Had an adventure over Labor Day weekend. You may remember my sister, Karen visited. After she left, I took off for some clear-the-mind-time.
Mosquito Pass straddles the Mosquito Range, linking tiny little Alma, CO with Leadville, CO. Topping out at 13, 186′ it’s the highest pass road in America according to the book I found the description in. (Great series, the Colorado Trails Series by Peter Massey.)
Supposedly, a group of locals disagreed on what to name the new trail over the pass. When the meeting minutes were opened, they found a squashed mosquito on the list of proposed names. Mosquito it was! I love campy stories as such and want to BELIEVE this is true.
Used by Native Americans originally, gold-miners started camps in about 1861 up there.
Telegraph wires crossed the pass in 1878. Famed Horace Tabor and investors built a toll road over the pass. Freight and passenger wagons, est. at 150/day, crossed over. Legend says the pass became known as the “highway of frozen death” from those trying to avoid the toll and walking over instead.
Completion of local railroads ended the pass’s practical use. Falling into great disrepair it closed from 1910-49. Locals restored it.
Now, a yearly “Get Your Ass Over the Pass” burro race in July is held. I’d LOVE to see that!
Cty rd 12 passes numerous small mines and the former stagecoach stop of Park City. Just before turning up hill and switching to a 4WD road South London Mine appears. Est. in 1874, this mine, paired with North London Mine (more on that later) yielded millions of dollars worth of ore. Cabins and bunkhouse ruins still exist as does parts of a 3,000′ tram that replaced a traditional chute.
South London Mine in a BIG setting:
The road pushes up a hill. Looking down valley, a glimpse of South Park in the distance:
The landing, barren and ringed with peaks, all 13’ers. This doesn’t do the view justice. My little point and shoot knows no wide angle:
North London Mine appears. Seems to be barely stuck into the rocky hillside:
Mine shafts between North and South London Mines merge underneath the mtns, totaling more than 100 miles of tunnels. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about CO history from this summer’s adventures it that miners lived hard and short lives full of danger with little monetary reward. Investors and owners got the goods. Hard life.
Bits of debris:
Road moves past. Was the most technical I’ve driven in “Trusty” yet. (Still searching for the perfect name for my truck. Trusty and Girl seem to fit so far.
Look at this guy! Alien planted here to take over the world? Haven’t found it in my plant book. Anyone recognize this oddball plant?
Reached a little saddle. Gated road looks to head down South Mosquito Creek to the East. Rotten pic but it was pretty.
Narrow shelf road continues up. Was hard to tell where the true top was but what a ridgeline!
Viola! Made it. Look at all that graffiti. A sad testament to societies need to leave its mark:
Of note, a Methodist Preacher named Father Dyer carried mail, on snowshoe, at night (more stable snowpack) across the pass for $18/week. I sure hope that was good money back then. A memorial stands at the summit.
Looking west, Leadville sits below with the Mount Massive Wilderness (and Independence Pass Rd, my next foray) in the distance. Had a snack . Sat and enjoyed the solace/space/views. Was lucky for great weather. Got hailed on in Alma the afternoon before and didn’t want to linger and push my luck for too long. There were clouds building up a bit.
Road winds down. Real purdy. I think that’s Mt Sherman in the background, not positive:
Some low plants, only a handful of flowers seen:
Had these guys not moved, I wouldn’t have spotted them:
See em? Didn’t move much at my approach. Good thing ptarmigans (I think?) are so well camouflaged. Not too bright.
Made it down and parked in a broad valley with a view. Made breakfast and coffee (cup #2) and relaxed.
Diamond mine on the way out. There were many others to see as well:
Road dumps out in Leadville, becoming 7th street. Leadville’s an intriguing town. Once a hotbed of mining wealth, it boasted 19 hotels, 82 saloons, 38 restaurants, 21 gambling houses and 36 brothels. Easy money=lawlessness. It was considered one of the roughest towns in the west.
Pic of part of downtown, lifted from Wikipedia, squashed, sorry!
Break time in an underground Leadville Mine Tunnel. Pic from Wikipedia. An interesting study of people, I think:
Estimates place the population at 20-40,000 at Leadville’s peak, which blows my mind. Doc Holliday and the “unsinkable” Molly Brown (a titanic survivor) were residents. The Great Houdini and Oscar Wilde frequented the Tabor Opera House.
Mining crashed, including the local molybdenum mine, the Climax Mine, which at one point produced 75% of the world’s molybdenum. The town plummeted into poverty. People left, houses were torn down for firewood. During prohibition, booze was a mainstay income for some.
Today, a few thousand live there. I’ve noticed a revival of sorts in my 10 years of passing through. Younger folks are moving in, raising families, drawn to the clean, outdoor lifestyle. I don’t know what one would do for work, though. Main Street seems more cleaned up. It apeals to me in ways, but would be isolated and, probably, lonely for a single gal. Winter…brutal…at 10,00o+ feet.
Thoughts to ponder as passing through. On to stage two of the trip, Independence Pass.