Day 7: August 7, 2015
The day dawned sunny and a little cold, even in August, which I suppose is to be expected, since Leadville, Colorado is the highest altitude incorporated city in the United States. It gets pretty cool at night at 10,152 feet in elevation! We got ready, and made our way over to the historic train depot, where our scenic train ride would depart.
The Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad is a scenic tourist train that takes you 9 miles up the mountain to the Continental Divide, at 11,000 feet in altitude. The line travels along the original route of the Colorado and Southern Railroad line; the owners of the tourist train were able to buy the train and rights to the line for a song, but of course they have to pay for the maintenance!
Along the way, we traveled through the San Isabel National Forest, saw views of Arkansas Valley and Freemont Pass, and the two tallest mountains in Colorado, Mount Massive and Mount Elbert. We also saw a view across the valley of the Climax mine, a currently operating molybdenum mine.
Molybdenum seems to be one of those completely obscure minerals – I certainly had heard of it, but had no idea what it was used for! As it turns out, it has many uses (beyond allowing me to use big words in my blog) – including to create alloys, as a fertilizer for some plants, and to bind ceramics and metals together. It is also used to make radio tubes, and to make airplane parts. Who knew? It is also a trace element that all animals (including humans) need in low amounts to survive.
We sat in a train car that was covered, but open on the sides, so we had a nice view. We stopped at the water tank at French Gulch, which is one of the only remaining water tanks along the Colorado and Southern Railroad line. During our stop, I got a chance to go through the engine and see the electronics that were powering us; this particular engine was built in the 1950s, so it seemed much simpler than things built today!
During the train ride, our conductor related stories about Leadville and its history, telling us about the Tabors, Molly Brown, and other notable residents. She also told us about the wildlife that exists in and around Leadville, although we weren’t lucky enough to see any. Of course they wouldn’t want to hang around, because trains are pretty loud!
The tour was about 2.5 hours, bringing us back to the Leadville Depot at about 12:30. Prime starvation time for me! We got on the road and headed back to lower elevations, finding lunch at the Evergreen Café in Buena Vista. We sat outside and enjoyed our lunches; French Dip and sweet potato salad with iced tea for me, fish tacos and coffee for Jon, a tofu Reuben and iced tea for Linda, and a burger with coffee for Robby.
After lunch, we had a couple of hours driving through prairie grasslands, seeing long abandoned cabins, horses, and even bison, although I assume they were farmed bison, rather than wild. We were on our way to our next stop, at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. We were going to learn about fossils in Colorado!