Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Teller County travails

Victor gets quiet on a Thursday afternoon, even in summer. Only a handful of older folks milled around, likely stopped before they crossed the hill and hit the slot in Cripple Creek. 

Had one of the German bakeries in Colorado Springs closed its interior and move to window-service since the pandemic, we might not have ventured this deep into Teller County. 

But here we were, taking the mountainside road hugging Pikes Peak’s eastern foothills to reach the mining towns. 

Victor’s businesses were open, from a stately old downtown hotel, several patios and German bakery with its own selection of delightful sweets. We loaded up on sandwiches with fresh-based bread and desserts including carrot cake and peanut butter pie. Preparation took a little while but was worth the time. Being at the front of the line helped. 

Victor’s murals don’t hide that its heyday was a century ago, when the mines drew prospectors to give it a population of 15,000. The number has since dropped to about 400 hearty souls. 

We looped around the silver mine that separates Victor from Cripple Creek, crossing the state’s highest bridge and seeing smoke where we might have normally spied the conical peaks of the Sangre de Cristo. The mountains could not be pried free of the haze today. From the road the open pit mine seems like an unnatural mountain, reconstructed after the mining operation tore it apart. From satellite photos, the terraces of an open pit are plainly visible. 

For all the mountainside driving required to reach either town, they are just minutes apart. Early on we cross the Arequa Gulch Bridge, crossing the state’s highest bridge, built by the mining company when the mine tailings overcame the lower road to Cripple Creek. Even the gambling mecca of Cripple Creek had a lazy feel this afternoon.

Teller County Road 1 swung us out of town. I had never driven this road and felt better for finally tackling it. We were on the far side of Dome Rock State Wildlife Area and there was no traffic. The small rugged mountains felt more like rockpiles at times. Farms rolled past, including one fenced field dotted with llamas.

A familiar crossroads emerged. The national monument signs halted the rows of housing developments. The rumple hills and the former lakebed of Florissant emerged. We got our lunch at the Barksdale Picnic Area. 

The creek through Barksdale was dry this fall. Every other time I had visited, clear waters bubbled down the narrow channel shaded by grasses. The grasses were parched, the waters gone months earlier. I only hoped the water would return when the precipitation returned, and that it would not be long. 

Barksdale always felt like a slice of heaven. How could it not? A placid roll of hills, a grassy meadow and a creek that few people bothered to visit. 

The ride down the hill to the Springs would come soon enough. A few beers at a craft brewery would suffice for an end to the evening. The taproom windows faced the mountains, and even with the smoke, the peaks delivered a show of color and light. The sun set directly behind the peak of Pikes Peak, the red-orange ball descending through smoke-tinged haze.

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