|So, the sightseeing has begun. Tuesday morning we took off on one of Michele's patented day trips. Our first stop was only about 25 minutes SW of the campground at the Florrisant Fossil Beds National Monument. It’s near the site where thousands of fossils have been discovered over the years and it has some petrified Redwood trees, but you aren’t permitted to go where the largest fossil finds are so the only thing you really get to see outside are a few of the remaining petrified trees.
There used to be extensive petrified tree stumps but prior to the park service gaining control of the property in 1969 they were removed by tourists so very few – maybe 10 – are visible on the short 1 mile loop trail. I imagine that many more are around, but not along the trail. A little more information is at https://www.nps.gov/flfo/index.htm. It was a short stop for us; maybe a little over an hour, then we were off toward the old mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor about another 25 minutes away to the south.
The Cripple Creek and Victor area was the site of a huge gold strike in the 1890’s. Today, there are numerous abandoned mines visible in the area, and one large operating mine run by the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company. Obviously there is sufficient gold to make it worth while because this is a gigantic operation. According to a sign at a rest area, it mines 325,000 ounces of gold a year, which at today’s price works out to about $444 million. Not bad for a year’s work.
Today though, the main attraction in Cripple Creek is gambling. In 1991 they approved casino gambling in the community and it has supposedly been a boon to the local economy though it doesn’t look like the locals are the ones really benefiting as the area off the main street is still pretty bleak looking. The main street is lined with hotels, casinos and restaurants in the old, early 1900’s era buildings that look pretty neat, but it was not very crowded and this is the middle of what I would assume is the busy season.
We drove 5 minutes further down the road to Victor and snooped around but didn’t see much other than an old mining town that has turned into just an old tourist town...and not much of one at that. My travel guide then directed us to County Road 88, part of the Gold Belt Tour, for a 14 mile gravel road drive from Cripple Creek to near Cañon City. It was a pretty rough in spots and the 14 miles took us just over an hour. Some of the views were amazing but the weather was pretty cloudy so I didn’t take any pictures, though I should have. We passed 5 cars that were going the other way on the 1½ lane road despite signs at either end saying that 4WD or high clearance vehicles were recommended. They were obviously driving rental cars and had paid for the extra insurance. We did a pretty good lunch stop in Cañon City at Chicago Bob’s BBQ, then headed west on Hwy 50 to visit Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.
RGB&P is the site of a 1,260 foot long bridge over the Arkansas River almost 1,000 feet below. The website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Gorge_Bridge gives you a lot more information should you want to read about it. Over the years they have turned this into more of an amusement park than it was when I first visited as a kid. In fact, you used to be able to drive across, but now it is limited to pedestrians and golf carts. They also have a round trip aerial tramway that you can ride if you don’t want to walk, or the more adventurous visitors can do a zipline from the south rim back to the visitor center. We paid our $46 – which I thought was a bit steep – then walked across the bridge, watched a cheesy magic show (that I thought was going to be a movie about the history – I really should have read the sign), then walked up the hill to catch the tram for our trip back to the car. As luck would have it, just as we were about to board the tram they shut it down due to high winds so we hoofed it back across the bridge – and just as we were about halfway across the bridge, the tram restarted. Swell.
We decided to take a different route back – the earlier 14 miles of gravel were enough – so we got onto Hwy 9 just west of the bridge and took it north to High Park Road and back to home in Woodland Park.
We have been getting a bit luckier with wildlife lately. We saw some bighorn-less Bighorn sheep at the bridge and some deer on the way to the campground and one Mule deer that decided to eat some plants a stone’s throw from our house last night, but we feel cheated up to this point. About every mile you see signs along the road warning you of deer, elk and bear but so far the wildlife has not been following the signs. They need to be better trained.
During the day Wednesday we ran a bunch of errands, then met our friend Angela in downtown – for lack of a better word – Woodland Park at the Ute Inn to gab a bit, then we were off to see her new project. She is a partner in a brand new Assisted Living facility that they are building and plan to have open by the first of the year. She has certainly gone through a lot of changes in the 36 years we have known each other and we’re really impressed with where she is at now in her life. As usual, we had a great time catching up and ended up closing the Chinese restaurant where we ate dinner. A lot of stories were told and plenty of laughs were had by all and I know the next time we catch up, it will be more of the same.
On Thursday, I had a plan. I put together a picnic lunch and we were going to go further up into the mountains to do some more sightseeing and have our lunch. Great plan...except for Mother Nature and the rain. We had started out heading to the Crested Butte ski area to look around but the GPS said it was going to be a one-way 3 hour drive, so we reined in our goals and pointed the jeepster toward Breckenridge, a comparatively shorter 90 minute drive.
We headed west on Hwy 24 from Woodland Park to Hartsel, then north to Fairplay on Hwy 9 and then up across the 11,500’ Hoosier Pass, then down into a damp and crowded Breckenridge. A little wandering, some shopping and a little lunch at the Breckenridge Brewery – since a wet picnic was not going to be any fun – then it was time to head home. We had hoped to find a different route back to Woodland Park but since there were Flash Flood Warnings for the area and one route would have taken us north to Denver, we decided to go back the way we took this morning so it was a dreary repetitious drive. But still, we’re in the mountains...it ain’t all bad.
Friday was moving day. The campground in Woodland Park had grown tired of us...not really, actually they were completely booked for the weekend...so we had to relocate down the mountain to the KOA in Fountain, CO just south of Colorado Springs for Friday night. Our intent was to be in the Springs to get some things taken care of since it was going to be the biggest city that we will be in for awhile so we added the extra day just in case.
Some of our things we got done, some we didn’t. I got my wayward bike repaired, we tried unsuccessfully to get a safety recall done on the Jeep, we did some Costco-level restocking, a haircut and nails were done (hair me; nails her), some more miscellaneous shopping, some visiting and even a pizza and a movie date night, in addition to our usual sightseeing. We got a lot accomplished but the time has come for us to move on.
We are booked in my original hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming for at least 2 nights starting Saturday to visit some of my kin folk in the area, then it will be north for some more kin visitin’ and maybe, just maybe, some Yellowstone before we head to Oakland for our last baseball park. At least that’s the plan I have worked out in my brain. As always, weather, mood and a better offer could alter that plan.