Celia and I left Great Sand Dunes National Park and headed higher up into the mountains to Cripple Creek, Colorado, elevation 9,494 ft. (2,894 m). This high-elevation town is west of the famous Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs. I have family that owns some land there and they had invited us to visit. The views from the area are wonderful and offer vistas of the Continental Divide and Colorado mountains.
Cripple Creek was little more than pasture land until gold was discovered in 1890. Soon after, thousands of people made their way to this mountainous area. As with so many of these gold and silver mining areas, towns grew rapidly to cater to the new millionaires. Over the years, 500 million dollars of gold was mined in the Cripple Creek area, and the population of the town exceeded 50,000 by 1900. Now the inhabitants of the town number less than 1,500, but many of the historic buildings remain. Few structures predate 1896 due to a devastating fire that destroyed almost all of the town that year. There is even an opera house among many of the buildings that were constructed. It opened in 1896 as the “Butte Concert and Beer Hall.”
One of the more interesting pieces of Cripple Creek history is the person who led the way to rebuild the town after the fires of 1896. The proprietor, Pearl DeVere, owner of the most elegant brothel in town, played a major part in the reconstruction of Cripple Creek. At her funeral, thousands filled the streets in gratitude for the work she had done to help save the town.
We parked the Bighorn in an interesting location in Cripple Creek. The Cripple Creek Hospitality House is located in the former Teller County Hospital built in 1901. At that time it was home to state-of-the-art medical care for the region. Now it has been restored as a 14 room Victorian Hotel with plenty of antiques plus an RV park out back. The porch and grounds are a great place to relax and enjoy the cool mountain air.
Voters approved legalized gambling in Cripple Creek in 1991. At present most of the town is owned by the casino interests. In fact, there are almost no establishments that are not related to the casinos, including restaurants, hotels, and even a gas station. This gives a vibe to Cripple Creek that other mountain mining towns do not have. There are tourist sites such as a narrow gauge railroad ride, mine tour, and a history museum but we did not make time to visit them.
We did visit the sister town of Victor, Colorado which is only four miles away. Celia and I both liked its ambiance and character. It also has a fabulous eatery, the Gold Camp Bakery. We met our nephew there for lunch. It even had a large selection of gluten free items so we could all spurge on some eats. Celia said that it was the best Gluten Free Apple Pie that she has ever eaten.
Victor is another previously booming gold mining town and has a large number of historic buildings. We found the locals very friendly and we enjoyed visiting there.
Mining has not completely disappeared from the area as there is a large commercial mine between Cripple Creek and Victor that is fully operational today. Who knows, maybe one day a new large gold deposit will be discovered.
Next we head to one of our new favorite small towns, Leadville, Colorado.