Two mountain towns

Tags: Buena Vista, Colorado, Leadville

Date: September 20, 2020

We stayed in two different towns in the mountains. The first one was Buena Vista and the second one was Leadville. Both towns have around 3,000 inhabitants and a long and interesting history. Today, tourism is important for both. The Arkansas River starts near Leadville and runs past Buena Vista where it is used for whitewater rafting. The river continues east to join the Mississippi River in Arkansas.

The first settlers arrived in the Leadville area in 1859 and it was incorporated as a city in 1878. It was a mining town and the main metals being mined in the beginning was silver, gold and, as the name of the town implies, lead. By 1880, Leadville had a population of around 15,000 people and produced metals worth 15 millions dollars a year which is about 400 million in today's dollars. This was a huge win for Colorado which had only just become a US state in 1876. At this time Colorado was part of the wild west with notable people like Buffalo Bill and Doc Holliday (of the O.K. Corral gunfight) living in Leadville. At this time the town was full of saloons, and one of them (The Silver Dollar) is still open.

In 1893 a recession started and the price of silver fell sharply. This hit Leadville hard, but other types of mining took over. In 1912 Leadville produced 10% of all the zinc produced in the USA. Later, molybdenum became a big business in the Leadville area and 75% of the world's production of that metal came from the Climax Mine close to Leadville. Molybdenum is mostly used for steel alloys. The mine was shut down in the 1980's but has since reopened and is producing molybdenum today, but mining is much less important in Leadville than it used to be.

Leadville is the highest city in the USA at 3,094 meters of elevation. They had a very prosaic way of naming towns in this region with other mining related town names being: Gypsum, Marble, Telluride and Basalt. I guess the settlers were running out of imagination when they got this far west. Some non-mining related town names: Eagle, Rifle, Silt, Parachute and Fairplay. And of course the famous ski town of Aspen also falls in this category.

People traveling to Leadville along the Arkansas River passed Buena Vista which was settled in 1864. There was plenty of good soil and water, so it became an agricultural town with much fewer booms and busts than the mining town of Leadville. A couple of pictures of the Arkansas River in Buena Vista:

Our hotel in Buena Vista was right next to the river:

In Leadville, we stayed at the Delaware Hotel :

The hotel was built in 1886 when mining was booming. The building has had a turbulent life and was used for other things for many years and was also shut down for a number of years. In 1992 it was renovated and reopened with apartments on the upper floors. Later, it was turned back into a hotel. The lower floor was always meant for having shops and this idea has been kept today with the reception and lounge area being part of a sort of large gift shop:

Notice the horned creatures on the columns. They are bighorn sheep which frequent the mountains around here. There are also elk around:

Here is a rather dark picture of the reception:

Notice the sign saying "ROOMS". It is a glass mosaic found broken in the basement when the building was renovated. Now it has been restored and used here.

The owners of the hotel collect antiques, so old furniture for sale is found everywhere. Another not so great picture of the hallway on the second floor gives you an impression of what the hotel is like:

Notice the guy coming down the stairs. Much to the consternation of many customers, the hotel does not have an elevator. I don't think I have seen that before in a US hotel.

One of the tourist attractions in town is an old railroad with a train that takes people on a trip around the area for a couple of hours:

An old unused locomotive:

We also went to the excellent mining museum in town which tells the whole story from the founding of Leadville until today.

Leadville has many nice houses:

Notice the mountain view here in the background:

A Presbyterian church from 1889 called "The Old Church":

This is the "Pink Church":

It is hard to find information about it, but it seems to be a Lutheran church from 1888 which is not in use any more. In the 1970's it was allegedly converted to a dance studio and painted pink. In 1981 police raided the building and found 25 cannabis plants. Colorado was one of the first states to legalize marijuana (medicinal in 2000 and recreational in 2014).