At the height of the gold rush here in the States, prospectors made their fortunes in mining and real estate and also made Cripple Creek the place to be. But as times changed and the people of Cripple Creek moved out west to places like California, the town changed too. This morning we arrived to something resembling a ghost town: the streets were deathly quiet and there were very few people around.
Admittedly, it was only just after 9am so the town may have been in bed but walking up and down the main street we could not help noticing that almost every building was a casino. There was, of course, a police station where you could drop off your unwanted baby as long as, so the sign said, you give the baby to an employee and not, I assume, leave it on the front step.
We decided to choose a casino at random and see if we could get breakfast as we had figured out that they all had cafes within. As we entered, we were met by a sea of glittering slot machines and realised that this was where all the townsfolk were; either feeding the slot machines or eating breakfast in the cafe.
A very friendly, welcoming lady greeted us and showed us to a table and it quickly became obvious that this was a no-frills, honest to goodness all-American joint. The food smelled great and country rock music played over the audio speakers – perfect! Rachel ordered a Short Stack (what else?) and for those of you who don’t know what a Short Stack is, it’s two or three pancakes, stacked one on top of the other, drizzled with something like Maple Syrup. A Full Stack is the same but with many more pancakes piled on top. I couldn’t resist the three-egg omelette, stuffed with ham, cheese, onions and mushroom. It was at least a couple of inches thick.
“Want white gravy with that?”
Our waitress gave us a dizzying array of options for our meals – multiple omelette possibilities, ten different types of toast, and did I want fruit or hash browns? Of course, the answer was obvious; who wants fruit with their omelette; I’m English after all. But I had to admit that I didn’t know what white gravy was and I wasn’t any wiser when our waitress and her colleague couldn’t exactly agree on what it was either. Time was going on and we hadn’t ordered yet so our waitress brought over a small bowl of the mysterious white stuff for us to try. It tasted like something you should eat with fish so I settled for salsa instead. So I ended up with salsa AND white sauce and, if you didn’t know by now, ordering breakfast is a complicated business in America.
“Where yaall from?”
There was a man at the table next to us wearing jeans, hoody and baseball cap and was looking straight at us with a slightly unsettling look about him. I thought, this is one for Rachel to take care of.
“We’re from England,” she said.
“Wooaaahhhh!” he said, “England, right, what about that.”
He wore a slightly vacant expression. At times like this, we find it best to say we’re from Manchester as you can be reasonably sure people have heard of Manchester United.
“Wooaaahhh, Manchester, yeah, right.” His expression hadn’t changed.
At that moment, a couple of men walked in and our friend fist pumped each of them in turn. They were the sort of guys who, in England, you would have crossed the street at avoid. They sat behind us and ordered breakfast. By now it was obvious to everyone in the place that we were from out of town and conversation with our friend continued for all to hear. We asked why it was so quiet in town and, apparently, things liven up greatly after dark. Cripple Creak is, after all, a gambling town. I guessed that everyone was in bed, sleeping off the night before.
“Hey, is that Australian?”
The two guys behind us were asking us a question. We didn’t understand it but we thought we had better answer anyway. Again, I let Rachel take the heat.
“Err, no, err, we’re from England.”
The other day in Manitou Springs, a man selling us ice-cream said we sounded like “Wallace and Gromit”. It’s amazing how right he was as we are from around them there parts. It’s nice to think we sound like that to Americans.
“Wooaaahhhh, England, hey, yeah, right.”
We could tell by now that our friends were not conversationalists but Rachel was coping admirably, I have to say. I did throw in the odd nod or smile occasionally to help her out but she had it all under control and as the conversation tailed off we finished our breakfast and left. The bill for breakfast came to ten Dollars! For all that food. To our amazement, Rachel’s short stack was only 49 cents. The rest was for the omelette and coffees. By now I had become a fan of white gravy, whatever it is.
We hot-footed it out of town and now we were on our way to Victor. On the way we passed the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company and saw that mining is still viable here:
Victor is another very unusual town and another relic of the gold rush. It felt like time had stood still here – another ghost town devoid of people. Victor was established in 1893 and we realised that most of the buildings in Cripple Creek were also built around the same date. It turns out that both Cripple Creek and Victor had burned down almost completely and had to be rebuilt, Victor burning down only 6 years after its founding. Here are some photos captured in Victor:
At the end of the main street in Victor, the road runs out and turns to a dirt track. This would be our route for the next couple of hours – an often single-track dirt road with precipitous overhangs but it was the most direct route to Canon City, our next destination. Our 4×4 handled it well but it was a little hair-raising at times. At one point, we were stuck behind what I can only describe as a ‘road plough’, shifting dirt and clearing away fallen rocks and stones from the track. This was the narrowest section of road and it was in pretty poor condition.
At various points the road went through tunnels through the mountain side.
Canon City and Royal Gorge Bridge
We felt mightily relieved when we had emerged onto normal roads again and out into a vast landscape surrounded on each horizon by beautiful mountains and soon we reached the sprawl of Canon City. We had come to Canon City to see the Royal Gorge Bridge, just outside the city, which would be our final activity of the day. The road across the bridge doesn’t seem to go anywhere in particular and, in fact, the bridge was built solely as a tourist attraction to show off the immensity of the gorge beneath it. It’s an amazing feat of engineering in concrete and steel and no-one died or suffered any serious injuries in its construction, which is staggering when you imagine what working conditions would have been like in such a remote and dangerous place. With the bridge came a visitor centre and cable car across the gorge.
But tragedy struck in 2013: like some of the towns around here, it seems, the original visitor centre was completely burned to the ground in a wildfire and had to be rebuilt. The cable car was left hanging precariously from its wires. But the bridge survived and a few of the wooden beams that made up the road surface of the original bridge were incorporated into the new visitor centre as a memorial. There’s a new cable car and also a zip wire across the expanse of the gorge. A ‘Sky Coaster’ allows a person to be hung from a wire and swung out into the gorge over and over again: a truly terrifying experience to watch, never mind to perform. There are restaurants and a theatre, where you can learn all about the bridge’s history and construction. We took the cable car across the gorge and, to avoid a complete mental meltdown and panic attack by Rachel, we enlisted the help of a couple of New Yorkers, who kept her talking all the way across.
The walk back across the bridge was exhilarating and caused butterflies in the stomach.
We could feel the bridge moving in the strong wind and could see the bottom of the gorge through the worryingly wide gaps in the wooden beams underfoot. Rachel was across the bridge in 30 seconds flat but I lingered for photos and a truly worthwhile experience.
This morning at breakfast, we had chatted to more wonderful Americans who were characteristically proud of what they have here in Colorado – a truly wonderful natural landscape and a desire to experience it to the full. They talked of “God ‘n Nature” and of “Home”. One man talked of a time in the distant past when he had been out of the country to Europe but it was so long ago that he couldn’t remember when.
“I travel all over the country with my job, but Colorado is the place I will always come back to,” he said.
Our day ended in Canon City with the best pizza we have ever tasted. Next, we continue south and our last day before crossing the state line into New Mexico.