#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 10
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)
We’ve made it to Colorado! For the first time in this road trip, we have no plans until the Trampled by Turtles concert at Red Rocks, around sunset. With a whole day ahead of us in one state, we breakfast at the hotel and decide to grab a stack of tourist brochures from the lobby. We spread the brochures around our room and look for things that jump out at us: Panning for gold, riding a train, touring a mine, and visiting a brewery. Brent estimates the timing with multiple events only offered certain times a day and computes that if we leave approximately right this minute, we can do a mine tour, pan for gold, and forego the brewery but make it to a train that has a bar car–all before the concert. We look at each other for a split second in agreement of the plan, and go running for the door.
We set map-app Sally to the address of the mine, and head west out of Denver into the sunny, blue-skied day.
“It was weird,” I tell Brent, “When we drove in last night, I don’t remember going up in elevation. I thought we’d be climbing up and up, but it seemed pretty flat.” Brent agrees.
We drive along a mountainside and the highway takes us through a pass and suddenly the view before us is all downhill–downmountain, I should say—for two miles according to a sign, until we reach the valley. We look at each other from “up here” and smile.
It’s an amazing thing to ride aloft in the mountains one moment, and then find yourself looking up at those peaks from the valley floor only a few minutes later. I think about the people of Denver and how they could feel awe or triumph simply based on where they happen to stand at any given moment.
At the bottom of the valley we meander through the mountains for about half an hour until we reach a place called Idaho Springs and find the Argo Gold Mine and Mill. The mill was built at the entrance of the Argo Tunnel, which built between 1893 and 1910 to provide water drainage, ventilation, and transportation of the gold-bearing ore from the many mines it intersected.
At the mine, we’re allowed to touch the mining equipment before watching a presentation and taking a short bus ride to a mine entrance up the mountainside for a tour. It’s warm under the Colorado sun, but we’re in jeans, having learned a year ago on a mine tour in Pennsylvania to bundle up for such an occasion. We’re not disappointed; the mine is chilly. Exiting the mouth of the mine, we return our hard hats and keep our eyes peeled for bears. (Our group has been warned not to feed the bears or to take selfies, as if we’d be that dumb.) Instead, I take pictures of Brent hopping in and out of an abandoned mine car that was next to a sign clearly stating not to touch it.
We self-tour the interior of the mill from the top down, and marvel at the way this building was not much protection from the elements. Back out in the sunshine at the bottom level, we’re taught how to pan for gold and allowed to practice for as long as we want. I don’t mind telling you, I’m pretty good at it.
When we turn in our pans and head back inside the gift shop, a group waiting there for the next tour asks us, “So, how’d you do?
“We made enough for retirement,” says Brent triumphantly.
“Or to get an ice cream cone!” I say with the same exuberance.
We wander around the shop and spend a little time in the jail, for which we get strange looks but once we’re liberated, those same folks with the looks hop in to do the same thing. We’re just trendsetters, that’s all.
Next stop, a mountainside train with a bar car–or as we’re dubbing it, The Drinky Train.
The Georgetown Loop Railroad weaves its way along the mountainside through trees and dirt trails, and has great views of the Rockies and the valley. Our tickets are for the bar car, which is in the caboose, so we alternate sitting at our table beside the picture window and visiting the platform outside the caboose to feel the wind in our hair.
It feels as if a whimsical kid set this train up in the most imaginative place possible, along the steep mountainside with deep green trees, the smell of pine, the sound of water rushing over the rocks below, and the chug-chug of this brightly colored rail, just to spend the afternoon lost in railroad adventures. And even though we know it’s not child’s play but the dreams of men that tamed this wild place, we’re glad to be the mini Weebles on such a train.
Back on solid ground, we head into Georgetown, which looks like an Old West town with wooden storefronts held up by stilts from behind—except that it’s real—and look for sustenance before the Trampled by Turtles concert.
We find the best Mexican food this side of the Rio Grande at a restaurant called Lucha Cantina. We sit on the upper perimeter above the bar and watch football when Brent’s eyes suddenly go wide. “Your burrito is as big as your head!” he laughs and laughs as it’s put down in front of me. He’s kinda right. And it’s so delicious that I eat nearly the entire thing. (I’ll spend the next hour telling him I want a nap, and also that it was well worth it.)
Jody Brown is the author of , and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.