Mine an adventure on Leadville trail
September 17, 2008
LEADVILLE, Colo. ” If you are a mining history buff (and who in their right mind isn’t) then visiting the Mineral Belt Trail in Leadville is a must.
The trail was completed in July 2000, but it took me until last weekend to “discover” it. All I can say is “wow.”
The trail takes cyclists and hikers through the heart of Leadville’s historic mining districts. You are just a few feet away from the mine dumps (the waste rock discarded from mine shafts), cribbing (the timbers used to shore up earth at or near the opening of mines) and a few dilapidated mining structures in California Gulch, where the discovery of gold led to the development of Leadville.
The journey gets more interesting as the trails winds through Fryer Hill and other knolls where some of the most productive mines in the silver era of the 1870s and 1880s were located. The trail offers a great view of the famous Matchless Mine, where Horace Tabor pulled so much silver out of the earth it helped make him a millionaire and where his widow, Baby Doe Tabor, supposedly froze to death as a pauper well after the silver crash.
Looking at the mines and their workings is thrilling enough, but the creators of the trail did a great job with historical signs that offer great detail on everything from the mines, and the railroads and smelters that served them, to the ranchers and merchants that fed and outfitted the bustling city.
There were more than a two dozen signs spaced along the 11.6-mile trail. I stopped at maybe half of them and rarely was disappointed by their content. It was heartbreaking, for example, to learn that the Blind Tom mine was named after one of countless burros that went blind after living and working 24/7 underground.
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Another placard informed me that superstitious miners wouldn’t whistle underground, fearing it would chase off the good spirits that would protect them.
The trail itself provides decent exercise, but not a full workout on its own for a fit cyclist. It gains about 750 vertical feet on the loop, and counterclockwise seemed to provide the best workout. It can be ridden so it starts and ends in Leadville. For maps that include access points, go to http://www.mineralbelttrail.com.