Rising up majestically from the San Luis Valley, the Blanca Peak complex lies 20 miles northeast of Alamosa, Colorado, in the Sangre de Cristo mountain chain. The Blanca Peak massif forms the pivot point where the Sangre de Cristo chain veers nearly east-west before continuing on its northwest-southeast trend. The Blanca Peak complex is made up of several high peaks ranging in elevation from 13,580 feet (Twin Peaks) to 14,345 feet (Blanca Peak). The Blanca Peak group includes Mount Lindsey (14,042 feet), Little Bear Peak (14,037 feet), Hamilton Peak (13,658 feet), Ellingwood Point (14,042 feet), and California Peak (13,849 feet). Known as the "Sacred Mountain of the East" by the Navajos, Blanca Peak forms a towering landmark which has lured travelers, explorers, and prospectors for centuries. The Blanca Peak complex is bounded by two major gates or pathways through the mountains: La Veta Pass to the east and Mosca Pass to the north. Located 17 miles east of Blanca Peak, La Veta Pass is the most important gateway over the Sangre de Cristo range today. La Veta, which means "The Vein", is indeed the preferred route over the mountains now, but it wasn't always that way. Mosca Pass, located 11 miles north of Blanca Peak, fulfilled that role in the past.
Long before the appearance of the white man, Mosca Pass served as an ancient gateway over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Used by local Indians for centuries, Mosca Pass is home to one of their most sacred sites, the so-called "Lake of Souls". Believed by the Indians to be the birthplace and final resting place of the soul, the "Lake of Souls" occupies an important place in Indian mythology. It is perhaps fitting that it lies just north of the Navaho's "Sacred Mountain of the East", Blanca Peak.
Mosca Pass was a busy thoroughfare prior to the opening of La Veta Pass. Traveled by Indians, mountain men, and explorers, the pass became famous during the early and middle 19th Century. For awhile, the pass was known as Robidoux Pass, after the renowned mountain man Antoine Robidoux. In 1846, George Fredrick Ruxton made use of the pass during his epic journey to the Rocky Mountains. Two years later, the "Pathfinder" John Charles Fremont traversed the pass on his way to the San Luis Valley and the La Garita Mountains beyond.
The Blanca Peak complex served as an important guidepost for all of these mountain men and explorers. But Blanca Peak was also a beacon for prospectors. The rugged granite mountains "looked right" to the miners and prospectors that surveyed them from a distance. Before long, rumors of gold on Blanca Peak began to circulate throughout the region. One of the most famous accounts concerns an Army deserter who passed through the area during the 1870's.
Known as the Lost Mine of Blanca Peak, the hidden deposit has intrigued mining men and prospectors for over a century. It all started during the early 1870's. One of Ula, Colorado's most famous sons, William "Moccasin Bill" Perkins, and a hunting partner whose name has not come down to us, were camping on the slopes of Blanca Peak when a man in tattered Army clothes showed up at their fire. The man turned out to be a deserter from the Army and he had a tale to tell. Only a few hours earlier, "on the other side of the hill from the camp", the soldier had stumbled upon a rich deposit of gold-bearing quartz! The soldier produced a handful of rich gold ore and rough nuggets that he had collected from the deposit. All thoughts of hunting vanished as the astonished men gazed at the rich ore. But try as they might, they could not persuade the soldier to backtrack and show them the location of the deposit. The only thing he would do was draw them a rough map. When the soldier departed, Perkins and his partner eagerly made their way "over the hill", fully expecting to find the gold deposit by the end of the day. They found no gold that day or any other day. The rich gold deposit still remains hidden to this day.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains of south-central Colorado have a venerable mining history extending back to the days of the early Spaniards. The first official Spanish foray into the mountains of southern Colorado was the Rivera expedition of 1765. But the Rivera expedition was preceded and followed by many surreptitious prospecting trips that penetrated much of southern Colorado. In the Sangre de Cristos, evidence of early Spanish mining activity has been found in the Culebra Range, near the Spanish Peaks, in the La Veta area, and in the Crestone Range. But the Spaniards missed every major gold and silver deposit in the state. As the Spanish tide receded, the Colorado mountains resumed their reverie.
But only for awhile. During the early 19th Century, a new breed of adventurer appeared on the scene: the mountain men. The mountain men were the vanguard of a wave of American wanderers, explorers, and prospectors that would eventually penetrate every nook and cranny of the American West. Not surprisingly, it was the mountain men who first found gold in the mountains of Colorado.
During the 1840's, gold was discovered in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains by a mountain man named Norton. The old trapper had spotted the nuggets while wading through one of the streams that drain the mountain chain. This may have been the first discovery of gold in the Sangres by an American. The mountain men were followed in time by a new wave of adventurers who combed the streams in search of metal rather than fur. The intrepid American prospector would eventually discover every major gold and silver deposit missed by the Spaniards. In the La Veta Pass area, the watershed year for American prospectors would turn out to be the middle to late 1870's. It was during this period of time that the first significant discovery of gold was made in the area.
This initial discovery took place on Grayback Mountain, less than 12 miles from Blanca Peak. Both lode and placer deposits were found on the southern slopes of the mountain. The gold deposits were rich enough to support a small mining camp which sprang up on the west side of La Veta Pass. Established in 1880, the mining camp became known as Russell.
The nearest mining district to Blanca Peak is actually on the mountain itself. Established in 1899, the Blanca District was located on the western flank of Blanca Peak, just below Lake Como. The district was founded on rich gold-bearing veins discovered in a raspberry patch by Rene Steel, "Gooch" McClain, Rube Daniels, Elrick Schenck, and Steve Calkins. Nuggets of gold "as large as wheat kernels" were recovered from the veins. A mining town known as Camp Commodore sprang up on Holbrook Creek, but various legal battles eventually closed the mines.