footage anyway. If the coast is clear, send the first rig down and do what you just said.

It would save everyone a lot of stress.
 
#13
Good idea on the drone. I don't have one, as the last thing I need is another expensive hobby, but do wheel with a couple guys who have them.
 
#14
Ive done schofield in our old built 80 series...I had no idea what I was getting into but it all turned out fine...no passing...just a slow cruise...im in no hurry to run that pass again though. :)