Colorado – Day 4 – Georgetown Railway & Forney Museum of Transport

Today is we slept in until about 8:00am. We got ready and checked out of our hotel. We had a bit of time to kill before our trip on the Georgetown Railway Loop at 10:00am, so we decided to grab some coffee at the Happy Cooker Restaurant. The lovely lady there named Michaela gave us the coffee for free. We walked around town for a bit sipping our coffees to kill some more time.

10:00am was fast approaching and it was time to drive the short distance to the Georgetown Railway Station, about a mile away. The Georgetown Loop Railroad was originally completed in 1884, and was considered quite the engineering marvel at its time. It linked Georgetown and Silver Plume. While these towns were only 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) apart, they have 183 metres (600 feet) in elevation differential between them. Engineers designed a corkscrew route that traveled nearly twice that distance to connect them, slowly gaining the elevation required. The route includes horseshoe shaped curves, 4% grades, and four bridges; the most famous being Devil’s Gate High Bridge. The Georgetown, Breckenridge, and Leadville Railroad was former in 1881 under the Union Pacific Railroad. It was utilized to haul gold during the Gold Rush, and later on Silver Ore from the mines at Silver Plume, until 1893 when Colorado and Southern Railway took over the line and used it for passenger and freight use until 1938. The line was dismantled in 1939, and was later restored in the 1980’s to be used as a tourist railroad.

The train ride up to Silver Plume took about 30 minutes. What a breathtaking journey! It was so neat riding on the old train. Our locomotive, Number 111, was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Pennsylvania in 1926. It spent most of its working life in Central America before returning to America in 1973 to Sundown & Southern RR in Hudson, Colorado. Despite that, it was never run and was auctioned off in 2002 to the town of Breckenridge, Colorado for display at the Highline Railroad Park. It remained there until 2008, when it was acquired and restored between 2013-2016. This was the first time it was used in over 50 years!

On the way down from Silver Plume we were dropped off at the Lebanon Mine. The mine consists of six levels and was used from 1878 To 1893, when it was closed due to silver prices plummeting. The mine produced a profit of over $250 million (which is $5.2 billion in today’s money). After the mine tour we re-boarded the train and took it back down to the Georgetown Terminal.

It was time to eat some lunch, so we went back to the Happy Cooker Restaurant to have grilled cheese sandwiches. It turns out a staff member had quit that morning, so they were very short staffed, hence the free coffee. They didn’t even have time to ring in the coffee.

Following lunch we drove to Denver and visited the Forney Museum of Transport, which was established in 1961. The museum has over 500 exhibits on display. What an incredible museum! It was one of the best museums I’ve ever visited.

It was time to checkin to our hotel, the Hampton In. & Suites Denver Tech Center. After checking into our hotel we went to Holidaily Brewery for a flight of beer. The majority of the beers there are gluten free since one of the owners is celiac.

After having dinner we went to Darcy’s Bistro Pub for dinner, which was next to our hotel. I had two mini brisket sliders, and dad had some Irish Nachos.

Colorado – Day 1 – Ghost Towns

It’s been a few years since my Dad and I went on a father-son trip somewhere. This year we decided to go to MColorado. Dad and I had been talking about doing some hiking in Maroon Bells, Colorado for quite a few years.

We flew on a direct United Airlines flight into Denver on an Airbus A319. After landing in the mid-morning we picked up our rental vehicle, a Ford Explorer, and started off on our journey.

First stop was Bass Pro Shop to pickup some bear spray, followed by a quick lunch at Good Times Burger & Frozen Custard. Dad and I both just had a burger, and a diet Pepsi.

After lunch we drove to our first major stop of the day; the Argo Gold Mine and Mill. The Argo Gold Mine and Mill is a former gold mining and milling property located in Idaho Springs, Colorado. The mill at the entrance of the tunnel was in excellent condition, and remains intact over 100 years later. The Argo Tunnel was built between 1893 and 1910. Over $100 million of gold, and $200 million of other high value ores were mined prior to the tunnel closing in 1943 due to a major flooding accident when they tried to blast the Kansas Boroughs area. The flooding spilled thousands of gallons a minute of acidic water (pH 3) all over the area. A federal moratorium was also placed on gold mining during World War II, which didn’t help. In 1976 the mine was purchased by a local investment group led by James Maxwell, who wanted to showcase a prime example of the Colorado gold rush mines. It was renovated and reopened as a tourist attraction. In 1978 the mine was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Working conditions at the mine were brutal, with the average worker only living 3-5 years after starting work there. In 1996 a waste water treatment facility was built to treat the acidic water, which was still flowing at a fairly high rate of a few thousand gallons per minute, because the acidic water was killing the fish. In 2015 a 5 foot thick concrete wall, and a dedicated pipe and valve was built to contain the water and control the flow rate to a more manageable 700 gallons per minute. Overall the mine and mill tour absolutely impressed me.

After visiting the gold mine and mill we drove to our next stop; Blue Lake. Blue Lake is a man made dam that provides drinker water to Blue River and Breckenridge.

It was then time to head to our hotel, Mountain Chalet in Aspen. The drive went over the Independence Pass Continental Divide. Standing at just over 12000 feet above sea level, this beautiful drive offered stunning views of the valleys below. It was pretty chilly up top; only 6 degrees Celsius or so.

Just after passing the top of the pass we found a historic mill site called Farwell Mill #2, which was part of Independence Ghost Town. It was a 20 stamp mill that crushed gold ore. The mill was originally opened in 1879 as a 10 stamp mill, however it was quickly realized that an expansion was required, and Farwell Mill #2 was opened in 1881 with an additional 20 stamps, along with the Brown Tunnel to deliver a greater load of ore. By the end of 1883 the major veins of the mine were fully extracted, and the mine was quietly closed. The mine re-opened in the 1920’s with a new gold rush, however it only produced small amounts, and was later abandoned again.

The total drive from Denver took about 8 hours with all of our stops. I suspect you can get there in 4.5-5 hours without stops. After checking into our hotel we walked to a restaurant called Brunelleschi’s, which was recommended to us by our hotel concierge. I had a pizza, and dad had some asparagus and mushroom risotto.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a grocery store to pickup food for tomorrow. I ended up writing my blog, and chatting on the phone for a bit with Julie, before heading to bed.