Governor Basin & Sidney Basin – Ouray Co., Colorado

The Governor Basin 4×4 road is rated difficult for a couple of reasons. Although the main trail is mostly good off-roading, there are a few narrow sections as well as steep sections with exposed boulders. ATVs, dirt bikes, and high-clearance 4WD vehicles are a must for this road, and only experienced off-road drivers should tackle some of the side trails. Governor Basin is home to Virginius Mine, which is linked to the Revenue Tunnel; Humboldt Mine (a steep climb up near the southern end of St. Sophia Ridge); and Mountain Top Mine, which boasts a still-standing 1912 boarding house. Much of the area is private property, and with the re-opening of Revenue Mine we encountered active mining operations just below Virginius Mine and a locked gate with “no trespassing” at the entrance to Mountain Top Mine. There are several great spots to park and have lunch, and the basin has a network of trails to hike in and around the old mine ruins. Please remember to be very careful. These old mines are being reclaimed and closed off for a good reason… they are dangerous.

Coming down from Governor Basin, we took the side trail over to Sidney Basin. This road was nothing short of brutal with super narrow sections requiring a spotter (that was me ;) ) and an experienced off-road driver. Dropping into the basin takes you down two steep slide areas with exposed boulders and large rocks… one of these areas was comparable to the infamous wall on Poughkeepsie Gulch trail! Boulders protrude into the road and must be navigated with extreme caution. For such a small area, Sidney Basin shows a great deal of past mining activity, but I could find no information on the mines that were located here. Being so near to Governor Basin, the Virginius Mine may have had operations here; and this basin is situated just above the old Atlas Mine as well. Although the short trail to get here was crazy, it’s a beautiful little basin that offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. We took the same road out that we came in on, but the basin road continues on past a large rock slide and an old mining area to eventually reconnect with the Governor Basin Road. The trail is extremely narrow, rocky, off-camber, and rarely used, so we chose to stick with the “good” road. ;)

Getting there:  take US Hwy. 550 from Ouray and turn right onto County Road 361 (aka Camp Bird Road) about ¼ of a mile south of town. The road is well-marked with a large sign that reads 6 miles to Camp Bird Mine and 8 miles to Yankee Boy Basin. At 3 miles in, there is a shelf section of road with exposed drop-offs on your left. Keep in mind that there are no guardrails and very few turn-outs for passing. At about 4.7 miles in, the road forks and you should stay right on Ouray CR 26 (continuing left on Ouray CR 361 takes you a short distance to Camp Bird Mine). From this point, the road gets rough and even more narrow in spots with very steep drop-offs, as it is cut right into the cliffside. Once you are off the shelf road, and at about 6.9 miles in, you’ll come to a fork in the road (look for the Ruby Trust Mine sign). Take a left at the fork, and this begins Governor Basin Road (Ouray CR 26A aka Forest Road 853.1C). We made this trip on 9/2/2013, and I have to say that CR 26 is a much better road now that Revenue Mine is active again. Heavy traffic to and from the mine requires more upkeep and widening of the road in spots, so overall it’s a good road… but take it slow in the narrow sections. :)

IMPORTANT UPDATE, 9/12/2013:  Thanks to Steven Knaus for giving new information on the Sidney Basin trail. Although the road has not been blocked, nor the sign removed, this trail is no longer open to motor vehicle traffic. Please see the latest Motor Vehicle Use Map for this area. I feel awful about having traveled the trail now. :( We went up behind a large group of ATVs taking a tour of the basin! I hope this new information gets out there. We must stay the trail to protect our wilderness areas.

Look for these signs... :)

Look for these signs… :)

Of course, Tim drives through the creek... :P This bridge crosses Sneffels Creek near Ruby Trust Mine.

Of course, Tim drives through the creek… :P This bridge crosses Sneffels Creek near Ruby Trust Mine.

Sneffels Creek Falls is located just below Twin Falls and just above Ruby Trust Mine.

Sneffels Creek Falls is located just below Twin Falls and just above Ruby Trust Mine.

A different perspective on Twin Falls of Yankee Boy Basin... these are the lower falls, and I hiked about 1/4 of a mile up an abandoned road near Ruby Trust Mine to get this shot.

A different perspective on Twin Falls of Yankee Boy Basin… these are the lower falls, and I hiked about 1/4 of a mile up an abandoned road near Ruby Trust Mine to get this shot.

American Pika... a small member of the rabbit family. What is that look?! :P

American Pika… a small member of the rabbit family. What is that look?! :P

Not far up the trail, you'll cross this creek that originates in the lower area of Governor Basin.

Not far up the trail, you’ll cross this creek that originates in the lower area of Governor Basin.

Unlike wild currant berries, these mountain gooseberries have prickly thorns on their branches. The tiny spines covering the berries are soft and enhance their sweetness, and they are most certainly edible. :)

Unlike wild currant berries, these mountain gooseberries have prickly thorns on their branches. The tiny spines covering the berries are soft and enhance their sweetness, and they are most certainly edible. :)

This is the first narrow section of the trail, and it's cut directly into the rocky side of the mountain.

This is the first narrow section of the trail, and it’s cut directly into the rocky side of the mountain.

View back towards Yankee Boy Basin and Twin Falls... Teakettle Mountain is center peak in photo.

View back towards Yankee Boy Basin and Twin Falls… Teakettle Mountain is center peak in photo.

Old mine shaft at roadside... possibly a vent

Old mine shaft at roadside… possibly a vent

The Russula decolorans is an edible Russula mushroom that grows beneath Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines. Be careful when foraging Russula mushrooms... the red-topped ones are poisonous.

The Russula decolorans is an edible Russula mushroom that grows beneath Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines. Be careful when foraging Russula mushrooms… the red-topped ones are poisonous.

Looking east from Governor Basin Road toward the north and south peaks of Hayden Mountain... Revenue Mine is in the valley below.

Looking east from Governor Basin Road toward the north and south peaks of Hayden Mountain… Revenue Mine is in the valley below.

Another section of narrow, rocky road... see the exposed boulder? Looks smooth until you're driving on it. Some spots on this road get a little tippy. ;)

Another section of narrow, rocky road… see the exposed boulder? Looks smooth until you’re driving on it. Some spots on this road get a little tippy. ;)

Governor Basin

Governor Basin

Stony Mountain... approximately 12,700 ft.

Stony Mountain… approximately 12,700 ft.

The beautiful St. Sophia Ridge... affectionately called "Sophie's Teeth" by the old miners.

The beautiful St. Sophia Ridge… affectionately called “Sophie’s Teeth” by the old miners.

Historical marker for Virginius Mine

Historical marker for Virginius Mine

Virginius Mine... active mining operations are ongoing here below Virginius.

Virginius Mine… active mining operations are ongoing here below Virginius.

Mountain Top Mine... the road to this mine had a locked gate with "no trespassing," so we had to enjoy the view from beyond the gate. Remarkably, the 1912 boarding house is still standing.

Mountain Top Mine… the road to this mine had a locked gate with “no trespassing,” so we had to enjoy the view from beyond the gate. Remarkably, the 1912 boarding house is still standing.

Stony Mountain, approx. 12,700 ft. (left) and Potosi Peak, 13,786 ft. (right)

Stony Mountain, approx. 12,700 ft. (left) and Potosi Peak, 13,786 ft. (right)

Narrow canyon looking down into Yankee Boy Basin from Governor Basin Road

Narrow canyon looking down into Yankee Boy Basin from Governor Basin Road

Heading down from Governor Basin, we took the side trail over to Sidney Basin. I'm not sure why the spelling of Sidney is incorrect on this new sign. I've seen historical photos from the late 1800's that show the spelling as "Sidney." Also, most maps and local mountain guide books show the spelling with an "i". Maybe someone confused this basin with Australia's famous Sydney Basin. I dunno... ;)

Heading down from Governor Basin, we took the side trail over to Sidney Basin. I’m not sure why the spelling of Sidney is incorrect on this new sign. I’ve seen historical photos from the late 1800’s that show the spelling as “Sidney.” Also, most maps and local mountain guide books show the spelling with an “i”. Maybe someone confused this basin with Australia’s famous Sydney Basin. I dunno… ;)

Sidney Basin... I should have taken pictures of the road coming down into the basin, but I was a little busy. ;) Besides, it wouldn't have done it justice. You had to be there. :)

Sidney Basin… I should have taken pictures of the road coming down into the basin, but I was a little busy. ;) Besides, it wouldn’t have done it justice. You had to be there. :)

In Sidney Basin, looking east... remains of old mines. The road continues on after this point (extremely rough and rarely traveled) and eventually reconnects with Governor Basin Road.

In Sidney Basin, looking east… remains of old mines. The road continues on after this point (extremely rough and rarely traveled) and eventually reconnects with Governor Basin Road.

View of Potosi Peak from Sidney Basin... Teakettle Mountain is the peak to the far left.

View of Potosi Peak from Sidney Basin… Teakettle Mountain is the peak to the far left.

View to the east from Sidney Basin... it's magnificent. :)

View to the east from Sidney Basin… it’s magnificent. :)

I thought this little marmot was sleeping until it turned to look at me. Poor thing has lost an eye. :(

I thought this little marmot was sleeping until it turned to look at me. Poor thing has lost an eye. :(

Crossing the creek again as we head back down Governor Basin Road.

Crossing the creek again as we head back down Governor Basin Road.

Mountain Ash... the red berries give a colorful punch to their green surroundings.

Mountain Ash… the red berries give a colorful punch to their green surroundings.

Mountain Ash with an aspen forest backdrop... it's beginning to feel like fall. :)

Mountain Ash with an aspen forest backdrop… it’s beginning to feel like fall. :)

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14 comments

  1. Fantastic pictorial trip, Carolyn. I worked underground at the Campbird Mine after graduation from high school and spent a lot of time exploring this area. This visit brings back wonderful memories. Thanks, as usual for your great photography.

    1. Thanks so much Bill. :) I see the new tunnels being constructed at Revenue Mine (they are also building an underground mill!), and I can’t even imagine what it must be like to work down there. So happy to bring back some good memories for you. Thank you! :)

    1. Thanks Barb! It kind of started out as a joke, but my youngest daughter has gotten pretty good at making the pika call. There were several of them, and when she made the call, they all joined in! I think this little one knew they were being scammed. ;)

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