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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Autumn in the Rocky Mountains

We went for a drive to see the Autumn colors today, in spite of the cloudy skies and weather prediction of snow in Cripple Creek and Victor, which are north of Florence and Canon City, on the flanks of Pikes Peak. We looked out of our windows and decided that we could see the Peak so the weather could not be too bad up there, picked up Mom, went to Big Daddy's for lunch and then drove north of Canon City, through historic Garden Park (where the historic dinosaur quarries are located) and up the Shelf Road, along Four Mile Creek (also known as Oil Creek as there was an oil spring on the bank of the creek in

pioneer times, and the first oil well west of Pennsylvania was drilled here before anyone thought of drilling in Texas and Oklahoma).

Shelf Road was built as a stage coach and wagon road to the gold mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor in the last decade of the 19th Century. It is a narrow, rutted dirt road built as a shelf on the canyon wall. When 2 cars meet it can be kind of scary until one or the other finds a slightly wider spot where thay can get past each other without falling down into the canyon. But the spectacular scenery makes it worth the effort.

Be sure and click on this one to see the hole in the
top of the rock wall.

When I was taking this panorama of Cripple Creek it was snowing on us. The palest mountains in the back are the Sangre de Christos, about 50 miles away. The medium blue line of mountains are the Wet Mountains, just south of Florence, then comes the Arkansas River Valley, where we live, and then in the foreground is the Pikes Peak Massif, with the Peak behind us.

After decades of economic recession, when most of the gold mines had shut down, Cripple Creek is now humming as one of the legalized gambling towns in Colorado. The fronts of the lovely old Victorian red brick commercial buildings on Bennett Avenue have been spruced up while retaining their authentic architecture, but the backs have huge modern looking additions added to make more room for the casinos. I have never been a gambler, and when I see how much money people have to be losing to pay for all those brick monstrosities, I am glad I am not tempted to lay

my money down there. In the old days it was a fun place where you could stroll the streets to look at the old building, browse antique shops, and visit an authentic old soda fountain at the drugstore. Now it is pretty much wall to wall casinos, cars and people, not to mention the buses that bring people from many Colorado towns and cities.

I have been driving below this mine tailings log shoring for at least 55 years and it must have been there for 50 years before that, but in spite of my misgivings, it is still holding back the tailings.

At the top of this Aspen covered mountain you can see an old mine edifice and old mine tailings, and behind that you can see the modern mine tailings gi-normous mine tailing pile. Now instead of digging the gold out of the ground they are processing the old mine tailings with new technology that rescues the gold that couldn't be gotten out of the ore in the old days. Who says you can't build your own mountains?!

Just down the road is the town of Victor, which did not choose to become a gambling town. It has the same old flavor and lots less money to maintain the great old buildings. They do still have a real community spirit and the street corners were decorated with straw bales, pumpkins and scarcrows.

We found a small cafe and ice cream store in one of the run down old buildings, where we had floats and malts, admired the old photos of the mining days, and listened to music from an antique player piano. There was an original theatre curtain painted with an Italian lake scene and surrounded by ads from local businesses. Joe liked the ad for a Florence gas station with "bronze gas for 18 cents a gallon. (Of course, back then, Florence had oodles of oil wells and 2 refineries. With gas prices the way they are, we have had an oil company drilling exploratory wells south of town again, for the first time in decades. Hope they are successful!)

We drove home down Phantom Canyon on the road made on the bed of the historic Florence and Cripple Creek Rail Road, which at the turn of the 20th Century, hauled gold ore to several processing mills in Florence. In July 1912 a huge flood roared down the canyon, ripping out track and 12 bridges. The mines were not producing as much now as in the past 2 decades, and there was another rail road to Colorado Springs, so it was not economically feasible to rebuild the F&CC RR. This is now part of the BLM's Gold Belt National Scenic Byway, so the road is in fairly good condition and the bridges have been rebuilt. 55 years ago, the Phantom Canyon road was horribly primitive, when I originally went there with my parents.

Because of the beautiful gold color of the Aspen trees in the fall, this area is very popular for outings each autumn. A few of the groves have a more red color, the scrub oaks turn tawney, and the woodbine vines are brilliant scarlet. In the lower canyons, the narrow leaf Cottonwoods and Willows are also gold. Toward the bottom of Phantom Canyon there were sections of the rock walls and trees that were covered with wild grape vines.

This is such a spectacular canyon, but my battery went dead and there is not enough room in this blog to show you all the wonderful things we saw.
It was evening by the time we made it back to Canon City to take Mom home, and she was very tired, and a little car sick. She has wanted to take this drive since she moved here but I'm afraid it is getting to be too much for her and our future jaunts will need to be shorter and on paved highways, rather that rough gravel with lots of tight curves.

It becomes quite frustrating for a photographer on a drive like this. Every turn reveals another gorgeous scene which is next to impossible to frame or get a clear photo from a moving vehicle, and the battery goes dead too soon. Joe is great to stop when there is a wide spot, but many of these scenes don't have a place for stopping and it would take us weeks, if I stopped for every photo opportunity. Now I understand why my brother, Steve, goes on most of his serious photography trips alone. We drive everyone else crazy!


Anonymous said...

i think you add more info about it.

allie aller said...

Well I think you did a superb job with the photography! I feel like I was along for the ride, and so enjoyed reading about the history of the place too. Thanks so much!
Reading your info about the mining reminded me of one of the best novels I ever read, and a large part of it is about the mining days in Colorado. It is called "Angle of Repose", by Wallace Stegner. I know you would enjoy it...
Thanks for a wonderful post!

jenclair said...

The scenery is breath-taking! I used to live in Wyoming (when very young) and love, love, love the mountains!

Anonymous said...

It's wonderful to hear you are having these lovely photo ops. I'm so glad you're feeling better.

Sandra said...

Beautiful pictures, Fran. I love the brilliant yellow aspens in the mountains.

Deb Geyer said...

Beautiful Fran!!! Thanks for sharing!