Below are the diary entries for September 15, 2012, with the newest entries added at the bottom. Also, check out today’s photos.
We traveled the Colorado plains today, entering into the Rockies. It took us three hours to get from Lamar to Cañon City, from where we (after a detour to Royal Gorge, which turned out to be just a tourist trap) took "Phantom Canyon Road" (CO-67) to the mining town of Victor. It was a gorgeous 28-mile drive over a winding gravel mountain road... I'll let the photos speak for themselves...
Today we drove from Lamar to Woodland Park by way of Cripple Creek. It’s not very far when you look at the map, but nearly 30 miles were over unpaved Colorado state route 67, which took a long time.
We began by driving toward the Rockies via U.S. 50. We followed the driving tour of the Santa Fe Trail until the trail route went down toward New Mexico, while we continued westward. It was clear we were already at a higher elevation than we had been in recent days, because it was quite chilly in the morning. So chilly, in fact, that I got up to close the room’s window (we prefer to sleep with the window open if at all possible) and put the comforter back on the bed. It didn’t really warm up until about 10 o’clock, either. At first it didn’t seem as if we were getting any closer to the Rockies, but after the city of Pueblo, we found ourselves surrounded by mountains all of a sudden.
After Pueblo we saw signs for the Royal Gorge bridge, and we thought that that might make an interesting side trip. Of course, the very fact that we continued to see sign after sign should have given us a clue that it was a tourist trap, but let’s blame that on the difference in altitude. We drove all the way up there, only to find that it’s some kind of bridge theme park, with all kinds of rides and no doubt crappy souvenirs by the bushel, for which they charged an entry fee of $26. Per person. We looked at each other and we immediately decided that while walking over the bridge might be a great experience (and would probably give gorgeous pictures), it wasn’t likely to be $52 worth of great. So we turned around and drove back down the mountain. The whole area around the Royal Gorge bridge is one big tourist attraction, just like Ocean City or Hilton Head. I’m sure if you came here in the summer you’d have to drive up the mountain in one long line of cars, like the Capital Beltway during rush hour.
I wanted to visit the Cripple Creek mining area and since state route 67 promised to be the scenic route there, we decided to take it. Luckily it was Eric’s turn to drive. I don’t really enjoy driving on gravel roads where you constantly feel the car sliding out from under you, even if you do keep it under control. State route 67 certainly lived up to its scenic route appellation. It was gorgeous! It’s owned by the Bureau of Land Management and the road is part of the Gold Belt Tour. A sign at one of the rest stops explained that miners used this road to transport gold out of Cripple Creek and supplies into it, until corporate mine-owners decided to build a narrow-gauge railroad. Unfortunately, narrow-gauge rail cars tends to be rather unstable, so the cars tended to overturn easily. The railway only operated from 1894 until 1912, when a flash flood washed out the entire system. The tracks were dismantled in 1915.
The whole area around Pikes Peak was the scene of a gold rush, although not all deposits were discovered at the same time. Gold was discovered at Pikes Peak in 1859, but not until 1890 at Cripple Creek. However, Cripple Creek and Victor (the neighboring town) remain active gold mining areas to this day. The first thing you notice as you drive into Victor is that it looks almost like a shanty town with a view of mountaintop removal mining and huge slag heaps that are by now as tall as the mountains themselves, except that they are barren. Not a tree grows on them. A sign at a scenic overlook just outside Victor told us that “Directly across the highway [state route 67] is the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company. The largest gold mining company in Colorado, [...] Underground mining was conducted at this site for 70 years until 1961. Thereafter, all mining activity lapsed for a decade until the start-up of small-scale surface mining, using heapleaching methods. In 1991, surface mining was started on a large scale and continued to grow with the start of production from CC&V’s Cresson Mine in 1995.” Apparently, we’re all expected to applaud mountaintop removal. Perhaps the residents of Victor do. Except for the shanty town on the outskirts, their town look a tad shabby, but lived-in. Not so in Cripple Creek. That has become corporate America’s vision of what a 19th century mining town should look like. At first you think the store fronts have been beautifully restored, but then you notice that it’s casino upon casino, interspersed with bars and hotels and the like. I don’t think anyone lives in this town. It all counts towards the emiseration of the proletariat. There’s a reason unions sprang up in mining communities, people! As a matter of fact, the Western Federation of Miners was quite active in Cripple Creek. In 1894 they defeated a proposal by the mine owners to have the miners work 10 hours instead of eight for the same pay. The owners then offered 8 hours at a 16% reduction in pay, but that was also defeated. Unfortunately, a 1903 strike that resulted in casualties when some miners engaged in acts of terrorism ended up breaking the union, although elements were later subsumed into the Wobblies and later still the AFL-CIO.
Above Cripple Creek is what is called Heritage Center that’s almost, but not quite, a museum. I had found this place on the interwebz while we were preparing for this trip and it seemed to be less than perfectly unbiased, as indeed it turned out to be. One panel mentions strikes without specifying which strike they’re talking about, only to end with the triumphal announcement that the strike ended “and the union was broken.” Whoop-de-doo, I suppose. Unfortunately, most people know so little about history that this kind of bias will go unnoticed. I bet most people also never notice framed sign hung in an out-of-the-way corner of the center’s lower floor that reads: “GOLD. Proud of our environmental, health, and safety practices. Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company - Anglogold Ashanti” The latter is a South African gold mining outfit, in case you’re curious.
We were pretty tired from the high altitude (Cripple Creek’s elevation is 9,494 feet) so we thought it might be nice if we could stay in town. But there was no room for us at the inn, so we decided to drive on toward Colorado Springs. We ended up getting a room at the Woodland Park Country Lodge. It happens to have a nice pool and spa that we just used, which is why I’m posting so late.