Enliven your hikes to Aspen-area mining camps with this essential guide

Hannah Condon checks out leftover mining machinery at a site on the east side of Independence Pass on Sept. 29.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

Now that high-country hiking to old abandoned mining camps has come to an end with the October snow, I’m looking forward to settling in this winter and learning what the hell I was looking at.

I recently purchased “The Mining Camps Speak,” a different style of guidebook by Coloradans Beth and Bill Sagstetter. Instead of providing directions to old mining camps and ghost towns, the Sagstetters drew on their years of exploring and interviews with mining experts to help other adventurers decipher clues leftover in the mountains.

One chapter helps the reader determine what kind of artifacts indicate a site was a blacksmith shop, for example, while another chapter gives clues to which old rusted cans might have contained blasting powder instead of beans.

The book is packed with pictures of old mining equipment, buildings and artifacts. It’s really helpful that illustrations, usually from the late 1800s, relate how the equipment was used at the mines.

I’ve only made a dent in the 285-page book but have already gained invaluable knowledge from a section that helps differentiate air compressors from steam engines, both of which were vital pieces of equipment in well-capitalized mines.

“When in doubt, it is probably an air compressor,” the book says.

I had the good fortune of going on numerous hikes in the Collegiate Peaks this summer that yielded views of all sorts of contraptions such as air compressors, ore buckets, hoists and trams from the workings of the mines as well as cans and bedsprings from living quarters. All fascinating stuff, but sometimes you need context to tell what it is. “The Mining Camps Speak” provides the missing link. I recommend it for anyone who likes venturing in old mining areas.