If you read my Rockies Rock blog under Denver Diversions, you know that I recently painted the outside of my house. It was desperately needed, but I was a bit resentful that I had to spend so much of my “vacation” working on something I really didn’t want to do. Yeah, I know. Whaaaaaaaaa. But for a multitude of reasons I wanted to do something, go somewhere. I suppose it worked out for the best, because if we would have went somewhere for a week. I would have spent a couple of thousand, at least.
But, we finished everything up on Thursday. I had been telling Margo since about Tuesday that I wanted to go somewhere for the weekend. She was a bit reluctant, based on the money we had to just stand, but she was suffering from cabin fever, too. So I didn’t have to fight too hard to convince her.
I gave her four choices, all in state; EstesPark, the Alamosa area, Leadville, or Cripple Creek. I went through the features of each.
EstesPark is the gateway to RockyMountainNational Park. It is a great town to wander around. We haven’t driven through the park in many years. But, we do generally get up there at least once a year.
Alamosa has a couple of things nearby, neither of which you would think you could find in Colorado.
A little bit closer, now
First, there is Great Sand Dunes National Monument. This is exactly what it sounds like. It’s like a piece of the Sahara desert in the Colorado mountains. The other is Colorado Gators, which is an alligator farm and reptile garden in Colorado. As gators are sub-tropical animals, I was interested in hearing how this place came to be.
Leadville is a town filled with mining and old west history. Personalities such as the Unsinkable Molly Brown (Margaret Brown Tobin), Horace and Baby Doe Tabor, and Doc Holliday all called Leadville home at one point or another.
Cripple Creek is an old gold mining town, and one of three cities in Colorado where gambling is legal.
Hotel St. Nicholas
There were at least two attractions in Cripple Creek that caught my attention; a working gold mine that you could tour (1000 ft underground) and the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad. I love riding one old steam powered trains, and doing it the Colorado mountains makes it more special. Plus, in Cripple Creek is the Hotel St Nicholas. Saint Nick is an old Catholic run hospital that has been turned in to a very nice hotel. Rumor has it, it is haunted. Sounds like fun!
When I asked Margo about it a day or so later, the only additional input she had was she thought we should use distance as a tie breaker. Fewer miles driven is less fuel burned and less wear and tear on the car.
Entrance to the sun room, off to the right
Alamosa was the most distant and as go the Estes all the time I wanted it voted off the island. That left Leadville and Cripple Creek. Cripple Creek had more to do, but Leadville was half an hour closer. In the end, what was an extra hour of driving, $12 in gas? So Cripple Creek it was.
Margo had made previous plans to take her mother to the doctor at on Friday. There were still plenty of things I wanted to get done around the house, so while I wanted to get a move on, I could still appease my conscience some and get some of those things done. But, as things usually do, one thing led to another, and rather than get started around , we actually headed out at about .
Me in the Sun Room.
I wasn’t upset or anything. I was just thrill that we were actually doing this. I usually plan these trips to death, and I always have a hotel reservation done in advance. Not this trip, we knew what city we were going to. I printed out the directions the night before we left. I had only basic info on what to do, and where that stuff was at, and we had no hotel reservation. Living on the edge, huh?
The drive was to take 2 ½ hours and that is about what it took. We didn’t actually enter the ColoradoMountains until we headed west at Colorado Springs, 90 minutes into the trip. The Colorado mountains are beautiful in this middle area of the state. The wide sweeping valleys have a more diverse range of tree species than in the northern area.
Our Bed (nice firm mattress)
I’ll bet it is very beautiful in the fall. I’ve only been in the area during the summer. We only stopped once at a look out. But, my real reason was that my bladder was insisting. It sucks getting old. But, we got a couple of pictures and headed on.
We pulled into Cripple Creek about 15 minutes later. I knew where I wanted to stay, the aforementioned Hotel St. Nicholas. I had done quite a bit of research on the hotel several years ago when I was planning a trip. Plans changed and we didn’t go. But, the research still came in handy. I knew about the amenities (outdoor hot tub with a view of the mountains, Boiler Tavern, continental breakfast, & free shuttle to town) and the location. What I didn’t know, was if there was a room open. Even if there was a room, I was hoping for a nice one. I think they are nice, but I didn’t want the cheapest one. As it turned out, there were two or three open.
Black Cow Cafe-Home of the Black Cow (root beer float) and a sinfully delicious ice cream cookie sandwich
We got a nice one, Room #7. It was the old nursery in the hospital. Attached to it was an enclosed sitting room that overlooked the city. In the old hospital it had been the sun room, where the nurses would put the jaundiced babies. We were later told that some past patrons had heard a baby crying, when there were no babies staying at the hotel. Margo never heard anything, but I head some sort of metal on metal squeak that I couldn’t explain. I doubt it was anything supernatural, and it certainly wasn’t weird enough to make me want to get out of bed, or even wake up all the way. But, it makes for an interesting story.
We checked in, got settled, and then went into town to see what was going on. We had the desk manager call the shuttle for us, and headed down the very steep hill into Cripple Creek. We were a bit disappointed in that the town seemed pretty dead. But it was late afternoon and still a bit early in the summer.
Do Not Feed The Bears! (Drinks are OK)
But, it was Friday. We wandered into a couple of the casinos and lost a few bucks in the slot machines. Gambling in Colorado is limited. I already mentioned that there are only three cities where it is legal. The other two are Black Hawk and Central City. The “limited” also refers to the games that are allowed (just slots, poker, and blackjack), and the stakes. You can’t place a bet more than $5. Pretty pathetic. 17 years ago when it was legalized, the $5 limit didn’t seem unreasonable, and you could actual bet a hand of blackjack with a $1 bet. No more, almost all tables are $5 minimum. In Cripple Creek we never saw an open blackjack table. We saw signs for poker games, but I never saw anyone playing. The slot machines were everywhere, and that is where we donated a little of our money.
We walked around some. Visited a shop or two, and then stopped in one of the casinos for a bit to eat.
Yummy Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich
When we were done, about , I wanted some ice cream. We had passed a couple of places that sold ice cream, but both were closed. That sucked. But, we came across a place called The Black Cow. The Black Cow, while not claiming to be the actual location, does tell the story of how the Root Beer Float was invented right here in Cripple Creek.
The story goes something like this. A Chicago man with various (failing) mining interests in the Cripple Creek area ran a shop to support his claims. One of his mines was on Black Cow Mountain. He got the idea of putting a scoop of ice cream on top of his root beer (Myers Avenue Red), because it the ice cream reminded him of snow on the mountain top.
Cripple Creek at dusk, from The Hotel St. Nicholas
He called his new creation “Ice Cream Capped Black Cow Mountain Root Beer Float”. It became very popular with “miners, madams, and ministers” alike. Kids liked it too, but weren’t about to call it by such a convoluted name. They would just come in and order a Black Cow.
I’m not a root beer guy so I skipped it. Margo is, but was not very hungry. But, my quest had been for ice cream. One the menu was an ice cream cookie sandwich that took 15 minutes to make. My curiosity was piqued, so I ordered one. It takes 15 minutes because the cookie dough is cooked as soon as it is ordered. The two warm cookies (chocolate fudge chip, but they only have one kind for the whole day, and it changes) form the outside, while a vanilla soft serve makes up the middle. I was more than happy. MMMMMMM…Warm cookies and cold, melting ice cream! And they were smart enough to stay open for a couple of the early evening hours.
On the way to Cripple Creek
After our snack it was time to head back to the hotel. We found the shuttle and it dropped us off right at our door. As we were only staying one night, this was going to be our best opportunity to hit the hot tub. It was a smidgen cooler than I would have liked, but I think they had had the cover off all day. Still we weren’t complaining. We lounged around admiring the lights of Cripple Creek. When wrinkling started to set it, we figured on giving the Vapor Room a shot. The Vapor Room is a steam room. It takes about 20 minutes for it to heat up, and I got awful comfortable lying on the top bench seat. Margo and I had it to ourselves. It never did get terrible hot, but I got terribly sleepy. It had been a long day. With that, I (Margo had already decided she was tired) headed back to the room, and got ready for bed.