Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fossils, Gold Mining Towns and Old Railroads

About 30 miles west of Colorado Springs is a national monument.  It's not very big and not very well known, but I used to live just down the road from the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.  And the national monument is just down the road from Cripple Creek and Victor, old gold mining towns.  And just beyond Victor is Phantom Canyon Road, which follows the railroad bed down to Canon City, CO.  
The Adeline Hornbeck homestead is a part of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.  Adeline Hornbeck was a single mother of four children, who, using the Homestead Act, became the owner of a prosperous ranch back in the 1870s.
Florissant, CO, originally Twin Peaks, was platted in 1871 and was the first white settlement in the area.  Judge James Costello opened the Ute Trading Post in 1870 and a post office was established in 1872.  In 1887 the Colorado Midland Railroad ran through Florissant became home to six helper engines with 50 railroad employees and their families moving to the area.  After gold was discovered in nearby Cripple Creek in 1891, and with the railroad running through Florissant, the town became the primary access point to Cripple Creek, with 12-15 stagecoaches running daily.  By the turn of the century the gold boom was over and by 1917 the railroad was bankrupt.  As of 2010, Florissant has a population of 104.

The fossil beds were discovered in the 1870s and for many years it was a popular commercial tourist attraction.  With no control established, people took fossils home as souvenirs and destroyed many pieces of fossil evidence.  It was not until 1969 that the fossil beds became protected when put under the Federal Park system.  Throughout the park can be seen the fossilized remains of old redwood trees.  Yes, redwood trees.  These trees are estimated to be 35 million year old.
In the 1920s, two competing ranchers, tried to monopolize the fossil beds.  Each owned part of what is now the national monument.  One was the Henderson Petrified Forest and the other was Colorado Petrified Forest and Guest Ranch.  The Henderson Petrified Forest closed in 1961, while the other ranch operated until the park service took possession.

Throughout the park the stumps of petrified redwoods are visible.  35 million years ago a volcanic eruption caused volcanic mud to cover everything to a depth of about 15 feet.  Eventually the top of the trees died out, leaving only the stumps behind, buried in sediment.  Now these remains are again close to the surface and have been dug up.

Notice the wasp on the sign?  Said to be one of the most richest and diverse fossil deposit in the world, over 1700 species of have been discovered.  This wasp is just one of those. What I found most interesting is the many fossils found here, which are only today found in totally different areas of the world.  Such as, the Tsetse fly;  the only known fossil of this species is found here, yet today, the fly is only found in Africa.

Cripple Creek, once a booming gold town, today is a tourist attraction offering tours of the Mollie Kathleen Mine, and limited stakes gambling.  Since it is a National Historic District, the outsides of the buildings cannot be changed, although the insides can be remodeled as needed.

There was even a Elks Lodge on the main street.

Gold was not discovered here until 1891, so most of the buildings, like this one, were built in the mid to late 1890s.

When I lived in the area gambling was not yet legal, so personally I am disappointed to find most of the stores I used to visit are now gone.  But I was still glad to see the old buildings looking just like they did.

This is a new casino, which should be open by now.  But they were doing a dry run on the restaurant the day we were there.  We got a free meal by giving them a report of how we liked the service, food, etc.  

Between Cripple Creek and Victor is the main mining still going on today.  No longer do they mine using shafts going deep underground, now they just take the entire top of the mountain.  One day we will return and find the mountain completely gone.

More evidence of the current mining.  Talking to the information center in Cripple Creek, they are still taking over 100,000 ounces of gold, plus silver out of the mine annually.

But there are scars of the old mining still around.

Just down the road is Victor, another mining town.  It never gained the tourist notoriety that Cripple Creek did, and there were lots of boarded up store fronts and abandoned buildings.

But they did have a painted Elk to welcome us.

The Victor Hotel, established in 1899 is still operating.

The mining is just on the outskirts of town.

I thought this church had an unusually looking steeple.   It reminded me of some Russian churches I saw in Alaska.

Even Victor, with only a population of less than 400, has an Elks Lodge.

Electric trolley cars, like the one above, ran the 5 mile distance between Cripple Creek and Victor.

Between 1894 and 1912, the Florence and Cripple Creek narrow gauge railroad carried gold out of the mining camps.  It is now the basis for the Phantom Canyon scenic road.

You follow the old railroad bed for about 20 miles down the canyon.  Although it is a dirt road, it is pretty well maintained and most cars should be able to make the journey.

This is the only remaining bridge, and it is a steel bridge, from the old railroad.  In 1912, a raging flood  with a 30 ft wall of water, took out the other 12 bridges, along with miles of track.  The railroad never operated again, and in 1915 the remaining tracks were removed.
This spot was also the site of a runaway train.  In 1901, an engine and nine loaded ore cars went off the tracks at this bridge, spreading wreckage along the creek banks and in the creek itself.  You will still find people looking for gold in this area, hoping to find some of the lost ore from over one hundred years ago.

The sad part of traveling this road was noticing the lack of water in the creek.  When I would travel along this way 20 years ago, the creek was always full of water and you would find people camping and fishing alongs its banks.  Today, it is dry and we saw no wild life, nor campers.

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