As we traveled through the San Juan National Forest, we spotted a brown bear cub on the side of the road. It was too quick to retreat for us to get a snapshot of it. Too bad. We passed through Wolf Creek Pass with an elevation of 10,550 feet. This was the highest elevation we had come upon to date and we could just hear the engine slurping up the gas! Honestly, it was like the "little engine that could" as we climbed the hills at 25 miles per hour with the engine straining all the way in second and third gears.
We crossed the Continental Divide at 10,873 feet elevation. On one side of the Divide, the water flows east to the Atlantic Ocean and on the other side, it flows west to the Pacific. There were snow peaked mountains all around and you could definitely feel the chill in the air.
|Straddling the Continental Divide|
We crossed through the Rio Grande National Forest riding along the Rio Grande and the San Isabel National Forest where we experienced very high winds. By the time we reached Leadville, it was down to 48 degrees and with the wind chill it felt more like 32 degrees. We stayed at an RV park called Sugar Loafin' which was at the base of the mountains with snow covered peaks. Beautiful views! That night it dropped to 26 degrees and the water pipes outside to the hose froze. As a kicker, our electric heater didn't work as well as it should and the gas heater worked in fits and starts. Tim had to keep going outside to the gas heater vent to get it started over and over again. I, of course, hid under the down comforter!
The following day, we toured the area including Touquoise Lake, the "downtown" of Leadville, the Heritage Museum and started a tour on our own of the famous gold and silver mines that put Leadville on the map in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was interesting to learn about the rise and fall of the "bonanza king" of Horace Tabor and his second wife Baby Doe. The scandal of thier love triangle cost him a senate seat. They spent $10,000 a month on frivolous things and he went from one of the richest men in the nation to hauling slag at $3 per day and Baby Doe ended up as a penniless widow who lived out her life in a supply shed in Leadville in what was previously the Matchless Mine. There is only one working mine now which reopened after a 25 year hiatus. It mines molybdenum which is silvery grey metal that is used to strengthen steel,as a fertilizer, and in oils and lubricants.
In the afternoon we took a 2 and 1/2 hour train (Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad) ride up the mountain to view the valley and a place called Climax which is the location of the molybdenum mine. We also saw panoramic views of the mountains, the valley below and the headwaters of the Arkansas River. It was a bit chilly, but we were bundled up and worth the trip. It didn't snow until we were back at the RV! That night the temperature was down to only 38 and the electric heater was able to keep up so Tim got to have a good nights rest.
We learned a lot of the history of the town and of the many celebrities that visited there in its heyday, but I don't believe so many will be going there these days!