Weminuche Wilderness

This picture of the Weminuche Wilderness was taken directly above Runlett Peak. The sloping hill in the foreground is Middle Mountain and directly across the valley starting on the left and working to the right is Endlich Mesa, Sheridan Mountain (13,748 ft / 4,190 m), (11,933 ft / 3,637 m), (13,018 ft / 3,968 m), Amherst Mountain (13,170 ft / 4,015 m) and Organ Mountain (13,808 ft / 4,209 m).

In the distance are Twilight Peak (13,159 ft / 4,010 m), Pigeon Peak (13,973 ft / 4,258 m), Mount Valois (13,185 ft / 4,018 m), Aztec Mountain (13,310 ft / 4,056 m), Mount Eolus (14,085 ft / 4,293 m) and the Needle Mountains. Continuing to the right of those we have Grizzly Peak (13,428 ft / 4,092 m) , Greylock Mountain (13,575 ft / 4,137 m), Jagged Mountain (13,830 ft / 4,215 m), Vallecito Mountain (13,428 ft / 4,092 m) and to the very right edge of the image is Storm King Peak (13,752 ft / 4,191 m).

Zedekiah: “I took this image flying east bound towards Alamosa, Colorado. I am shooting north westerly and yes it was very cold with the window open.”


On the ridge in the foreground buried under the snow is the ghost town of Tuckerville, Colorado. The story of how this tiny camp town was founded is rather interesting:

Somewhere located where Weaselskin Creek empties into Vallecito River, just North of the present Vallecito campground, to the North of the lake, there is a legendary Weaselskin Gold mine that belonged to Old (Jim) Weaselskin (a Ute Indian born 1850) & his extended family. Weaselskin acquired his name from numerous weasel skins he always wore.

Summers would find the Weaselskin family packing and beginning their long hike up the steep trail to Endlich Mesa (high mountain mesa that sets above and to the west of Vallecito River Valley). Endlich Mesa was dotted with tiny lakes, rock formations, random patches of trees and located above the tree line. The white men that settled Vallecito River Valley named one of Endlich Mesa’s swift running streams Weaselskin Creek in honor of the Old Indian who used this location as a summer pasture for his horses for many years.

Besides a creek and bridge named after him, Weaselskin’s claim to fame was the legendary Weaselskin Gold Mine. The Gold mine was said to have nuggets by the handfuls. Exactly where it was located is unknown.

On their trip to and from the mountains, the Weaselskins & his extended Ute family became well acquainted with the few settlers who lived along the way. They got to know the Charlie Waldner family who owned a ranch far up the Florida (Flo-re-dah) River above the present Lemon Reservoir just over the mountain to the west of Vallecito. Weaselskin often stopped there on his journeys to Durango, and the Waldners fed him a meal in order to cultivate his friendship. At this time the Natives still caused a certain amount of fear in the settlers, and they figured it was safer to be on good terms with them.

The visits became a routine. As Weaselskin made his way from his mountain camp to Durango, he would stop by the Waldner ranch and have a meal. As he prepared to leave, he would give them a gold nugget to repay them for their kindness.

After a time, Mr. Waldner started thinking that he wasn’t being fair, taking all these nuggets for just a few meals. He might cause Weaselskin to run out of his best trading commodity. On the next visit, when Weaselskin tried to pay, Waldner offered to give some of the gold back, but Weaselskin refused. He was happy with the arrangement. To him the food was worth every nugget.

Weaselskin and some of his companions ventured into a store in Durango one day and found that the owner of the store had just boiled up a pan of wieners. The proprietor generously handed out a number of them to the eager group, and then was quite surprised when they gave him gold nuggets to repay him for the kindness he had shown them.

For many years the Utes continued to come up to their favorite hunting and herb-gathering spot, but after the white settlers started to settle on the Los Pinos and Vallecito Rivers, things started changing. It became increasingly difficult to get onto their choicest grounds and the Utes graduallly lost their freedom to roam at will. Old Weaselskin died during the influenza epidemic in 1918 while living on his land allotment near the Sunnyside Bridge on the Animas River. This was the bridge that was later re-named “Weaselskin Bridge” in his honor.

Tuckerville was the small mining camp near Vallecito at Cave Basin in 1913. Cave Basin is located on Middle Mountain, in the foreground of this image. In the main mining area at Cave Basin a five-foot vein of good copper and galena (lead ore) was found.

As hard as the miners tried to keep this exciting news under cover, the secret was soon out and hordes of eager men soon followed. It finally played out in 1928 and the camp town was abandoned.

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