Eleven thousand feet above sea level on headwaters of Wightman Fork at base of South Mountain (12,555 altitude) is Summitville. Through 100 years of mining and shutdowns, South Mountain gave more than seven and a half million dollars worth of mineral metals, gold, silver, lead, and copper, most of it in gold, from an area that measures 4,000 feet long by 1,000 feet wide.
Copyright: O'Rourke-USDA Forest Service
Summitville - 7.70
There is no way to measure the excitement that blazed in men's hearts and minds as they prospected and placered out here under the sun or worked in the dark tunnels within old South Mountain. There are about three miles of tunnels in that mountain.
In 1870, five friends, Midwesterners, met in Santa Fe -- Wightman, Baker, French, Reese, Boran, somehow, by June, found their way without a guide to this remote country. Here they found enough signs of gold to keep them prospecting and sluicing all summer. The last two left in November, struggling in waist-deep snow to get out and down to the Rio Grande. Word of "Wightman's Gulch" spread over winter and before deep snows had gone next spring hundreds of men were here, prospecting all over the mountains, even to the Alamosa and Conejos Valleys. "Summit" became the greatest camp of the area.
When placer mining changed to deep-load mining in South Mountain, Summit proudly became Summitville. By 1885 it had 2,500 registered claims (many never worked). The famous producing mines -- the Esmond, the Little Annie, Ida, Golden Queen, Margaret, Major, Yellow Jacket, Golden Star, Summit, Iowa, and Summitville (richest vein was the Little Annie, 17 feet wide, with ore assaying from $80 to $2,000 a ton), boasted 113 stamping (crushing machines) supplying six processing mills, stores, saloons, homes, boarding house, post office, school, nearby slaughter house, sawmill, and 700 population. Summitville was the highest mining town in Colorado and famous for deep snow.
By the 1890's Summitville was a deserted ghost town. Snow, ice, cave-ins, and landslides blocked and filled tunnels and collapsed buildings. But always, the old prospectors and miners vowed with a faraway look in their eyes, "I know it's there." And always it was -- the Pickens-Wylie strike in 1926; the productive years of the 1930's; and the 1950's and 1960's and today.
A strange story of the Frenchman's Treasure shimmers in the mountains of this area. The tale is laid back in the 18th century: 300 Frenchmen came by way of the Arkansas River to the San Juans...mining a mountain of gold...death by disasters, privations, by Indian attack and perhaps by the Spanish...the gold treasure buried...only two men escaping...then one who got back to France with a map showing where the gold had been cached.
The Legend of the Frenchmen's Buried Treasure persists, with all kinds of theories. Some people think the Frenchmen first found their way up this creek to their mountain of gold. Some still hunt for that lost gold. Some think it has been found and secretly carried off.
Directions from Alamosa River Road 250: Hikers can reach the area off of Alamosa River Road 250 via Wightman Fork, about five miles east of Stunner Campground.
Directions from Del Norte: Drive southwest of Del Norte on Forest Road 15. At the junction, head west on Forest Road 330. This gravel road becomes dirt after you pass Grayback Mountain. Stay east of the radio facility.