A rubble-of-rock road in a narrow mountain canyon equates to a bumpy, bone-rattling drive - a jolting keep-you-awake ride, especially when there’s no place to pull over for an oncoming vehicle! After bouncing along at a snail’s pace for three tedious miles, we finally arrive at the Miners Basin parking area where the sudden lack of momentum feels amazingly good.
The cool pine-scented air is so refreshing as I stretch to work out the kinks in my stiffened body. After that I pause for a few moments to take inventory of my surroundings - the stream-fed pond, the gently swaying aspens, the inviting flower-filled meadow and the northern range of the La Sal Mountains that cradle this basin in three directions.
The road continues to Bachelor Basin, but vehicular traffic is blocked at the red gate, which is just above the parking area. That’s okay with me. I am definitely ready to get off my butt and use my feet! At the gate, I have a choice – left for the Trans La Sal Trail or right to stay on the road. I opt for the road – a shorter although steeper route that passes the abandoned mining town of Miners Basin on route to my goal of Bachelors Basin.
Only a few buildings remain– enough, however, to spark the imagination of what must have been. By July 1899, the population had exploded to almost 70 – twelve of them women. This bustling town, which was referred to as “The Basin”, had 27 cabins, a grocery store, two restaurants, two saloons, a hotel and boarding house where dances were held, a livery and feed stable, shoemaker’s shop, mining office, deputy sheriff, post office and a Sunday School.
But the miner’s dreams of getting rich faded fast. The gold discovered in 1897 turned out to be a low-grade ore - and with an economic downturn in 1907 – boom turned to bust. By 1910 probably less than a dozen people remained.
A short distance beyond “The Basin” - around the bend of a switchback - a small wooden structure pops into view. This historic remnant provides a handy excuse to stop and poke around to look at all the nearby memorabilia – an ore cart, a mineshaft called the Dillon Tunnel, and a stream that gushes from its opening as it flows across a tailings pile.
Once back on the road, my serious workout begins – a long, long grunt to Miners Pass, which is between Horse Mountain and Mount Wass. With every step through the firs, spruce and aspens, I steadily feel the altitude and the abrupt incline. I am, however, compensated with an endless bouquet of wildflowers: narrowleaf paintbrush, crimson columbine, heartleaf arnica – an aster that resembles a splashy yellow daisy - and the dainty blue blooms of Jacob’s ladder, a plant with compound fern-like leaves that resemble tiny ladders.
I’ve walked this road before and coming upon the remains of an old building, I think that my climb is coming to an end. My memory, however, deceives me. I don’t remember it being this much further to the top! It’s been a steady uphill grunt for way too long, and when I finally do get to the pass with a wide-open western view of Behind The Rocks, Moab and the Henry Mountains, I am ready for lunch!
Letting my heavy pack plop to the ground, I immediately lean back against a rock to enjoy the coolness of a hefty breeze that sways the tall skinny firs highlighted against a soft blue sky. A swath of bright yellow draws my attention to a wealth of golden banner flowers providing a bounty of nectar for a variety of butterflies, who drift from blossom to blossom, sampling the sweet goodies while bees busily make their own appointed rounds.
Once up and on the march again, I immediately walk past the old road on the left that goes to Willow Basin. A little further a cairn marks the continuation of the Trans La Sal Trail that connects up with the old road. Through this stretch I am delighted to find a wealth of blue columbines – exquisitely designed beauties that are a trademark of the high country.
At the next junction I go left – as the right fork winds up to some old mines that cling precariously to a talus slope. Soon I’m exploring Bachelors Basin, where presumably only men “the bachelors” lived – mainly prospectors from Leadville, Colorado. Back at that time it must have been a major feat to get here, as well as a major feat to live and work in such isolation. All we have as evidence of their presence is a rock chimney, a cabin with a boarded up window that still has a roof, an old metal pipe, an ore car and a bullet-riddled gas can.
The road finally ends at the high alpine basin on the edge of timberline and flanked by high ridges and sheer jagged cliffs, it is a very exposed location - but somehow the sky pilot and purple fringe flowers have taken a liking to this jumble-of rock place.
I’ve never been to Bachelor Basin before so it was definitely worth the rough ride and long trek to satisfy my curiosity – an intriguing investigation of many of the remnants of times gone by.