Our last full day in Colorado was spent on a day trip to Leadville, the highest city in the United States. It was a bright sunny day (like most of our days on the trip), a bit cool, and we took Rt. 6 E to Rt. 24 S, which would eventually take us to Leadville. Our first stop was the small picturesque town of Minturn, which the Eagle River runs alongside. There are lots of antique shops there, and I suspect a good number of people live there that work in Vail and other nearby resort areas. Incorporated in 1904, Minturn was named for Robert Bowne Minturn, Jr, the Vice President of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad that founded the town. It's a much quieter place (at least in the summer) than Vail and Beaver Creek, for sure.
Continuing past Minturn, Route 24 climbs, twists, and turns as we ascended along what's known as the "Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway." Indeed, it is. Our highest part may have been through Tennessee Gap at 10,424 feet. We stopped at a few places along the way to look and take some quick snaps. The aspens were turning gold in some places, making for some amazing contrasts on the mountainsides. I wasn't prepared for the broad high-altitude flat areas - some of which are rangelands. One other point of interest was the place where Camp Hale was located. Now, a broad expanse of grasses and sagebrush, the former US Army base was where the 10th Mountain Division was formed, with the aim of training troops in mountain (9200 feet elevation) and winter warfare. It was decommissioned after the war, but the CIA used it in the 1960s to secretly train Tibetan Guerillas. Finally, in 1965 the camp was dismantled, and pretty much everything removed. You can get a better idea of the area from Google Earth, and it's hard to imagine 14,000 soldiers there. Leadville must have had a lot of business, as there were few nearby places to go for a drink. Anyway, it was a nice little stop to look and ponder it all.
Finally, we arrived in Leadville, and I was immediately struck by three things -- the colorful buildings, the clear dark blue sky, and that I wished I had an oxygen tank. Leadville is 10,152 feet above sea level, and to this Great Lakes flat-lander I might as well have been in Nepal. I was slowly getting acclimated to Avon, but going up a flight of stairs at a Leadville antique store left me panting. People were attracted to the area of present-day Leadville by the lure of placer gold in 1859. Later, the town was founded in 1877 by mine owners Horace Tabor and August Meyer at the start of the Colorado Silver Boom. The town was built on the desolate flat land below the tree line. Over the years, it has been tied to mining silver and molybdenum, with the ups and down in the economy as a result. Tourism is a big business now, but nearby mines also contribute to the economy. At its altitude, you get a good feel for alpine and subarctic environments.
Walking around town was a Kodachrome (if there was still Kodachrome) experience. Many brightly painted buildings along the main street, and the side streets featured small houses that were gaily painted, some with bric-a-brac, like Victorian mansions. However, most of the houses were less than 800 square feet! I was unprepared for the visual feast, and I would love to return there for a couple of days to do the place justice with my Mamiya C330 and color film.
|The entrance doorway to the Saloon. How many feet have|
trod through here?
antique store window
We ate a great lunch at the Silver Dollar Saloon, which dates from 1879, and is one of the oldest bars in continued operation in the US. There are lots of memorabilia in the bar, and if you are going to be in Leadville, you'll be missing a lot if you don't stop in. We had planned on going to the Mining Museum, but by the time we were done poking around, it was only 30 minutes until closing time, so we instead went over to the train depot, where the Colorado and Southern Railroad Station still stands. Not only that, they have a daily tourist run on the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad. That will have to wait for another time, as our day was getting late. We left Leadville, and took a much shorter and faster Route 91 back to I-70 and Vail, and got to see the mining operations near Climax. Some difference from Route 24! Leadville certainly bears a return trip for a few days another time.
The next day, we drove Bev to the Denver Airport so she could return to Michigan, and Adrienne and I continued S into New Mexico. We had a fantastic week in Colorado.