Hidden Treasure on The Mineral Belt Historical Tour

FasterSkierFebruary 14, 2008

Read the official account of the race here

The Keep Winter White Nordic Tour Series continued this past weekend in Leadville. The Leadville Nordic Club organized a relaxed tour event, inviting participants to leisurely ski the mellow railroad grades of the Mineral Belt Trail around the circumference of the old mining town of Leadville. Local businesses such as Provin’ Grounds Coffee House and the Tennessee Pass Cook House provided refreshments along the route.

I did this journey today with the companionship (and help) from my two dogs, Linus and Lucy, as I chose to skijor this course. We began the tour at the Colorado Mountain College, skiing by educational signs provided by High Country Conservation Center. Each pair of signs presented first a disturbing fact about the environmental cost of energy and resource consumption and the repercussions of filling landfills….not just loosing space, but in producing methane gas. However, the matching sign gave people easy and achievable ways to make a change in their lifestyles, which cumulatively can make a difference on a global scale.

After a quick start, we meandered though the forested trail and rolling terrain. The trail was impeccably groomed by the CMC staff and in particular by Paul Rauschke. Skiing up the gentle grade of California Gulch, I could see relics from the old mines, ghosts of scaffolding and carts, and signs along side to explain their significance.

After a cookie stop, we made the final climb up and out of California Gulch. The sight at the top was breathtaking. I pulled the dogs to a stop to take it all in. Below was the quiet town of Leadville, and beyond that the upper end of the Arkansas River Valley. Across this expanse rose the 14,000 plus foot Mt. Massive; Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in the state, and the Sawatch range extended south. The morning was still clear and sunny, but a new storm was approaching from the west, and the mountains were stark white against the dark clouds. When I used to do cross country ski races I was often distracted by the gorgeous scenery surrounding the venue. I would have to refocus on the trail and the race. Today, as a participant in a tour, not a race, I could take the time to just stop for a few moments and soak it in. Until, of course, the dogs got restless to go forward!

Onward we went to the Matchless Mine. This unique refreshment stop along the route was sponsored by the National Mining Museum and Hall of Fame. The museum curator was there to tell us everything she knew about the legendary Baby Doe Tabor; her rise to fame and fortune during the hey days of Leadville’s Silver Boom, and how, even after the fall of the silver market, the closing of the mines and the death of her husband, she still refused to leave the Matchless Mine, and lived there in a small cabin and in poverty until her death.

I told the curator about how my grandfather had been Baby Doe’s lawyer in the final days, when he was one of the few people she would let into the old cabin. About how my great grandmother came to Leadville in the late 1800’s as a young single mother (not a thing easily accepted in those days!), how she worked in Leadville as a dance hall girl and then met my great grandfather who was a mining engineer there. My grandmother was born quite near there in a place called “Poverty Flats”. I am not sure the curator believed me…she seemed skeptical. But she did get a good laugh as I tried to turn around in the deep snow and the dogs, in their enthusiasm to move on, pulled me over!

The trail then descended to the historic town of Leadville. We skied by the old Victorian Houses, now getting some loving care and restoration by new owners. We skied on to the high school and then up the final climb back to the start/finish at the Colorado Mountain College.

Along the way I had the chance to chat with fellow participants in the day’s tour. Most remarked about how they had gotten in a rut skiing at only one or two Nordic centers close to where they live. They said it was so nice to be able to get out an ski somewhere new….and that this trail was a real find!

I could not agree more. While I had learned about the rich mining history of the town surrounding me and reflected on the interesting history of my own family, the treasure I had really found that day was the Mineral Belt Trail! The trail is groomed by the Colorado Mountain College and is open to the public at all times for skiing and snowshoeing…with or without your dog. It winds through forests, up and down gentle grades, out to stunning vistas, and the route we took that day was about 15 km in length. If you feel you are “in a rut”, then come to Leadville and check out this hidden gem.

All Photos by Louissa Morrissey


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