New historic interpretive signs installed – Keystone Gorge Loop Trail, Ilium Deck

(June 24, 2024) – San Miguel County, CO — It’s no secret that San Miguel County has a rich history. Beginning with its earliest Native American inhabitants through today, there’s a story to be told on every corner, across every vista, and along every trail. Last week, members of the San Miguel County Parks & Open Space Department and the County Historical Commission completed a long-envisioned interpretive sign installation at the observation deck in Ilium Valley, and at the Keystone Gorge Loop Trail, which follows the San Miguel River as it plunges downstream west of Telluride.

“It was great to see these beautiful and detailed historic interpretive panels come to fruition and be installed,” said Janet Kask, Director, Parks & Open Space. “This has been a passion project for the County’s Historical Commission and credit goes to Kiernan Lannon, a member of the Historical Commission and Executive Director of the Telluride Historical Museum; along with Molly Daniel, Curator of Collections and Exhibits for the Telluride Historical Museum; and Ted Wilson, Chair of the Historical Commission for the research, preparation, layout and design of these panels. It was a very detailed project and huge undertaking.”

The Ilium Observation Deck is situated near the location of the former Rio Grande Southern Railroad wye bridge where it once crossed the south fork of the San Miguel River in Ilium Valley. The deck, which is partially built from historic timbers, steel rails and other materials from the bridge (it was dismantled in 2015), is perfectly located at a confluence of popular hikes and bikes, including the Galloping Goose Trail, Local’s Loop and the Wilson Mesa Trail. Now a recreational amenity, the area was once the turnaround point, or wye, for the train, where it could turn to make the run up to the town of Telluride. Also in that area, a hydroelectric power plant once operated, part of the Telluride Power Company’s grid, along with the Ames Power Plant, which is six miles upstream at the Lake and Howard Forks of the San Miguel River. The Ilium plant was built in 1900 by L.L. Nunn, whose entrepreneurial stamp remains on much of Telluride’s history. The deck’s new historic interpretive panels, designed and written in partnership with the Telluride Historical Museum, tell the story of Nunn’s Telluride Power Company and offer more insight on the activities of the Rio Grande Southern in Ilium.

“The Telluride Historical Museum was thrilled to play a role in creating these interpretive panels. These aren’t necessarily the best-known stories in the County’s history, but they are very fascinating and will help allow the public to gain a better and fuller understanding of what makes the County’s past so unique” said Kiernan Lannon, a member of the Historical Commission and Executive Director of the Telluride Historical Museum.

The Keystone Gorge Loop Trail’s historic past has also been given voice by the installation of panels at the trail’s lower bridge. Those signs explain the gorge’s role in hydraulic placer mining for more than 20 years, an intensive practice that scoured the hillsides with high pressure water shot from cannon-like implements called monitors. The trail’s breathtaking beauty takes on new wonder with the revelation of the rugged will of those seeking riches from the cliffsides.

“The Keystone placer mine played a large role in Telluride’s mining history, and its story is a dramatic and destructive one,” said Ted Wilson, Chair of the Historical Commission. “We’re excited to bring back this somewhat forgotten history with incredible historic photos, detailed facts, and a glimpse into the intense stories that unfolded in the gorge.”