Sunday, July 2, 2006

Gold Camp Road

Tracking ghost railroads in Colorado is a great pastime. There's even a book about it that is probably the best source for finding them, if you can find the book itself.

One road that's not-so-hidden but a fantastic drive outside of Colorado Springs is Gold Camp Road. Founded in 1899, the Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District reached from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek on March 23, 1901. Nicknamed "The Short Line," it became the third railroad to reach "the richest square mile on earth," but it did so with a direct approach from Colorado Springs. The rugged mountains west of Colorado Springs gave passengers very scenic views, drawing President Theodore Roosevelt to exclaim that the trip "bankrupted the English language." Tunnels, trestles, cuts, and fills were all used in driving westward into the mining town. The trestles have been replaced by high fills, but many of the tunnels and cuts still remain today. Scenic points along this route include St. Peter's Dome, Cathedral Park, and Devil's Slide.

Cathedral Park as photographed by W. H. Jackson shortly after the line opened.

To get there...
For the lower portion of Gold Camp and a hike to Helen Hunt Falls (no, not the Mad About You actress), you can follow the signs from US 24 in Old Colorado City in Colorado Springs. The trip is short because a few miles up, the road has been closed to all but foot traffic. The debate in the Colorado Springs city council to reopen this portion of the road to cars is often stirred, but little is done. If you're short on time, or you don't like hiking, skip the lower portion.

To reach the upper, more scenic portion, you have two options. The first is taking US 24 to Hwy 67 in Divide and follow the route of the Midland Terminal south until you almost reach the gambling town of Cripple Creek. Just before you decend into town, you'll pass the Molly Kathleen mine. County Road 82, Gold Camp Loop Road splits off from the highway there. The Loop road connects with Gold Camp Road proper at the other side of the loop of highway connecting Victor, Cripple Creek and Anaconda. Bring a map! From there, Gold Camp Road heads on it's scenic decent towards Colorado Springs, meeting up with Old Stage Rd for the final drop.

The other, more dramatic option is to approach it from the Springs. From the Broadmoor Hotel, head south toward the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, following the signs. You will reach a fork in the road where the road to the zoo continues to the left (south). Instead, bear right and follow Old Stage Road uphill. You will climb out of the houses and begin a long, steep, twisty and washboarded ascent to it's junction with Gold Camp Road, with plenty of scenic views of the city and plains below. Once you reach Gold Camp Road, turning right will bring you to St. Peter's Dome and the road closure. Turning left will take you towards Cathedral Park, Devil's Slide, and Cripple Creek.

Be advised: Although the trip along the upper Gold Camp Road looks like a short one, the winding road and blind curves will slow your progress. Trips making the loop from the Broadmoor area, over Gold Camp to Cripple Creek and thence up to Divide, Woodland Park, and down to Colorado Springs have been known to take an entire afternoon if you have a "foamer" railfan aboard, or, regrettably, behind the wheel.

One final note: this drive is absolutely gorgeous when the aspens are turning. A side trip for a picnic in Mueller State Park is hard to beat, too.

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