Phantom Canyon

The Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining District

Caon City, CO

September 30th, 2004

When crossing southern Colorado, you will most likely take US 50, and that will take you through Canon City, home of the famous Royal Gorge Bridge.  This engineering feat is quite a thing to see, but it is not the only famous bridge in the area.  Like the more famous bridge, a river was the driving force.  For the Royal Gorge Bridge it was the Arkansas River.  The bridge we were looking for was over a far less formidable waterway  Fore Mile Creek, at times, seems only a trickle of water but in the Spring it  can become a raging torrent.  Southern Colorado is covered with medium size mountains, and small streams which have dug their way south for thousands of years.  These rivers and streams created deep valleys.  For the most part, the geography was too rugged for human travel, and most people left it alone.  There were a few hardy souls who ventured into the difficult place and in the late 1800s, one such person found a place some 20 miles north of Canon City and after digging a hole in a mountain side, was pleasantly rewarded with a fair amount of gold. Overnight the Cripple Creek gold rush was on.  Hundreds of prospectors climbed through the mountain passes, crossed rivers and dug into the mountainsides.  Soon, gold ore was flowing north out of the mountains in route to the smelters in Pueblo and Denver.  The Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining District, destined to be the world's richest gold camp, had a slow start.  Early in the gold boom, the mining district could only be reached by rough trails and wagon roads.  Horse drawn wagons carried gold ore 20 miles north of Cripple Creek to the Colorado Midland Railroad for shipment.  Wagons were costly and slow, so only the richest ore left the district.  It quickly became apparent to those who were responsible for moving the ore, that a railroad was needed, so the route was planned and the work begun.  It was not easy going.  Many of the mountains could not be gone over or around, so the only way was through the center.  This was no easy task for track builders before the age of heavy machinery.  Blasting powder and pick axes were the tools of the day. Then there were rivers to cross.  They weren't very wide or deep but to a wagon loaded with rocks, it was formidable. All the old bridges are long gone and so are, for the most part, the tracks as well as the gold. But the tracks have been replaced with a dirt road and the bridges are back.  The one we came to see is quite old and still has the wood plank roadway similar to the one over the Royal Gorge Canyon.  The strange thing about this bridge is that it's tilted, quite a bit actually.  Enough to cause you to list to the low side as you walk across it.  It is really a strange feeling, all the while being able to see between the boards at the river below.  All in all it was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, out in nature, There was no one else around, and quiet was everywhere.  We hung around for a half hour or so just staring off into the woods and enjoying the sun. 

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