Best Hike Into History 2002 | Mineral Belt Trail | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
The town of Leadville is mining history from its mining history with the Mineral Belt Trail. The twelve-mile black-topped trail circles the town and its mining district and is perfect for hiking or biking -- or using any form of wheeled, non-motorized transportation -- past such historic sites as Horace Tabor's Matchless Mine, where Baby Doe spent her last eccentric days. The trail, which follows an old railroad bed, passes nine historic mines in all and can be accessed from one of the many "on ramps" throughout town. It's groomed for snowshoeing in the winter, too.
Don't forget to stop and smell the primroses as you hike along the 1.5-mile Pawnee Buttes Trail, the only maintained hiking trail on the grassland -- and one where wildflowers bloom in the shadows of the 300-foot-high sandstone cliffs. In mid-June, when the prickly pear cactus, purple locoweed and white prairie phlox are blooming on the shortgrass steppe, the show is particularly brilliant, but spring's less showy displays are also rewarding. Donald L. Hazlett, a native of the eastern plains, has identified 521 different plants that grow on the grassland's 193,060 acres, including the Machaeranthera tanacetifoli (tansy aster), Ratibida columnifera (prairie coneflower) and Arenaria hookeri (tufted sandwort). His Vascular Plant Species of the Pawnee National Grassland is available at the U.S. Forest Service's office, which supervises the grassland, in Greeley.
You can rely too heavily on technology, especially in the back country. Just because you have a cell phone or a Global Positioning System receiver doesn't mean you won't get lost. In February, the U.S. Geological Survey office in Lakewood offered free two-hour courses on maps and compass reading and how to relate both skills to the proper use of GPS. While a bare-bones GPS costs about $150, you should also pop for a topo map; using the two together you'll always know exactly where you are. How to get back from there is up to you.
Petrified plants are waiting to be found at the Florissant Fossil Quarry; they're in between layers of "paper" shale. For $20, you can pick up a crate -- approximately forty pounds -- of the fossiliferous shale that must be split and examined on site. Visitors can also search piles of shale at an hourly rate of $7.50 for adults and $5 for children seventeen and younger. Any unusually rare or scientifically valuable finds must either remain with the Clare family, who have owned the site for four generations, or be donated to a museum of the finder's choice. Nature's Wealth is the on-site fossil shop that has a collection of insect and plant fossils for sale, as well as jewelry, mineral samples and children's fossil-collecting kits. The quarry is next to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, but don't even think about taking anything home from there.
Play paleontologist for a day, and take home a little piece of prehistory from a virgin site on the Morrison Formation. Owner Dana Forbes is sure visitors to his seventy acres eighteen miles east of the town of Dinosaur will be rewarded for participating in scientific digs, because many bone fragments are clearly visible on the surface. Anyone interested in laying hands on fossilized dinosaur bones, belemnites, ammonites, shark teeth, septarian nodules and petrified wood discoveries can sign up for a "dig date" Monday through Saturday, May through October, for just $60 a day; family rates are also available. The fee includes an escort to and from the potential dig site, beverages while digging, lecture or leadership costs, use of rock and fossil excavation equipment, preparation supplies, documentation supplies and access to first-aid supplies. Reservations are available through the Web site only.
Follow the vein of gold ore one-third of a mile into Galena Mountain, and you can see and experience the operation of mining equipment in a real mine setting. The Old Hundred bores into Cunningham Gulch, just minutes from historic Silverton, in a scenic area that's easily accessible by car or RV. The 45-minute guided tour takes place in an authentic mine tram as well as on foot. Tours leave on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week from May 10 through October 13. Gold panning is free with the purchase of a tour ticket.
Hard-rock silver mining made Colorado what it was in the first half of the nineteenth century, but can you imagine what life was like for the miners? Find out when Colorado Historical Society guides lead you through the Lebanon Silver Mine and show you the mine manager's office, the change room (also called a "dry"), and the blacksmith's shop and tool shed. The mine is accessible only by the Georgetown Loop Railroad; reservations are accepted for Silver Plume departures only. The hour-and-twenty-minute walking tour costs $6 for adults, $4 for children (in addition to the train ride) and is available from May 25 to September 2. Bring a sweater.
Next time you drive through the mountains and see an old mine that evokes romantic images of Colorado's gold-rush days, stop by the Idaho Springs Heritage Museum and Visitor's Center. The Clear Creek Watershed Exhibit that takes up an entire back room is a reminder of the mess mining left behind. More than a decade ago, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency decided that the thousands of mines in Clear Creek County needed cleaning up, because metals-laden run-off from the abandoned sites was contaminating the creek -- a source of drinking water for many Coloradans. The EPA declared the town and surrounding mines a Superfund site, and the residents revolted. After years of bickering over cleanup methods, the locals and the government finally agreed on a plan, and this exhibit details it. Now that's gold!
This large cave in Iron Mountain above Glenwood Springs contains about three miles of known passageways and was first opened as a tourist attraction at the beginning of the twentieth century; it was abandoned in the 1920s, then reopened in 1999. A family tour along electrically lit gravel pathways is available through some fantastic interior decorations that Martha never even dreamed of. The caves open May 1.
Another tourist cave that had been abandoned for years, Manitou offers a physically challenging wild tour that includes sections discovered as recently as five years ago. Still missing is a large section that was open to tourists, complete with electric lights and hand-rails, until it flooded in the 1920s. Check out the Web site,, for an in-depth probe.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of