Thursday, January 8, 2015

Cripple Creek, Colorado

From Tuesday, August 19, 2014

To give my legs and lungs another day to recover from the altitude, I took a day to visit the tourist trap of Cripple Creek, Colorado, just about 15 miles from Mueller State Park. Cripple Creek is an old mining town that experienced a gold boom in the late 1800s. For a long time it was a small, quiet town with a few old store fronts renovated as shops, however some new laws were passed and gambling opened up. Now the small town is almost completely taken over by casinos.
Getting from Mueller State Park over to Cripple Creek involved a winding mountain highway that crossed over this 10,200 ft pass somewhere on the flanks of Pikes Peak.
Cripple Creek. The mountains in the distance are probably some of those around Monarch Pass, and possibly the Sawatch Range in the heart of the Rockies more off to the right.

In addition to the casinos, there are numerous remnants of old mines that are pretty interesting and blanket the mountainsides all around the area. Gold production had been declining for many decades but picked up again in the 1990s as the computer boom led to increased demand for gold to be used in manufacturing electronics. As a result, there are still numerous operating gold mines in the area, including a particularly large mine that is moving entire mountains and is currently the largest employer in the county.

A small, private gold mine, just across the street from the Heritage Center museum. This is an actual working mine.

Before I pulled into town I stopped at the Heritage Center that overlooks the town. This is basically a museum of fairly good quality that covers not only the mining heritage, but also the natural features of the Colorado high country and the paleontology of the region. Since geology and paleontology are hobbies of mine, I found the Heritage Center to be extremely interesting. This was fortunate, as it prevented the entire day from being a waste due to what I found in Cripple Creek itself.

Great museum, even if it looks silly from the outside.

Plus, they have dinosaurs! I didn't find much else inside worthy of photography but it was an interesting museum. In case you are wondering, the dinosaurs are in a section about the natural history of the region.

I have absolutely no interest in gambling, so the town of Cripple Creek itself was a huge disappointment. I parked my vehicle and walked down along the main street, but could not find anywhere I wanted to eat as all the restaurants were bustling with the usual gambling crowd, a combination of senior citizens and really sketchy looking people of average age (with "track" scars on forearms and so forth). I don't like to sound like a hater but the town was just not my scene. To make matters worse, the entire street itself was blocked off with extensive construction that was actually removing the frontier era boardwalks and wooden porches to be replaced with modern concrete and flagstone paving. While this is an improvement with regard to safety and accessibility and no doubt will benefit the gambling establishments, it clearly has ruined the character of the old town. I got back in my vehicle and left.

My gosh, they did a number on that mountain.
No, this isn't an optical illusion or two photos shopped together, I think what we are seeing is remediation of the landscape as required by law, although that is a near-blind guess. Maybe they are just mining.

Initially I headed back towards Divide, the small crossroads that is closest to Mueller, but instead diverted when I recognized the name of another small mining town on a sign. I took the 7 mile drive over to the town of Victor. I crossed over a cattle guard and into open range on the way. The small, winding highway crosses through the tiny burg of Goldfield before descending into Victor itself. Victor is, I assume, what Cripple Creek used to be like. It was a tiny, tiny town that showed signs of poverty, but also still featured original structures from the mining era. Actually the mining era has also not completely ended for Victor since there were large scale operations going on above the town.
I've tried to explain to friends and family what a cattle guard is with no success. Basically a cow will not walk across this thing, so if you can afford to install one of these, then you do not have to put a gate in your fence. This is the highway and I took the photo on the side that is open range, so it was possible to encounter cattle on the road, but that didn't happen.

I found a ratty little restaurant with much of the original architecture intact. It was a warm day by Colorado standards and I'm sure the building had no air conditioning, so they had the doors open for the greasy spoon. The place was swarming with flies with some dead to be found here and there. Nonetheless I was starving by this point so I ordered a Slopper, which was an open faced hamburger topped with green salsa and melted Mexican cheese. It was actually pretty good. The cook handed out laminated printouts that had descriptions of numbered pictures all around the interior of the establishment, historical photographs of the region from the mining boom days. The restaurant itself was a former "gentleman's club," (a.k.a.a bar with brothel upstairs). It was an interesting excursion but I was glad to just head back to the campground to get in another short hike before dark.