Catchy title, eh? Unless you live under a rock, you know that recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado. But that’s not what I mean by the title of this post.
Leadville, Colorado is the highest incorporated city in the United States at 10,152 feet. Which seems high, because it is. But I was used to spending time above 9,000 feet so it really wasn’t a big deal, but don’t get me wrong. At almost 2 miles up, the air is thinner. You get out of breath easier. But that all becomes normal. Weird.
Leadville is a cute little ex-mining town. Small. Quaint. Full of history.
I had actually visited Leadville a few times during my stay at Twin Lakes as it was the closest place to get water and groceries. But now I was staying right outside of town so I could get to know it better.
County Road 48
During my 2 week stay in Leadville I stayed in the San Isabel National Forest at County Road 48. Not the most scenic place as you are down in the trees. It’s a fairly popular place during the summer due to it’s great proximity to Leadville and the fact that it offers free camping.
I ended up going a mile or so back into the woods where there weren’t any immediate neighbors. Most people congregate near the entrance. I prefer to stay away from the crowds, so I don’t mind driving a bit more.
The lack of scenery in the immediate area meant I didn’t take many pics of my camping spot. So I present you the one I took, during a decent rain event.
Mineral Belt Recreation Trail
The hills to the immediate east of Leadville were the location of many, many silver and gold mines back during the mining heyday. There were railroad tracks crisscrossing the area, used to bring the ore out and supplies in to the mines. Several of the old rail beds have been converted into the 11.6 mile Mineral Belt Trail.
There are many rails-to-trails recreational trails in the United States, but I find it hard to believe you will find a more scenic one than the Mineral Belt Trail. Not only does it take you through Leadville proper, but you get a tour of many of the mining areas that dot the surrounding hills.
No matter if you go clockwise or counter-clockwise on the loop trail, you will spend half your time climbing up, up and up. Of course this means the other half you will be hauling ass downhill (assuming you were biking like I was). This climb results in spectacular views of Leadville and the surrounding area once you are at the highest point.
The Mineral Belt Trail is paved the entire way, quite wide and spectacular. Seriously, it is wonderful! I rode it many times and never got bored.
There are so many mines to the east of Leadville that one could literally spend weeks exploring the area. Fortunately there is a great network of dirt roads to facilitate this exploring. Some are accessible via normal car, while others require 4 wheel drive.
I spent a little time exploring these areas. I was torn while doing so as there was an incredible amount of environmental destruction that occurred during the mining days.
Mining operators were only concerned with profit and the environment suffered. Leadville is the location of the California Gulch Superfund Site which is massive effort by the EPA to stop the environmental damage.
Despite the damage done to the area, I still loved seeing the history in the hills.
10th Mountain Division
The 10th Mountain Division was a group of elite warriors that was formed in 1943 to perfect mountain warfare during World War II. They trained outside of Leadville at Camp Hale.
I made a day trip up to Camp Hale with a stop at Tennessee Pass where the 10th Mountain Division Memorial is.
Camp Hale itself is currently unremarkable. There is very little in way of evidence that Camp Hale existed. There are a few markers with descriptions of what was where, but you definitely have to use your imagination since no buildings stand anymore.
For someone with an interest in that period of American History, it was very cool to be at the birthplace of the 10th Mountain Division.
Boom Days Burro Race
Leadville Boom Days is an annual celebration of Leadville’s mining history. The main event is the burro race where runners will do either a 15 mile or a 22 mile course with their pack burro in tow (or towing).
Of course I had to see this! I arrived early to witness the start and then came back a few hours later to see some of the finishers.
I also was able to have my picture taken with Mary Margaret, the current world champion burro racer. She sure was a cutie!