Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to the highest town in the U.S., Leadville, CO, for a weekend. There is a post office in Alma, CO that has a higher elevation, according to Wikipedia, but Leadville is the highest incorporated town. The elevation is 10,151 feet.
I was terrified to drive there but excited to see the views. As it turns out, since the drive from Grand Junction was mostly interstate, it wasn’t bad. Even the part on US-24 wasn’t scary at all. I highly recommend a trip to Leadville for those who fear mountain driving.
My first stop on Thursday afternoon was High Mountain Pies for a margherita pizza. You can tell a lot about a town by the quality of its local margherita. It was a very good quality pizza.
I boxed half up for lunch on Friday and checked in at the Columbine Inn and Suites, from the window of which I took the above photo. It had a nice little front patio, from which I took the trademark car commercial seen below.
There was an incident in the breakfast nook on Friday morning. The toaster refused to surrender my bagel, causing a smoking smelly mess for me and my fellow guests. A young man pried my bagel from the toaster with a plastic knife and unplugged the toaster. I ate a 2nd (raw) bagel and headed out for my day.
The town of Leadville is surrounded by the Mineral Belt, almost 12 miles of walking and biking. Part of the trail backs up to the campus of Colorado Mountain College (and the public gun range, so be careful!).
Around lunchtime, I returned to the hotel for a nap – there’s less oxygen up at 10,000 feet, after all, and to polish off my pizza.
Then I went out geocaching.
My first stop was an abandoned cabin. I parked at this beautiful mining relic/slag heap.
Then I found the cache located in the vicinity of these two meticulously filtered photos.
Next up was a cache located along another part of the Mineral Belt. Google Maps kept driving me around and around the block, so I parked in a huff at the local Presbyterian church. The wonderful part about geocaching is that it takes you to places you might not find otherwise. Aside from a nice little prayer garden, between the parking lot and the cache there was a mandala to walk! Beyond that, rock trails through the pines led to the Mineral Belt, but not to the cache. I wasn’t too disappointed about not finding it after I walked the mandala.
My final stop for the day was the Evergreen Historic Cemetery for some spirit quest caches. I found four. You can see that I literally parked on top of one of the caches. The others required the discovery of many, many old gravesites on the way to my virtual smileyfaces.
Satisfied that I had both exercised and increased my number of finds, I went to Gringo’s drive thru and got a burrito for dinner.
While eating, I looked at a brochure I picked up earlier in the day called The Route of the Silver Kings. I thought that surely there would be geocaches at the abandoned and operational mines along the driving tour. The prevalence, however, of statements like “four wheel drive only!” on the pretty little map, deterred me. (See previous post for details. There is no crying in Leadville.) Perhaps one day I will rent a high clearance vehicle car and return to the Route of the Silver Kings. I occupied my time Friday evening watching hotel TV.
On Saturday morning I wasn’t messing with the breakfast nook. I had a 2nd burrito, this time from Cookies with Altitude in downtown Leadville. With the exception of the mountain views and hipster tourists, downtown Leadville reminds me of downtown North Manchester, IN.
I planned on visiting two museums on Saturday: the National Mining Hall of Fame and the tiny (Carnegie!) Heritage museum. I never made it to the second one because there was so much to look at in the first. I had promised myself I would hit the road by 1 pm so as to return to Grand Junction mid-afternoon while finishing the audio version of Superfreakonomics that I borrowed from the Mesa County Library.
The front desk at the museum was staffed by an attractive and enthusiastic guide who was full of helpful information.
SO MANY ROCKS! Before a smattering of generic photos, I offer a hunk of molybdenum (I challenge you to pronounce it correctly the first time) and a display of some products that contain it.
Pretty rocks! Safety lamps! Mine mock-ups (mineral and coal) to walk through! My tour of the museum ended with a contemporary photography exhibit featuring mining photos from all of the best states in the western U.S. My favorite item on display was this time clock.
From the museum, I took one last look at downtown Leadville and found one last geocache.
You will notice the sky in my photos of Leadville: a gorgeous Crayola blue with only a few wispy clouds here and there. The sky in the photos belies the fact that on average, Leadville gets 200″ of snow per year. The people that I met were by and large granola types who like to climb 14ers on the weekends. Either because of or in spite of that information, I left agreeing with this local sentiment, and I vow that I’ll be back one day.