A Copper Excursion

Our friend Beth was traveling nearby so we drove north to join her in the Verde Valley.   Randy and I spent February 2015 exploring the Verde Valley while in our fifth wheel and knew there was an abundance of things to do!

The three of us decided to go on the Verde Canyon Railroad – a repeat for Randy and me.   Our experience was quite different this time. During the COVID break, the railroad’s entire operation was reimagined. The car’s interiors were refurbished and each now has an attendant/bartender. A generous fruit and cheese platter (with champagne) is included with your ticket, as well as the opportunity to order a hot boxed lunch. 

Our car attendant/bartender, Mona, was on her last trip as she retired the next day.  

Our outside attendant, EC, was very knowledgable and engaging.  He narrated our ride along the river, pointing out rock formations and sites relevant to the former mining operations.

He told us the history of the railroad and the town of Clarkdale.   One of the Montana Copper Kings, William Andrews Clark, was described as the richest man you’ve never heard of.  He bought western copper mines and a Montana based US Senate seat.  His business acumen and ruthlessness were equal to Carnegie, Rockefeller and Morgan but Clark is less well known today. He did not trouble himself with philanthropic endeavors so has no lasting legacy to soften the rough edges. Clark County, Nevada is also named for William Andrews Clark as he and his brother were instrumental in putting Las Vegas on the railroad map.

In Arizona, Clark bought the Jerome copper mine in1888 and built the town of Clarkdale for his employees. This company town is said to be the first planned community in Arizona.  

In 1894 he built a 26 mile railroad spur to transport his copper to the larger line in Prescott. This railroad, abandoned when the mine shut down, was resurrected as a tourist venue, The Verde Canyon Railroad.

The three of us enjoyed a trip to the Arizona Copper Museum – a new venue in town.  

The museum was established by a Minnesota family who had amassed two very large collections of copper items.  They chose to develop the museum in Arizona because it is the copper state, the largest copper producer in the nation. A copper star is central on the Arizona flag.

Clarkdale was chosen because of the region’s history with mining and ongoing tourist opportunities connected to that copper past.  The long abandoned Clarkdale High School was refurbished to house the museum.

The family’s copper, assembled over decades, form the bulk of the museum’s collection although acquisitions by purchase and gifts continue. There are six to eight very large rooms holding copper pieces on every wall and in interior cases. There are also hallway exhibits.

We learned a lot about copper! Copper was the first metal discovered by man, the first to be worked by man, and the first to be alloyed.   

Copper and gold are the only metals that have color.  The world’s oldest copper mine still in operation (over 6000 years) is in Cyprus and that is why the copper element symbol is Cu.

Copper and gold exist in nuggets where other metals form in ore.  For 4000 years copper and gold were the only metals used by man.

There are seven metals of antiquity:  copper, gold, silver, tin, lead, iron and mercury.

Bronze is a mixture of 85% copper and 15% tin.

The museum includes a very large military art collection.  The various rows hold casings from the same weapon type and explain how soldiers were able to pass some time creating these works of art. Most examples were from WWI.

There are very large collections of copper pots, and dishes.

This display allows you to see the various forms of copper embellishment: verdigris (natural), patina, applied and polished.

Copper ceilings adorn most rooms.

Did you know there is copper in dark chocolate?

Or that copper is present in blue glass?  Adding tin makes glass yellow and adding gold makes glass red.

The museum is extensive and it is easy to go on copper overload.  It was also easy to go in, enjoy the displays and learn a few interesting things about copper.

Our life is so different now than it was when we lived in the mode of constant traveling, exploring, and learning new things everyday. It was a delight to be explorers and learners again!

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Historic Hotel Series: The Gadsden

When we decided to sell our trailer we hoped to include historic hotels in future travels.  With Tucson friends Warren and Connie we set off for the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, Arizona.

Douglas is in southern Arizona, very near the Mexican border.  This area, once part of Mexico, was purchased to enable a southern railroad route.  That 1853-1854 transaction was called The Gadsden Purchase.  

The Gadsden Hotel was built in 1907, in the era of Wyatt Erp, Pancho Villa and Geronimo.  I was originally interested in the Gadsden because of a picture of Pancho Villa on his horse, on the lobby staircase. Alas, that picture was fake but the hotel was still quite interesting!

The hotel became a gathering place for the movers and shakers of the day.

Gathering in the lobby – just like the movers and shakers of old.

The hotel boasted a manually operated elevator to escort guests to each of the four floors.  It remains one of the oldest operating elevators of its kind west of the Mississippi.

The Gadsden Hotel burned in 1928 and only the elevator car, marble pillars and marble staircase remained.  

The hotel was promptly rebuilt with added glamour and services.  In addition to the elevator, the Gadsden was one of the first hotels to have telephones and restrooms in every room.  

Added glamour included Tiffany style stained glass.

The lobby was (and is) quite elegant. 

There is a nice courtyard with seating between the wings.

An impressive list of politicians, celebrities and actors have stayed in the Gadsden.  

John Wayne bought tequila for friends in the Spur and Saddle Saloon.  His ranch brand is among the hundreds of area brands displayed on the walls.

We bought drinks there too and enjoyed spending time together and playing cards.

The rooms are simple but pleasant.  Only the floor surrounding the lobby has been renovated.  The upper floors are yet to be done. The hotel is reportedly haunted (aren’t they all) and the ghosts seem to live in the upper floors.

The rooms have TVs but the cable wasn’t working. The room telephones were removed because only the ghosts seemed to be able to operate them – and then at inopportune times for guests.

In the lobby, only the booth on the left had a telephone.

The hotel offered a history tour so we signed up right away and paid our admission. We went up the landmark elevator to the dark third floor.  The history tour ended up being a paranormal tour – kind of. The front desk attendant and restaurant waiter took turns walking us through the dark third floor while the other found a place to startle us.  I guess they weren’t depending on the real ghosts to show up.

Randy and Connie enjoyed it. I did not. I was trying to hang onto Randy’s hand but that just meant he kept pulling me towards the “danger.”  Eventually I hung onto Warren’s arm while Randy and Connie chased “ghosts.”  I knew they weren’t real but I didn’t like being startled! 

Our tour came to an abrupt end when the bartender, the only remaining employee downstairs,  had to come get our “ghosts” as there was an issue with one of the other guests.  I was not sad about that – except we never did get to the history part of the tour.

There is an extensive Veterans Museum just off the hotel lobby, very personalized to this part of Arizona.  An interesting event to come in the next week was the repatriating of Korean War remains recently identified as belonging to a local man.

We also explored Douglas a bit and the surrounding area.  We walked through Raul Castro park and then to Church Square, the only block in the nation containing nothing but four churches, one on each corner.  This included Methodist, Southern Baptist, Episcopal and Presbyterian churches.

We left Douglas and drove to Slaughter Ranch, a national historic site, so near the border that we traveled next to “the wall” for part of our trip.

The monsoon waters surging through the wash blew out the “gates” and they were swept away into Mexico.

On a happier note, we saw this ride along the road. We gave our quarter but none of us rode the pony.  

The Slaughter Ranch was originally known as the San Bernardino Ranch and was purchased through a Mexican land grant in 1822.  It encompassed more than 73,000 acres and cost 90 pesos – current value just over $4 US. The original owner, Ignacio Perez was run off by the Apache in less than ten years. 

The Perez decendents sold the property to John Slaughter in 1884. Slaughter was a former confederate officer, cowboy and a loved and feared Cochise County lawman. He acquired adjacent properties and eventually had more than 50,000 head of cattle on his lands in Mexico and the United States. The ranch had its own border gate that was sometimes manned by customs officials.

The Slaughter ranch house is very comfortable and markedly cooler than the outside on the day we visited – because of the two foot thick walls.

The children’s room was occupied by Slaughter’s own children, but also eventually by grandchildren and foster children.  One particular child, two year old “Apache May,” was left behind when an Apache village was attacked by Slaughter and his posse. Slaughter took May into his home and raised her as his own child until her accidental death at age six.  He was a complicated man.

Warren and Connie learning about the Slaughter family and enterprise.

There were a number of out-buildings to explore. This was the room of the Chinese cook.

For almost 40 years, the Slaughter family operated their extensive cattle ranch.  The Mexican lands were eventually sold in Mexico.  Portions of the American lands are now the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge and the Slaughter Ranch National Historic Site.

Our next stop was for wine tasting at the Hofmann Vineyards. Connie found out about the winery when the Visitor Center attendant and I did not.  Well done – as it was a blast!

Charles and his wife Karen bought “some cheap land” in the early 2000-teens. and had their first bottling harvest in 2016.  This is their (or maybe his) retirement dream as he is in his 80’s and I presume Karen is in his age vicinity. We were amazed that they would want to work this hard in retirement.

We had a very enjoyable tasting and then went exploring into the process. Unlike nearly everyone else making wine in the world (or so it seems) they do not use oak barrels.  He expressed concern about the sanitary status of reusing barrels and instead uses stainless steel pots with added oak chips for flavoring.

None of us are wine experts, and we were having such a good time listening to their story that we just enjoyed ourselves and bought some wine to go.

On the way back to the hotel we found the local hangout for migrating sand hill cranes. This is a phone picture – and not a very good one.  Unfortunately Connie didn’t get a good one either, although several of her good pictures are in this blog. Photo credit Connie!

The four of us deemed this a successful venture and look forward to exploring more of Arizona’s historic hotels.

PS.  Our trailer sold and I deposited the check today (November 23, 2021).  Life moves on but we had a most excellent run in our Montana.  May her new owners enjoy and love her as much as we did.

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The Cabin Projects

When you last heard of our cabin, our rocking chairs were glad to have a new home and I was glad to have a home out of the heat!  

We really liked the cabin when we bought it but almost immediately started thinking of tweaks we could make to make it ours.  The first tweak didn’t seem like a huge deal but absolutely dominated our first few days of occupancy.

I was not a fan of this corner unit.  I wanted to move it out to slide the desk into that space. 

That meant removing the bottom cupboard, moving some wiring, repairing-texturing-and-painting the walls and those weren’t the bad parts of the project.

The worst part was the hours Randy spent trying to build an insert to fill the floor space.  There was some leftover material from the two floors that had gone over the original and he did the best he could.  It is not up to his usual standard but is also something no one would notice if we didn’t tell you about it.

We both like the desk moved into that space and Randy likes that we decided to keep the shelves above it.

The second thing I thought I wanted was to remove these upper cabinets in the bedroom.  This picture is how we first saw the bedroom and it seemed small and dark with that big cupboard above the bed.

In the end we decided to keep the cupboards and hide the shelf storage with canvas prints of colorful flowers we had photographed over the years.  It is nice to use the quilt my Grandma Dee made us as a wedding gift all those years ago.  We have had a dog on the bed for most of our marriage so rarely had the quilt on top.  One side of the room is mirrored closet doors and usually the shades are open so the room doesn’t feel small at all.

We finished that first trip with a new kitchen faucet, bathroom light fixture and a new shower fixture.

The focus of our second trip was to replace this vinyl accordion door going into the bathroom.  Yeah, it is tacky. We didn’t have a lot of options and decided on a barn door.  Great idea but tricky to implement in this miniature space. Barn door kits were too large and too heavy for our park model construction.

A saleswoman at Lowes suggested a 30″ interior door that cost $5 on clearance and separate barn door hardware.Randy had to use his engineering skills and his camera scope to get placement positioning and we measured and measured and re-measured.

Randy sanded, painted, touched up and installed the barn door and it looks MARVELOUS!  

The previous owners came over to see the barn door and asked if we wanted to sell the cabin back to them.  It is that great!

We took up a new entertainment stand with an electric fireplace and put that together.  It was time consuming but low drama!

Randy took down the previous owner’s satellite dishes and put up our DISH dish from the RV.   He set the dish and configured all the wires inside so it is a five minute task to hook up our home receiver and wireless Joey for the TVs in the cabin.

Then he installed our new bedroom TV.  It s a little big for the room but better too big than too small!

He installed a Lazy Susan triple shelf in one of the kitchen cupboards.

The sliding door lock was marginal so he replaced that.  It was another project that doesn’t sound like it would take all day but did.  He eventually won the battle.

I spent most of those first trips assisting Randy when needed, weeding our walkways and little forest and sitting on the deck.  I love reading on the deck.  The weather was superb and we have been very glad for our cabin in the woods.

Our little vacuum robot, Eufy, thought she wanted to escape to the deck as well.

By the time we went up for our third trip to the cabin, I was glad for Randy that we had come to the end of our list!   He could now enjoy life on the deck as well.  He sat there for a couple hours and dreamed up his own list.  I was not responsible for anything in this part of the blog.

He discovered that the stair supports (stringers) for both the front and back stairs to the deck were rotting and needed to be replaced.  

He wanted to have a ten foot section of rain gutter put up at the rear of the cabin.  He called the company who had put in another section in the front and found they were scheduling twelve weeks out and the cost would be $350, their minimum charge. That is a lot for a ten foot section of gutter.

He decided to do both projects himself but was unable to get supplies anywhere close.  He spent half a day driving to Payson and back but got what he needed.

I wouldn’t say the rain gutter project was quite as bad as the desk floor project but it was close.  At one point he considered abandoning his efforts and just letting the professionals do it for $350.

He eventually prevailed over the gutter demons and it works very well. It’s too bad that something that took so much time and energy isn’t supposed to be noticed.

He hadn’t been able to find stringers that weren’t already cracked so he got to buy a new saw to cut his own from 2″ by12″ pressure treated boards.

He prepped and painted the supports so our stairs should be safe and stable for a long time.

Randy was able to spend a lot of time inside his little storage cabin seeing what he has and organizing things. 

Then he decided it needed to be painted with a stain protectant!

When we left the cabin last week, the aspen leaves were starting to turn color.  Randy winterized the cabin and we heard that it snowed a day or two later.  We have tentative plans to drive up for a few days this winter and see how it is to be there with snow.  We bought a snow shovel just in case.

Randy installed a new thermostat with wifi to be able to monitor things but wifi is a problem.  We left our AT&T wifi device there from our RVing days but it is very marginal.  In fact, our biggest challenge going forward with the cabin is internet availability.  Cell phone coverage is also bad and there really aren’t any good choices given our location.   So, we are in the queue for Elon Musk’s Starlink. It is still in Beta testing phase but we know it is working well for a few people in our community. Randy has paid our deposit and we are hoping our equipment will be shipped to us sometime over the winter so we will be good to go next spring.

We love our little cabin. It is too small for overnight guests but there is a hotel a couple miles away and a couple community cabins available on Airbnb. We hope to see you in Show Low sometime in the future.

PS  Our fifth-wheel is still on the consignment lot.  We are a little surprised it is still there but the lot people set the price and they haven’t reduced it yet.  It will take as long as it takes and we are still content with letting it go.

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The Swan Song Trip

We thought as we prepared for this Summer 2021 RV trip that it might very well be our last.  With a house in a fun 55 plus community, and now a cabin in the mountains, we just are no longer interested in being gone for months at a time.    As the trip progressed, we became more and more comfortable with the idea of this being the swan song trip.

It was fitting that we spent our last couple weeks with family. We visited our cousins Marilyn and Lynn in Wyoming, something we’ve done several times over the years. Who knew how many times we’d pass through Wyoming!

We had smokey skies for our tour along the Wind River Range but still enjoyed ourselves.  

We followed it up with a trip to the Museum of the Mountain Man.

We got our grandson and spent five days at Henry’s Lake State Park, the only Idaho park we had never visited before.  We missed out for years. It is a great park!

He experienced his first leech! I’m glad Randy was on leech duty!

We went kayaking a couple times.

We watched the visiting moose for several days.

We enjoyed a dinner show at the Yellowstone Playhouse Theater in Island Park.

Of course, we took our grandson to Yellowstone National Park and he enjoyed the bison….

and the stinky mud pots!

We went to Boise for a few days, seeing more family and friends, and then went on to Sumpter, Oregon for our family reunion camping trip.  It was good to all be together again after missing for the COVID year.

We had planned a few more weeks on this trip but our water problems in Arizona flared up again and it was just time to go home.

And it is also just time to let this era of our lives go. 

Allow me to look back.

This was our first night in our new 2012 Montana Fifth Wheel in March 2012.  Of course it was at Three Island Crossing State Park in Glenn’s Ferry, Idaho. We went there so many times while we were still working for spring and fall weekends.

We lived full time in the Montana from 2014 to 2019 and this blog is mostly about those years.

Our last night in the Montana was at the Ely KOA in Ely, Nevada, August 8, 2021.

Throughout our RVing years, 2004 – 2021, I journaled each stay.  That was true for this trailer and our earlier Laredo.  For the Laredo I kept a running “cost per night” with that first night costing $22,000!  Over the years, at an average of 30 nights per year, our costs in the Laredo got below $100 per night. (Those calculations never included campground fees – just the trailer cost.) I stopped doing that calculation when we bought our Montana but still kept the journal.  It is fun to sit down and read both journals.

Today we took our beloved Montana to a consignment lot.  It was bittersweet but we are in agreement that it is time.   We are grateful that we are in agreement!

And what of finishing the map?     And what of the blog?

We carefully removed the map and mounted it in our hall.   

The plan is still to finish the map as we travel.  Our rule has been that we had to spend the night in a state to get the sticker and it is possible we will amend that going forward.   We hope to fly in, rent a car, and experience areas in much the same way we did in the trailer.   We enjoy historic hotels so we will likely add that to the mix.

And the blog…. we’ll see.  We hope to travel nationally and internationally, and perhaps the writing bug will bite as I learn things in new places.  Handy Randy has been making modifications in the cabin – so perhaps that will show up too.

And if the writing bug doesn’t bite again, we thank you most sincerely for caring about us and our RV travels.

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Doin’ Denver

Despite miserable traffic between Colorado Springs and Denver, we finally rolled into Cherry Creek State Park.  This is an amazing park right in the heart of Denver with a very large lake, swimming beaches, hiking and biking trails, camping and probably other things we weren’t aware of.

Our primary purpose in coming to Denver was to visit Coors Field for a two game series between the Mariners and the Rockies.

We arrived early for our first game as we weren’t sure where to park. Why not watch batting practice and wander around a new (to us) ballpark?  We learned that the row of purple seats is the true “mile high” designation.   Fortunately our seats weren’t that high!

The Mariners have a wide range of uniform options and colors and I was quite disappointed to see they wore their “road grays” for both games.

We were joined for the second game by Minnesota friends Eric and Micah who flew to Denver to join us.  Eric and I are baseball buddies and have text messages going forth at any time of the day or night.   Randy and I went to a game at Target Field (Minneapolis) a few years ago so this was a second installment.  Hopefully we’ll figure out another game and location in a couple years.

Randy and I did enjoy a couple other activities in Denver besides baseball!  Read on for Airplanes and our Food Tour!

We went to the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum.  We learned that when Lowry Air Force Base closed in 1994, two large hangars and multiple aircraft were donated to the group that formed this museum.   One of the hangars were sold to have the money to refit the second for the museum.  There are approximately 40 aircraft in residence.

An RB-52 aircraft provides the wow factor at the entrance.  RB is the designation for B-52s that were fitted for reconnaissance.  This particular plane was retired from active duty in 1966, was used as a training plane until 1975, and then served as a static display until being transferred to the museum in 1994.

The F-14A TOMCAT goes from 0-150 mph in 300 feet.

This is one of only four B-1A LANCERs ever built.  This plane could fly 1450 mph which makes individual personnel ejections impossible.  It has an ejection pod.

Originally owned and designed for speed records by Craig Breedlove, Steve Fosset purchased, modified and renamed the vehicle Sonic-Arrow II.  He was hoping to break Breedlove’s land record of 763 mph but was killed in 2007 before making the attempt.

And in lighter fare – We did another food tour!  We look for them because we always have interesting food, a bit of city tour, and interesting fellow participants.

Our tour guide Zoe spoke to us in front of my personal favorite from the tour.

We had delicious empanadas with a wine pairing.  They were so good, some of our fellow tour participants bought more. 

We were a group of eight tourists and Randy and I were the only ones from the western US.   That meant we were the only ones who already knew about fry bread.  

But even we were surprised at a new application – fry bread taco and margaritas!

We also enjoyed pizza, pork stew, and ice cream at various establishments on our four hour tour.  If you haven’t yet discovered Food Tours – why not?  We’ll join you!

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Cruisin’ Towards Denver

For those of you who think we are STILL in Cañon City – we aren’t.  We loved it there but we did move on.  I’m just very tardy in getting back to the blog – something I hope to remedy in the next couple weeks.

We cruised through Pueblo and Colorado Springs and found parking for our trailer in two residential areas as we stopped to see family friends.   

We saw Nannette in Pueblo but failed to take a picture!  We enjoyed visiting and she treated us to lunch at the renown Pass Key Restaurant for Italian Sausage Sandwiches.  We’d eat there again!  Thank you Nannette.

A little further along, we saw family friend, Jan, in Colorado Springs. We enjoyed visiting with her! One of the things we value about RV travel is being able to see people we otherwise would not.

Near Colorado Springs, Randy and I went to a chuckwagon dinner show at Flying W Ranch. We’ve been to shows like this all over the west and enjoy them. The Flying W was unique in two ways:

First, it was very, very strange to be in a space with so many people.  It was a bit of Covid culture shock!

Before “so many people” came, Randy enjoyed chatting with one of our table-mates.   He had worked for the railroad for many years, serving as an engineer on the same route day after day, year after year.  He said the only variety was the occasional animal sighting.  He scoffed at the idea that working on the railroad was one of those “romantic” jobs.

The lines were very efficient as we got our dinner of ribs, chicken, baked potato, applesauce, roll, beans and chocolate cake.  It was traditional fare for this type of venue and was very tasty.

The second reason the Flying W Ranch experience was unique was its history. Chuckwagon dinner shows began on the ranch in 1953. It was the second longest running venue of its type in the world. Until 2012…

The Flying W Ranch was completely destroyed in the Waldo Canyon Fire that began June 23, 2012. The founders’ daughter, who currently runs the operation, spoke about watching the fire come near but being assured by the fire captain that they would be able to save the ranch’s central property. Then she watched as fire fighters had to pull out for a higher priority site. She watched her family’s legacy burn down.

Not sounding bitter at all, she spoke of the work, dedication, and process of rising from the ashes.

The new facility opened in 2020 and it is beautiful. There are activities and shops to explore prior to the dinner show event. We’d recommend the Chuckwagon and Western Show regardless, but especially after all they’ve been through!

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A Gold Mine, Literally and Figuratively

We routed through Cañon City, Colorado because there were quite a few things listed there on our “To Do” travel document.  When we arrived at the RV Park, they gave us a “Checklist for Adventure” containing 25 activities that were local or nearby. There was some over-lap with my list but not total.  It seemed the Cañon City area was a relative gold mine of things to do!

We experienced eight of the 25 activities on the RV park list and this is my fourth (and last) blog from the Cañon City area!

Number 24 on their list was “Cripple Creek – Gold Rush Town.”  We set out on a beautiful sixty minute mountain drive to Cripple Creek. Our priorities were the train, the gold mine and the wandering donkeys.

We arrived at the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad for a 45 minute journey through a gold mine landscape.   

They have four historic locomotives, three were built in Europe and one in Pennsylvania.  Two were used in mining operations in Mexico, one was used on a South African sugar plantation and one’s previous use is unknown.  Yet, they all ended up in Cripple Creek, Colorado.  

During the gold rush days, there were 500 mines within 12 square miles.

The remnants are everywhere.

The former owner of this cabin, Bob Womack, struck gold after many years of trying.  He celebrated with drink and gaming and sold his stake for a few hundred dollars.  He lost out on millions of dollars of gold.  Such foolishness.

The locomotive operated was coal fired so we had a breeze of coal dust throughout. 

After our train ride we went to the Mollie Kathleen Mine for a tour.  Mollie Kathleen filed her mine claim circa 1890 and the good old boys objected.  Women weren’t allowed to file mine claims!  Her husband, a mine lawyer, smoothed things along and she ran a very successful mine.

Today that mine has been turned into a tour, descending 1000 feet in these very small elevator cages.  Notice the sign.   It is apparent we have been spending time with our seven year old grandson when I see I am including a reference to farting.

Gold in this area isn’t found or retrieved along rivers and streams.  Only one percent of gold worldwide is found in nuggets, and 99% of those are less than a pinhead in size.  

The mines here are looking for seams containing the gold within the rock.  Once identified, the rock is exploded apart and taken to the surface for processing. In this picture the dark purple seam is the gold.

Our excellent guide showed us how, over many years, the process became more efficient and safe. Most of the innovations were made by the minors themselves, rather than engineers or management. 

One worker who didn’t work out as a mine worker was Jack Dempsey.  He may have had the ability to become Heavy Weight Champion of the World but he couldn’t cut it in the mines as a hand mucker (that person who moves out the heavy rocks after an explosion).  

One of the efficiency steps was to take donkeys into the mine to do the heavy ore carrying.  At some point President Teddy Roosevelt was shown the mine and the donkeys and he determined that this was no life for a living creature.  He mandated that they be taken above ground for at least one hour a day. (My feelings about Teddy Roosevelt get complicated the more I learn about him – but for this moment in time, I appreciate him.)

The mine owners determined that using of donkeys under those conditions was not longer efficient and they developed a rail system.  The donkeys were taken to the surface and let loose to fend for themselves.

Magnesium sulphate, more commonly known as Epsom salts, are common in the shafts.

The system of sounds, still used all over the world, was developed in the Colorado gold mines.

Gold mining has changed over the years and is now done above ground. The current mine in Cripple Creek, operated by Newmont, is huge.   It is one of the largest gold mines in North America and it is believed that only a quarter of the gold has been retrieved.  Silver and platinum are also mined.  

This region of Colorado is the fifth largest mining district in the world.

Once we were done learning about the mines we turned back towards town and had a view from above. Cripple Creek, population about 1000, seems to have a lot of infrastructure.

It seemed odd to see such a large crane in the middle of town!   We were told a new parking garage and casino-hotel was being built.  Casino’s are the second business in Cripple Creek!

We walked around town a bit looking for a quiet (non Casino) place for dinner and for the resident donkeys which roam the streets from May to October.  These are believed to be descendants of the mining donkeys. They are penned and cared for during the winter months.

In our only real disappointment of the entire Cañon City area, we did not see the donkeys.  This was the best we could manage.

We had a bonus event at the Butte Theater, put on by the Thin Air Theater Company.  We saw a wonderful production of Gentlemen Prefer Blonds.  It was outstanding, especially considering it is a small town company!

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Cañon City: Opposite Ends of the Street

The Holy Cross Abbey and the Colorado Territorial Prison are on opposite ends of the Royal Gorge Boulevard in Cañon City.   We went to the Abbey first.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Benedictine monks were the originators and caretakers of the Holy Cross Abbey which began in 1924.  It had three purposes:  to serve as a Boy’s School, a Boys camp, and a Seminary for young men desiring to pursue a life dedicated to God.

The building was completed in 1926.  Despite using prison labor for construction, there were significant cost overruns and other Benedictine Abbeys helped out financially.

The first floor, where the highest ranking monks and public rooms were located, is still viewable by self guided tour.

Because this was primarily a teaching facility, the chapel is not elaborate.

The Abbey school operated from 1926 to 1985 and included boarders and day students.  Capacity was 250 students and it operated at, or near, capacity for most of those years.

From 1985 to 2005 the Abbey still served as a monastery.   We were told that the upper floors never had heat.

The campus was sold to an investment company in 2007 for $11 million and operates as a special events center for weddings, meetings, retreats etc.   The Sister’s House (you know those nuns who did a lot of the work) is available on Airbnb.

There are vineyards on the grounds and we went to the Abbey Winery.   For $8 they offer samples of 13 wines.   We only chose to sample six because we already know we are wine simpletons and only like the sweet stuff!

We did buy a few bottles.

Did you notice in the Abbey description that prisoners were used to build the abbey?  That was a theme we saw over and over in Cañon City and you may have picked up on it in our previous blogs.   

The Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility was built (by its own prisoners) in 1871 as part of the federal system.  “Old Max” was deeded to Colorado when it became a state in 1876.  (Did you know Colorado is called the Centennial State?)

When it was the state’s maximum security prison, it held up to 2000 prisoners.  Now it is a medium security prison and is currently holding 1100.  This prison also holds those suffering with dementia and other long term medical conditions.

In addition, we were told it serves as an intake center for all prisoner’s who are then dispersed throughout the state.

This picture shows the older section of the prison and the old deputy warden’s house.

The Prison Museum is housed in the former Women’s Prison, adjacent to Old Max.  While walking around outside we could hear announcements and instructions being given in the  main prison.  The woman’s prison was built in 1935 and do you think they used labor next door?  They seemed to be used everywhere else!

This is the gas chamber that was used at Old Max.  

There is quite the list of notorious prisoners, riots and wardens attached to Old Max and many of their stories are highlighted within the former cells.

This is what a woman prisoner’s cell would have looked like in the early days.  The prisoner’s sewed their own uniforms.

A cell in the later days looked more like this.

There are many displays of contraband weapons and items confiscated from prisoners but I thought this one was bittersweet – a chess set made of toilet paper.  Hard to see how that could have been dangerous to guards or fellow prisoners….

Given the number of times we read or heard “prisoners were used in building this…” throughout Cañon City, we had visions of chain gangs utilized throughout the area.   Given that background, I thought the cell highlighting current educational opportunities and work opportunities through Colorado Correctional Industries was especially interesting.

Almost all prisoners are employed in some capacity.  Old Max was the facility that began making Colorado license plates over one hundred years ago and they still make two million annually.

A side note:  Colorado’s white mountains on the green background license plate design is seventy years old and they claim it is the second oldest still in use in the U.S.   Ten minutes of research seemed to give the oldest design award to Deleware but I wouldn’t bet my house on it.  I also found that Idaho was the first state to put a slogan on their license plate:  Famous Potatoes, in 1928.   This feels like a rabbit hole I could fall into and I’m not willing to go there.

Besides license plates, Colorado Correctional Industries “employees” also make furniture, highway signs, flags, trash dumpsters and tables for state parks, and single and double beds.  They run a dairy farm, pig farm, green house, and do other agricultural farming.   They have a print shop, a metal shop, a sewing shop, an automotive shop and also build Old Max Chopper Motorcycles.   They run dog training programs and Colorado’s Wild Horse and Burro Program.  It seems far more promising than being free labor for Cañon City’s elite.    

Prison museums are always sobering, but I’m glad this visit included something positive!

Now, what are they ever going to do with this guy?!?

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Cañon City: Down the Arkansas River

After seeing the gorge from on high, our next plan was to travel through it by rail and by raft. 

The Royal Gorge is eight miles long and the first recorded Europeans that saw the gorge was in 1806. By 1878 the gorge was the focus of a bitter battle between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The company that built a rail line through the gorge would benefit from the mining industry so prevalent in the area. The gorge is narrow and not large enough for two lines. That battle was eventually won by the Denver and Rio Grande.

Many years later, it is the Royal Gorge Route that operates the line through the gorge.

We look for these old trains when we travel and always enjoy them.

We had seats in the dome car that included a variety of lunch options.  We had excellent burgers with fresh potato chips.

We rode out from Cañon City and then through the gorge next to the Arkansas River. This river begins in Colorado and makes its way through Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas before joining the Mississippi River.   We had never heard of the Arkansas River before….but we aren’t as familiar with rivers that go east as we are with those that go west.

Aside from the natural beauty, we saw remnants of an abandoned water pipeline that follows the train route on the south side of the river for eight miles.   It carried Cañon City’s water supply for 70 years.

It was built by territorial prisoners and we were told 96 of them died in the process.  The pipeline was made of redwood and wrapped like barrels.

This was the caretaker’s cottage, about midway through the gorge.  We were told he walked the entire pipeline everyday to do inspections.

Overtime, some sections had been reinforced with concrete.

The obvious question to me was why? Since the river flowed the same route, why go to the trouble to make an adjacent pipeline? The answer had something to do with the high alkaline levels in the river and running the water through the pipeline solved that problem.

In the winter of 1974, the pipeline froze and Cañon City was without water for three weeks.  They sought a different solution for their water needs after that.

There are colorful yurts and airstreams rentals available along the river.

We saw the bridge from the train.

It rained during much of our train ride and we sympathized with the rafters.  We were rafting the next day and hoped for better weather!

At the end of our ten mile journey, the train reversed and went back the same way, just in reverse. With the gradual decline in grade, the engine was now our brake.

The next day we had perfect weather for an afternoon raft trip! We traversed the very same route we had the day before but this time on the water.

We were in a raft with a family of four and our guide Brian.   He told us that this river is in the top three for number of rafters in the US.  


In the background you can see the bridge and the gondolas crossing the gorge.    Also in this picture you can see a person in a blue kayak.  He was the company photographer and the action shots are his. Unfortunately these are just pictures of pictures so don’t show his true talent.

Our guide, Brian, kept us busy with instructions to stroke Forward 2, or Back 1.    We went over class 2, class 3 and class 4 rapids at 900 CFS (cubic feet per second).  They run the river when the CFS is between 200 and 3400.

It was plenty of fun at 900 CFS! I can’t imagine 3400!

Randy is in blue in the front and I am immediately behind him.   He was supposed to shield me from more water than he did!  We were all wet in the end but it was a marvelous afternoon.  

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Cañon City: The Views From On High

We found ways to experience the views from on high in Cañon City, Colorado!

We traveled the Skyline Road, a  2.6 mile single lane road sitting atop a razor edge mountain top above Cañon City.

We enjoyed the novelty of this one way road, without guardrails, with non existent shoulders, and a view that drops to the depths on at least one and sometimes both sides.  It is not a road for the timid!

Skyline Road was built in 1905 by sixty inmates at the nearby territorial prison.  Sentences were reduced by 10 days for each month a prisoner worked on the road.

This dinosaur display sits where ankylosaurus footprints were found in 1999. 

The tracks are just to the left of the bone in the middle! There are a series along the wall.

We also saw the views from on high at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.  The bridge was built by 80 men over seven months in 1929 as a tourism site. 

Businessman and bridge builder Lon Piper saw the Royal Gorge in 1928 and had a vision for tourists to enjoy the views from the middle of the gorge, not just on either side.  The Royal Gorge bridge was the world’s highest suspension bridge for over 70 years and is still America’s highest suspension bridge, 

The bridge’s length is 1,260 feet with a width of 18 feet.

There are 2,100 strands in each cable and 4100 cables, weighing 300 tons.

There are 1,292 planks on the bridge deck and 250 are replaced annually.

Standing on the bridge you are 956 feet above the Arkansas River.   We could see the train tracks and the rafts – both of which we will be enjoying later in the week!

There is much to do in the park including activities and amusements for kids, adults and very adventurous adults.  We were just adults.  

When Randy asked me if I wanted to ride the zip line chairs across the gorge, I said I could be talked into it.  I don’t think he expected that answer but ultimately, we decided against it.

We saw the resident big horn sheep a few times.

We watched a short movie on the history of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park in the theater.  

A 2013 forest fire destroyed nearly all park building and facilities on both sides of the gorge.  The bridge survived nearly unscathed.  One hundred planks were burned and most of those were repurposed for the walls of the new visitor center.   Demoltion and rebuild began almost immediately and the park reopened 14 months later.

After walking across the gorge on the bridge, we rode back across on the gondola.  

The views from on high are stunning!

We weren’t quite so high on the classic Royal Gorge Zip Lines but high enough for my purposes.   We rode 9 lines and hiked 3/4 of a mile in between.  

We chose not to take our camera or phones and to rely on their photographer.  We then chose not to purchase their photos and thus, we give them some free advertising to use them.  The company did great so we don’t mind advertising for them.

I didn’t usually take time to enjoy the views from on high while zipping, being focused on the landing site and the guide’s instructions to brake.  

Randy enjoyed the zip lines more than I did but I enjoy most museums more than he does so that is fair.

Cañon City has been awesome so far! Looking forward to more!

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