Rising up in majestic splendor from the mesa country of southwestern Colorado, the La Plata Mountains form the rugged southwest margin of the San Juan massif. Looking northeast from historic Mesa Verde, the La Plata Mountains dominate the horizon. To the early Spanish prospectors who came to the American Southwest in the 1700's, the shining La Platas "looked right" for mineralization. The mountains lured and beckoned the Spanish explorers. Spanish prospectors were almost certainly working the La Platas prior to the 1765 expedition of Don Juan Maria de Rivera. When the Escalante-Dominguez expedition of 1776 passed through the La Plata Mountains, they encountered unmistakable signs of earlier Spanish mining activity. (It was Escalante and Dominguez who named the silvery mountains the "La Platas".) Evidence of early Spanish mining activity in the La Plata Mountains was also discovered by American prospectors during the 1870's.
It comes as no surprise that so much interest has been shown in the La Plata Mountains of southwestern Colorado. The mountains would eventually produce nearly a quarter of a million ounces of gold from a number of rich mines. Parrott Mountain (or Parrott Peak) is home to several extremely rich mines including the Lucky Moon, Comstock, and Red Arrow. The Red Arrow Mine produced gold nuggets "the size of hen's eggs". Gold from the Red Arrow Mine was so pure it was shipped directly to the Denver Mint.
Parrott Mountain has another distinction. The rugged peak is home to a number of well-documented lost mines. The Lost Clubfoot Mine is said to be located somewhere on the slopes of Parrott Mountain, just below Sunset Pass near treeline. The Lost Hollingsworth Lode is rumored to lie somewhere on the northern face of the mountain, near the divide between Root Gulch and Snowslide Draw. And then there's the rich vein of gold discovered somewhere along the western base of Parrott Mountain by an eccentric prospector known only as Lone Wolf.
Lone Wolf came to the La Plata country in 1874 (or 1875) after working a stint in the Leadville mines. While prospecting the western slopes of Parrott Mountain, Lone Wolf made the strike of a lifetime. In a narrow, brush-filled ravine near the western base of the mountain Lone Wolf discovered a rich vein of gold-bearing quartz.
Lone Wolf worked his mine for some time. After recovering most of the surface ore, he attempted to sell his gold mine to Horace A. Tabor, the famous Leadville mining mogul. Although Tabor dispatched a mining engineer to appraise the property, the deal fell through. Lone Wolf concealed the vein and then disappeared from the San Juans. Some 30 years later, in 1908, Tabor's mining engineer returned to the area to find Parrott City a ghost town. He was also unable to find any trace of the Lone Wolf mine on Parrott Mountain.
The La Plata Mountains of southwestern Colorado have a long and colorful mining history extending back to the days of the early Spaniards. Evidence of early Spanish mining activities in the La Platas was noted by Escalante and Dominguez when they passed through the area in 1776. A century later, American prospectors stumbled across the same ancient workings.
The first significant discovery of gold in the San Juan Mountains occurred in the Silverton area, some 35 miles northeast of the La Platas. The year was 1860, the first year of the Civil War. Four years later, the Dolores River country was penetrated by a party of prospectors led by Robert Darling. This part of the San Juans proved to be extraordinarily rich. In 1869, the fabulous Pioneer Lode was discovered near present-day Rico. The Rico area, which lies only 15 miles north of the La Platas, would see many rich strikes in the coming years. Immense deposits of ore were uncovered in 1870, 1878, and 1887. The last strike occurred on Newman Hill, near the town itself. It was there that Dave Swickheimer struck the fabulous Enterprise "blanket deposit" of silver-bearing carbonate.
During the early years of the Dolores River rush, the nearby La Plata Mountains slumbered. Although the La Platas had been prospected by the early Spaniards, the rich deposits of gold and silver that laced the mountains still lay hidden. Rumors of their existence circulated among the mining towns and camps of Colorado during the early 1870's. Finally, in 1873, the first major discovery of gold took place in the La Plata Mountains. The early miners found the richest deposits near Parrott Peak, Madden Peak, and Diorite Peak. As the prospectors swarmed into the mountains, mining camps sprang up throughout the area.
Parrott City was one of the earliest mining camps in the La Platas. Founded by a prospector named John Moss, the mining camp was named for a California banker who financed the development of the district. Parrott City boomed during the 1870's, but by the following decade the mines began to falter. In 1883, Parrott City was all but deserted. The La Plata Mountains appeared to be mined out, but one more fantastic strike was left to be made. During the 1930's, the fabulous Red Arrow vein was discovered on the west side of Parrott Mountain. As incredible as it may seem, after nearly 200 years of sporadic and sometimes heavy prospecting, one of the richest lode deposits in the whole district was not discovered until the 1930's!
The La Plata Mountains have produced over 200,000 ounces of gold and a river of silver since 1873. The best mines in the district include the Red Arrow, Lucky Moon, Bessie G, Comstock, Isabel, Cumberland, La Plata, Bulldozer, and Idaho mines.