They were a hardy bunch and they came looking for gold and silver. Some found it, most did not. Today, two miner's towns stand in mute testimony to what a miner's life was like back in 1881.

For a glimpse of a miner's life in the mountains outside of Aspen visit the ghost towns of Ashcroft and Independence and walk among the old, abandoned buildings. The Aspen Historical Society (970-925-3721) offers guided tours of Ashcroft, but you can do it on your own with a guidebook. Ashcroft is 14 miles southeast of Aspen on Castle Creek Road. Independence is 17 miles east of Aspen on Highway 82.

Learn about Aspen's mining history with a tour of the Compromise and Smuggler Mines (970-925-2049, children under five are not allowed). It was the discovery of silver in the Compromise Mine in the late 1800s that led to Aspen's silver mining boom. Legend has it that prospectors discovered the Independence Gold Lode on July 4, 1879. A tent city sprang up that summer, and by 1880 there were 300 people living in the camp. The world's largest silver nugget, weighing over 1,800 pounds, roughly the size of a Volkswagen, was removed from the Smuggler Mine in 1894.