Leadville, CO: Just Call Me Silver Dollar

We’re in Leadville, the richest silver mining boom town in Colorado, with no worldly explanation of why it’s not therefore called Silverville, but I digress. Even in the rough-and-tumble days of 1880, it was one of the most sophisticated and modern cities in the world. Remember “Unsinkable Molly Brown” of Titanic fame? She’s from here, as was the founder of the Jolly Corks. Whooo, you ask? The Jolly Corks … later to be more commonly known as the fraternal club called the Elks!

At an elevation of 10,200’, Leadville is the highest city in North America.  We’re thinking about purchasing some of those silver canisters of oxygen they sell in the campground store. Grocery purchases feel like a rip-off, as every package is blown up with way more air than food.

Nestled beneath Colorado’s two tallest fourteeners (mountains higher than 14,000 feet), its 70-square downtown block downtown is a National Historic District with frequent reminders of such, and of course lots of places with the word Silver in their name, and an old year underneath.

Also featured … the kind of iconic Victorian era architecture that keeps house painters very busy, one overlapping shingle at a time.

The most famous Leadville resident was Horace Tabor, The Silver King. The lurid tale of the rise and fall of poor Horace, and particularly his second wife, Baby Doe, are the stuff of Colorado legend. My super-simple summary is that he and his first wife came to Leadville and got very rich, becoming one of the wealthiest men in the state. They bickered, however, because she was level-headed and frugal. Meanwhile, he was showy and loved spending copious amounts of money, incorrectly believing that silver would be king forever. For example, he built the grandest theater between St. Louis and San Francisco, drawing famous people like Houdini and President Theodore Roosevelt to the city, and of course, as rich people do, named it after himself.

Before he could pause from spending long enough to divorce his first wife, Horace took up with his mistress, Elizabeth “Baby” Doe, a gorgeous blonde who was 20 years younger and who was also a firm believer in a lavish lifestyle. Their mining claims, including the site pictured below, were churning out millions of dollars of silver a day, so when they married and a daughter was born, what choice did they have but to extravagantly name her Silver Dollar? Well, her real name was Rose Mary Echo Silver Dollar Tabor, but they shortened that in favor of their favorite mineral, silver, and she was forever known as Silver Dollar.

Fast forward to 1893 when government actions completely wiped out the Tabor’s wealth — two years later, they were penniless, and two years after that, Horace died. Baby Doe lived out the rest of her life in this cabin at the Matchless Mine, and could be seen shuffling down the Leadville Main Street with her feet wrapped in burlap bags, vagabond and alone. (The spurned first wife, however, lived a successful life in Denver after being tossed to the curb by Horace.)

She died inside the threadbare cabin, and was found frozen many days later. This “rags to riches to rags” story inspired a movie and opera, The Ballad of Baby Doe. I would like to rename it The Ballad of the Silver Fox, for the little fella hanging out below the cabin. (He’s not silver, but I’m workin’ a theme here. Hang with me.)

Another day, we hopped onto our “silver steeds” and bicycled the Mineral Belt Trail, also known as the Route of the Silver Kings.

This 11.2-mile route goes up-up-up for 5 miles (huff, puff, did I mention we’re over 10,000 feet altitude?) to the summit, then blissfully transitions to 7 miles of easy down-down-down (whew!).

Made it to the top!

The is a rails-to-trails former route of the train that would come around all the silver mines in town to collect their ore and take it to the smelter down at end of the trail. It goes through woodlands and aspen groves, past old mines and abandoned equipment, offering an exhiliarating and educational experience all in one!

Another day, we strapped on our silver sneakers (we are senior citizens, after all), drove past the huge underground mine at Climax (the 8-year-olds in us couldn’t suppress a snicker), and hiked the Mayflower Gulch to some abandoned cabins in an old mining camp.

Another beautiful day, we went high into the silvery clouds with a drive over Independence Pass, elev 12,095, at the high point on the way to Aspen. It’s the highest paved road crossing the Continental Divide, up a windy, mountain road with several switchbacks and narrow passes. At the top, views of towering Mt. Elbert, short trails for exploration, and cold, blowing wind!

Lastly, practically adjacent to our campground, it’s not Silver …. it’s Turquoise! The lovely Turquoise Lake, that is, 1,800 acres of calm beauty.

We are embracing the wisdom of John Muir, famous naturalist, who advised, “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” Two months into this trip, we’re sticking to small towns, back roads, and dirt paths as much as possible.

Blogging can be a lonely business … throwing yourself, and the random thoughts swirling inside your head, out into the world for all to judge. Another RV blogger I love recently summarized another big challenge: simultaneously writing about the past (places you’ve just left) and securing a place to stay in the future (planning upcoming trips up to a year in advance), while not missing out on the opportunities for fun here in the present! The silver lining in blogging our adventures? Hearing from you! Thanks for reaching out with comments and questions … it makes the journey all the sweeter … or should I say, all the shinier!

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