Every holiday season, there’s a twinkle in the sky in the historic town of Victor. High on the giant mining headframes that dot the mountain landscape, massive images of candy canes and Saint Nick light up the night.
The Holiday Headframe Lighting Tour is part of the community spirit of Teller County’s Victor and Cripple Creek mining district. Sponsored by the local mining business and operated entirely by volunteers, the self-guided, drive-through tour symbolizes hope and goodwill. It comes at a time when the area, like so many others, is struggling to maintain some normalcy and cheer during the pandemic.
“Those ornaments are such a comfort to the community,” says Brad Poulson, Newmont Cripple Creek and Victor Mine community relations representative.
The Holiday Headframe Lighting Tour started back in 1998 as a way to bring tourism to the region. A few years after it started, the city decided to no longer sponsor the tour, and it was taken over by the Southern Teller County Focus Group, a nonprofit for community development and historic preservation. “The project is a way to educate people on the history of mining, because most of the headframes are located on the 1890s mine,” says Ruth Zalewski, president of the STCFG, who added that the group has also hosted guided tours of the mines.
The holiday ornaments, which stand about twenty feet high, were constructed when the tour began, and a team of volunteers maintains them. One community member, Shawn Tomlinson, known as Mr. Christmas, works on a volunteer basis every year to go out and assess all the ornaments. He puts a plan together of what needs to be done, whether it’s painting them, putting in new light bulbs or replacing the wiring.
Other volunteers offer their time to venture out every weekend at nightfall through December, sometimes in the freezing cold, to start the generators that light the ornaments. “It’s a symbol of goodwill that people are willing to give their time to light the ornaments and light the season," says Zalewski. "It can be a lot of work to carry gas in the snow."
Local businesses also help with the effort. Sponsors include Cripple Creek Parks and Recreation and Cripple Creek District Museum. “Black Hills Energy lends its bucket trucks to reach ornaments in order to do the repairs. Newmont Mining Corporation contributes to the funding and provides gas for the generators,” says Zalewski.
Newmont Mining, the largest gold producer in the world, owns the Cripple Creek and Victor Mine, where most of the headframe ornaments are located.
“This year, Newmont dedicated $20 million to the communities where they operate for food security, employee and community health, and economic resilience during the pandemic," says Poulson. "The holiday celebration is just one of the things that the mine does to reinvest in the community."
The Holiday Headframe Lighting Tour is usually part of the area’s Gold Camp Christmas celebration that traditionally takes place the second weekend of December and includes a number of events from caroling to a parade. But this year, because of the spike in COVID-19 cases and city ordinances to stay at home, all of the events were canceled. Only the lighting tour carries on because it can be safely done in personal vehicles.
The lights will be a welcome sight, as they were earlier this year when they were lit off-season as the novel coronavirus began to rage across the U.S. “In March, when the seriousness and impact of the pandemic became clear, we had a request from one of the district’s longtime residents to light the stars as a symbol of hope," says Poulson. "So we did.”
If you’re planning a trip to check out the tour in the Cripple Creek mining district, which is about a two-hour drive from Denver, don’t forget to partake in some of the area's other attractions — namely gambling: The casinos, hotels and restaurants are open, subject to city ordinances to curb the pandemic. Depending on the weather, there are also hiking and mountain biking trails around Cripple Creek for those who prefer the great outdoors.
Starting Friday, November 27, through January 1, the headframe ornaments will be shining bright as a reminder that there is light on the horizon.
“We invite visitors to the district, but it’s really a way for the community to get together and celebrate hope for the new year,” says Poulson, “It’s a very comforting and connecting experience for people.”
You can download a self-guided tour map and make a donation for the Holiday Headframe Lighting Tour on the STCFG website. The tour runs from November 27 through January 1, every Friday through Sunday, starting at dusk.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.