Set in a small basin between Telluride and Lizard Head Pass, and nestled against a modernized backdrop of one of the ski resort’s newer additions, lies the crumbling remains of an old mining camp that was at one time the center of activity in the Alta-Gold King area.
At it’s height, Alta housed nearly one hundred residents, but the area is most famous for being the first to use AC electricity in the Gold King Mine on the other side of the basin.
Having already stripped the immediate hills of timber to use as fuel, the cost of hauling coal in by mule was pushing the Gold King Mine closer to bankruptcy, so manager Lucius Nunn turned to George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla’s alternating current (AC) electricity for a cheaper alternative to to keep the mine running. Westinghouse, who was in stiff competition with Thomas Edison’s direct current (DC) electricity, agreed to build the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant to showcase the capabilities of AC electricity. The plant, which is still in operation today, effortlessly supplied power to the Gold King Mine, nearly three miles and away – the first mine to be supplied by such power.
While the Gold King Mine managed to turn a profit thanks to the Ames power plant, the whole district became inactive by the mid-nineteen hundreds. Alta remained in production until a fire snuffed out its final working mill in 1945. Today, the area can be reached year round by a short 3.8 mile dirt road. While accessible to low-clearance 2WD vehicles in the summer, snowshoes or a snowmobile will get you there in the winter.
Up the hill you’ll find a tidy row of houses, including the manager’s house:
The Alta Lakes road ends at Alta Lakes just a mile up the way.
Separated from Alta Lakes by the long spine connecting Palmyra Peak to Bald Mountain, watch for skiers at Telluride’s hike-to terrain spots: