Here we are in the heart of the West, and there is just no Indian presence and only a very few references to the invisible Ute tribes. And then the (copper) penny dropped and we realized why. These mountains are just full of valuable minerals, and that meant the Indians just had to go. Why, there’s gold! And silver! And copper! And coal! And something called molybdenum – more on that later.
We left Vail and headed for historic Leadville. Now, you might remember our visit last November to the Unsinkable Molly Brown’s house in Denver. If you watched the movie or studied her life, you would know that she and Mr. Brown struck it rich in Leadville, and then they (she) decided to move on up in the world and tackle Denver society – with mixed results. Guess the Leadville address just wouldn’t work on Tiffany stationery – and that’s the way I judge the viability of towns we pass through. But on the other hand, today it might strike just the right note of reverse chic. Hmmm.
Lots of folks came to Leadville for the same reason as the Browns. And that is why the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum is located here. It carries a bit of a defensive tone, reminding visitors constantly of how miserable our lives would be if we didn’t have brave miners ripping things out of the earth. And yes, in olden days mining companies were not so wonderfully sensitive to the environment as our current corporate sponsors are. Why, if we didn’t have the riches of the Climax Molybdenum plant up the road carving up the mountains, then none of our computers would work! So there.
(It’s a shame Don isn’t related to the Christensens who manufactured the drill bits.)
They also had some sweet dioramas of the original miners at work. Now that was a tough life.
The town of Leadville is that combination of Old West and Old Hippies that you see a lot in the West. A nice feel to the town, and great views of the mountains. The only problem is the extreme elevation – this being the highest city in the country, so they say. Going up stairs is really a bit of a challenge, and we really felt the effects in just trying to walk a straight line down the streets. Forget drinking alcohol at these heights! (Though one local did say that the way they combat it is to drink all the time. He was quite believable.)
We moved along to the town of Salida, which started life as a railroad town with tough saloons and flophouses, and now houses art galleries, chefs from Nappa, and all the gentrified accoutrements of a modern upscale city – with some memories of the past It is surrounded by mountain ranges and wonderful vistas.
We are spending the evening in the town of Gunniston, a favorite of skiers in the area. As we aren’t skiers, we settled for a nice swim in the hotel pool, with incredible views all around us. Not half bad.