Monday, October 19, 2009
Lonely in Leadville
David and I just came back from two weeks in Colorado and Utah where we were visiting my son. He was a fantastic tour guide and showed us places that a casual tourist would never see. Leadville was one of those places. We flew to Denver and then drove to Aspen (where my son lives) by way of Independence Pass. Independence Pass is a grueling, white-knuckled drive if you don't like heights. The road is miles of treacherous switchbacks through the Elk Range of the Rocky Mountains. 'The Pass' crosses the Continental Divide and by Halloween is impassible due to snow. Aspen is at the west end, and Leadville at the east end. Aspen is a glamorous, moneyed ski town (I'll post more on the wonders of Aspen later). Leadville is a depressing, dying mining town. Each end of the economic spectrum lies at either end of Independence Pass. From Leadville, it's a grinding climb to Aspen. Mount Elber and Mount Massive loom over Leadville bearing down with clouds full of cold snow. Ironically, in the late 1800's, Leadville was the second largest city in Colorado. With a population around 30,000, it was the most famous silver mining, boom town in the world. Mining and some vague tourism are the current primary income sources. Zinc and lead are mined there now, and they still call themselves a 'boom town.' Several times a year, the mining company blows up parts of the hillsides so that ore can be extracted from the rock rubble during the rest of the year. The days that the blasting takes place are celebrated as 'Boomdays' with a parade, street fair, burro race and motorcycle rodeo. I'm sure that what little china lines the walls of the ramshackle homes of Leadville, chatters and shakes along with old laddie's knees when the explosions commence. Sunday morning breakfast is served on the courthouse lawn. I would find that small consolation to the terrifying industrial thunder. The Boomdays are commemorated with boulders painted with the dates of the blasts and drilled with detonation holes. The population is down to about 2,000 now, though at 10,200 feet elevation, it's the highest incorporated city in the country. The dismal town has fake storefronts to look like old time saloons and cheap, modular homes with 4-wheelers and wrecked cars in the front yards and on the way out of town, a long row of dated, gaily painted rocks. When Doc Holiday, an early resident died and the silver went, so did Leadville's glamor. The mountains of Colorado are magnificent beyond imagination. But repeatedly, I was struck by how impossibly difficult it must have been for early settlers to live there. I could hear the sounds of grief still in the mountains. On the outskirts of Leadville, in the woods, is this peculiar 'Valley Of The Dolls.' My son stumbled on it a few years ago when he got out of his car to take a leak. It is on private property posted with a menacing "No Trespassing" sign. Next to the Baby Doll Ranch was this odd chair in the trees. Chilling and disturbing, this was not an outdoor art gallery nor was it the least bit public, though I did venture past the No Trespassing sign to take pictures. I jumped back into the car saying "Let's get out of here," while checking my photos on my camera. As we sped away, David asked, "Did you get good shots of it?" "Oh yes, I did," I answered. "And did I mention that was where I was kidnapped and held as a sex slave in an underground bunker for 18 years?" That's how creepy it was. Maybe the dolls were company for a lonely person, outside of Leadville, in the woods, a person driven mad by the crushing mountains.