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May 4, 2022

Tunnel Through Snowslide, Otto Mears’s Toll Road Between Ouray and Silverton, Colorado, 1888

The effects of winter can be very long-lasting in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. A spring 1888 avalanche (snowslide) still covered Otto Mears’s wagon and freight toll road between Ouray and Silverton when Colorado and Utah’s semi-itinerant photographer Charles Goodman took this photograph a few months later on July 6th. Goodman took several photographs from the same spot that day.

As was often the case, this snowslide was deep enough and long enough that removal of all the snow would have been far too large of a task. Locals dug a tunnel through it that was large enough to admit one-way wagon traffic. We don’t know if any shoring beams were erected inside the tunnel, but even if the walls were just made of snow, the weight of it would have compressed and strengthened the sides quite a bit.

The weather and terrain make avalanches very common in the Rockies. This is especially true of the San Juan Mountains of Western Colorado. Snowslides were reported to have killed about 200 people in Colorado in the winter of 1886-1887.


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