Although Hagerman Pass is known as a great and scenic four wheel drive road, it was originally cut from the mountains in 1877 for the Colorado Midland Rail Road. Scattered along the mountain pass are remnants of this railroad history from ghost towns, brothels, crashed trains, railroad tunnels and much more.
Hagerman Pass runs across the mountains between Leadville and Basalt, crossing the Continental Divide at nearly 12,000 feet. When the pass was made for the Colorado Midland Railroad it featured cutting edge railroad technology for the time with trestle bridges spanning over 1,000 feet and the Hagerman Tunnel that was the highest railroad tunnel in existence when built.
Colorado Midland Trail
Starting at Leadville on the east side of Hagerman Pass, the Colorado Midland Trail is a great hike that follows the old railroad grade up to the Hagerman Tunnel. Along the trail is Douglas City ghost town, the work camp that housed the Italian works who constructed the difficult sections of the railroad as the Colorado Midland crossed the Continental Divide. Although not much is left other than remnants of log buildings this area featured several bars, a brothel, “…ladies of the evening, too jaded for Leadville…” and “…the scene of drinking, shooting, fighting, knifing and other innocent pleasures.” At the top of the Colorado Midland Trail sits Opal Lake and the Hagerman Tunnel. I was temped to go further into the tunnel, but the eeriness of feet of frozen ice and rock debris got the best of me.
Chinese Work Camp Ghost Town
After crossing the top of Hagerman Pass and making your way down the rocky westside, there are several great detours that require some exploring to find but they are worth the reward. The first is the ghost town perched on top of the ridge above the railroad grade that from local lore was the Chinese Work Camp, although we can’t verify this. Most of the wooden cabins and buildings have long since collapsed and rotted away, but there are plenty of remains making it apparent this area housed dozens of workers and their families.
Train Crash Site
Around the same area as the Chinese ghost town, if you look down from the railroad grade, you can see the remnants of a train car that careened off the track, crashing 100’s of feet bellow. The best access is Rd 505 that runs bellow Hagerman Pass and then hiking up the scree field to the train wreckage.
Although its hard to tell what the exact remnants are from the writing on the tangled metal appears to spell out the words “Colorado Midland”. In the same area of the train wreckage is a mangled 1920’s era car that may have been carried on the train car when it flew off the tracks above.
Sellar Meadow Coke Ovens
The Sellar Meadow Coke Ovens are at the end of Hagerman Pass and offer a great area to explore and see the kilns that produced the fuel used by the steam locomotives that traveled over Hagerman Pass.
Sellar and Diemer Lakes
Sellar and Diemer Lakes are a short side trip from Hagerman Pass and although camping is limited, if you can get a spot they provide a great view for morning coffee.