Today started off with us visiting the Denver Zoo. The Denver Zoo has over 3500 animals spanning 550 species on 80 acres of land. It was neat petting the manta rays, which I hadn’t done since I was a kid. I was a bit skittish because I didn’t want to get stung. Other highlights included watching the elephants play, and the various monkeys getting into fights. For only $20 USD this zoo is quite the bargain!
After the zoo we had some salad at a vegetarian restaurant called Chop Shop. Following lunch we went to Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum. The Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum is located on the former Lowry Air Force Base. The museum was opened in 1994 and features a collection of 50 military / civilian aircraft from 1939 to 1990.
We then explored downtown by driving around for a bit, however we didn’t get out to do anything. We originally were going to go to this indoor Neon Light exhibit, however we changed our mind when we saw parking was a bit of a nightmare. We then drove to the satellite Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum location, however they were closing earlier than their posted time on Google, so we decided that we would come back tomorrow. On our way back to the hotel we stopped in at Brothers BBQ for dinner and had some brisket and burnt ends. Once we got back to the hotel we watched Border Security on television and chatted until it was time to go to bed.
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.
Today was a day of exploring old ghost towns. We woke up around 8:00am, got ready, and had breakfast at our hotel. Breakfast was French toast, sausages, and scrambled eggs. I ended up skipping the French toast.
First stop was Ashcroft Ghost Town. Ashcroft was a silver mining town that was founded in 1880. At the height of Ashcroft’s boom, over 2000 people lived there. High transportation costs, poor shallow silver deposits, competition from nearby Aspen, and the 1893 silver market crash ultimately lead to the demise of the town. By 1895 the population of the town decreased to less than 100 people. In 1912 the U.S. Postal Service stopped mail delivery, which ended up being the final blow to the town.
Most of the homes in Ashcroft were insulated with burlap or newspapers. This was necessary because the town, nestled around 10000 feet above sea level, received over 18 feet of snow annually and was quite cold. The homes were built in an East / West orientation to receive as much warmth as possible from the sunlight.
At its peak, Ashcroft had 20 saloons. Nearly 75% of the population were single males. Saloons, bars, and men’s clubs offered the lonely miners a distraction from their hard work. The average employee spent about 10-15% of his $142 yearly income on liquor.
After visiting Ashcroft we drove North to Glenwood Springs, and then headed East towards Georgetown. On our way to Georgetown we stopped in Eagle to have some delicious sandwiches at Pickeld Kitchen & Pantry. I had an Italian sandwich, and I can honestly say it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.
After having lunch we continue driving towards Georgetown, with a slight detour towards Eagle Mine, and the historic Town of Redcliff.
Eagle Mine is an abandoned mine near Gilman. Mining at Eagle Mine began in the 1880’s, initially for gold and silver, but eventually zinc in its later years. The mine was operational until 1984. After the closure of the mine in 1984, a 235 acre area, which included 8 million tons of mine waste, was designated as an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund Site. EPA Superfund sites are designed to investigate and cleanup sides contaminated with hazardous substances. 70% of the time the responsibly parties pay for the cleanup, with 30% of the time the cleanup is unable to be funded by the responsible parties. According to the EPA, the mining operations at Eagle Mine left a huge amount of arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and zinc in the soil and were leaching into the Eagle River, which threatened the dinking water supply in nearby Minturn. By the early 2000’s it was concluded that the remediation efforts of the EPA had significantly reduced the public health risks and improved the water quality in the Eagle River.
After looking at the mine from afar, since it was all blocked off, we drove to Redcliff. Redcliff was incorporated in 1879 and currently has a population of 282 people. It is a former mining camp situated in the canyon of the upper Eagle River. The town site is concealed below Highway 24, which passes over the Red Cliff Truss Bridge.
The Red Cliff Truss Bridge spans 471 feet (144 metres) over the Eagle River, and was built in 1940 for a cost of $372000. The bridge went more than 60 years before needed remediation work. In 2004 the bridge deck was replaced with a widened deck, and the steel was repainted, for a total cost of $3.6 million.
After our little side adventure we continued on our drive to Georgetown. We checked into our hotel, the Georgetown Lodge. It was a no-frills motel with two queen sized beds for about $100/night. After checking into our hotel we walked around town exploring the 1870-1890’s property’s before going for dinner at the Silverbrick Tavern, which is joined to Guanella Pass Brewing Company. We enjoyed a beer and had a meat lovers pizza to share. It was Chicago Deep Dish pizza style, and absolutely delicious.
Today our main highlight was hiking in Maroon Bells. Maroon Bells is Colorado’s premier fall hiking location, featuring Maroon Lake surrounded by mountains and beautiful fall foliage. The area gets its name from two 14000 mountains named Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak. Maroon Bells is only about a 30 minute drive from Aspen.
We arrived around 7:50am, as the parking lot closes at 8:00am. We had to reserve our spot, which we did over six months ago. While we were there we completed two hikes; The Scenic Loop Trail (3 Miles, 120 feet Elevation), and The Crater Lake Trail (3.6 Miles, 500 feet Elevation).
The Scenic Loop follows the North side of Maroon Lake, and loops around on the West side.
The Crater Lake Trail essentially follows the same route, around the lake, but then branches off on the West side of the lake and continues through the Valley until you reach Crater Lake.
It was about 11am when we finished the two hikes. We drove back to our hotel to grab a cup of coffee, and our bathing suits, before heading out again.
Next stop was The Grotto Trail, about a 20 minute drive the other direction from our lodging in Aspen. It was back the same we drove in from yesterday. The Grottos Trail features an ice cave, smooth cascading granite from the water running over it for thousands of years, and a beautiful cascading waterfall. The hike isn’t very hard and only takes about 20-30 minutes to complete. It was pouring rain for the majority of the hike, but was worth it.
Next stop was Glenwood Hot Springs Pool located in Glenwood Springs. The area was originally inhabited by Indigenous people before Americans colonized the area. Glenwood Springs, originally known as Defiance, was established in 1883 as a camp of tents, saloons and brothels. The town was founded by Isaac Cooper. The town was mostly populated with gambles, gunslingers, and prostitutes, and stayed as a small encampment until the larger mining town of Carbonate lost its position as a county seat, until some bribery occurred to shut down the post office in Carbonate, and moved the post office to Glenwood Springs. The city then thrived and became the main town where miners in the area lived.
The therapeutic springs waters, called Yampah, also known as Big Medicine by the aboriginals (Ute Native Americans) were used as a sacred place of healing since atleast the 1860’s. In 1890 the original red sandstone bathhouse and lodge was built for $100000. It was designed by Austrian architect Theodore von Rosenberg, who’s buildings I have definitely seen before in Vienna. The bathhouse features tubs, vapor baths, a ladies parlor, physicians office, gymnasium, smoking rooms, and reading rooms. The building houses 44 bathing rooms. The main pool is 405 feet long by 105 feet wide and contains 1.07 million gallons of water that is kept at 32° C. The hot “therapy” pool is 100 feet long by 105 feet wide and contains 91000 gallons of water kept at 40° C.
During World War II the resort Hotel Colorado and Hot Springs Bathhouse) was exclusively used as a US Naval Convalescent Hospital. It was the only time in history that the bathhouse was closed to the public. In 1970 an upgraded water filtration system was installed to filter the 3.5 million gallons per day of 52° C water. In 1986 a 107 room lodge was built on the North side of the pool.
After visiting the pool we walked around the town for a bit before driving back to our hotel.
Once we were back at the hotel we walked to White House Tavern, where I had a delicious chuck steak burger, and dad had a French beef dip sandwich. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and chatting before it was time to go to bed.
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.