DNA-X 2014 #5 There’s Gold in them thare Hills!
The endless sea of cornfields faded behind us as the magnet of the spectacular Colorado Rocky Mountains pulled us closer. Snow capped even in summer, the range covers 3000 miles from Canada to New Mexico. Colorado’s patch of peaks has 53 that top out at over 14,000 feet. Up and up the road weaved its way skyward. Blue took on the challenge, happy to leave the flatlands and seek out some real off road terrain.
Our destination for a couple of nights was Aspen, base elevation: 8000 feet. Founded in the 1800’s as a silver mining camp, the town went through boom and bust. Last time I set foot here was in the 70’s when it was not fancy or famous and you could afford to hang out a while on just a few shekels. As of 2011, the cheapest property you could buy was an old trailer for $560,000.00. Most other abodes are in the multi-millions earning the town a moniker of the most expensive real estate in the country. This was not our first concern however as our route up to town was over the infamous Independence Pass, the highest paved road in Colorado. Paved sounds good, but this switch-backed trail climbs to over 12,000 feet and threads its way along narrow, sometimes single lane curves with, of course, no guardrails! Oh, and don’t forget the numerous rockslides, wildlife, petrified, white knuckled drivers, bikers, and the dreaded tour bus. Did I mention the weather? Don’t even think about doing this in bad weather and luckily the road is closed from early November to the end of May- whew!
Captain Jay had been driving all day leaving the lowlands, climbing to over 12,000 feet, guiding Blue through the treacherous pass and finally into chic Aspen. While I checked into the historic Hotel Jerome, a handy jug of green water sat on the counter. What’s this I asked? A secret potion to assist in adapting to the high altitude said the clerk as she handed me a glass. Suddenly, the bellman appeared and asked if I had the car key? No…hummm…I head to the curb to find the Captain in a panic, Blue’s key is gone! LR owners know the slippery, keyless fob need only be in your pocket or nearby to operate the car. But if it’s not…well, the search party grew, as did the blood pressure and the altitude sickness! Blue sat curbside running, we knew the fob had to be somewhere close. If we can’t find it, Blue will have to be towed to the nearest LR dealer to be reprogrammed…$$$! After a long 15 minutes it was located under the seat where it had sneakily slipped. Following a night of recovery, a new plan was devised for the fob. Heads up to other explorers – bring a back up key on your trips (we didn’t) and find a way to securely attach the main fob to your body to prevent escape. We recommend a waterproof pouch, as the fob is not fond of water!
We explored beautiful Aspen the next day, vetoing any driving. There’s no shortage of upscale shops, swank restaurants, fancy furriers and pricy jewelry stores with gold overflowing out the door – no need to go mining around here, just bring plenty of plastic! The ski slopes sit right above town making it convenient for the snow bunnies. A quick glance at the real estate site Zillow revealed the latest “deals” for those who want to get cozy with the rich and famous – entry level shacks start at $3 million plus and go to the better side of town at $46 million, any takers? I think the realtors are mining this cache!
Mining in Colorado and the west has changed the land forever. Near Aspen there is the ghost town of Ashcroft in the Castle Creek valley. Once the home of the Ute Native Americans, prospectors arrived from the nearby silver and gold boomtown of Leadville, discovered silver and soon the town supported 2000 people. As quickly as things boomed they went bust. Up on Independence Pass, the town of Independence struck gold and again the boom went to bust. It is also a ghost town. When the gold and silver were mined out, prospectors moved on to other precious metals like lead, copper and other minerals. Most claims are on public land. Today, thanks to a 132-year-old law, the multi-national mining industry is not required to reimburse the public anything for the resources taken from our land. Mining continues with heavy equipment taking an extortionate toll on the environment. Toxic acid mine drainage spews numerous heavy metals that continue to pollute rivers and ground water, air and land across the west. Estimates are that there are at least 550,000 abandoned mines in the west. Many have been declared Superfund sites and still need to be cleaned up. The nearby Climax mine in Leadville dismantled an entire mountain, inundated five miles of mountain valley in tailings, reworked an eight mile section of river drainage, created huge water treatment ponds and the list goes on. It closed and has reopened, still mining molybdenum today. Mining is dangerous business and untold lives have been lost in pursuit of underground riches. Then there’s mining for fossil fuels…
As we continued to explore Colorado, we looked for somewhere remote, not chic, with natural beauty and a healthy river running through it. Where Blue’s sure footing would come in handy, where the bears and the buffalo roam and the stars are endless at night…