Leadville, is the highest town in North America in more ways than one. Also affectionately known to the old timers as ” Lead Vegas” or ” Budville” to the old school pot growers. ( before it was legal !)
I lived here off and on for most of the 1990’s. It was during this time that I tried to emulate Keith Richards. Heavy drinking and debauchery were a daily occurrence then and still is now, and I am thankful I have left that part of my life behind…..Not much else to do at 10,152 ft above sea level except DRINK, HEAVILY.
Surrounded by the highest mountains in Colorado, the winters in Leadville are brutal. Consistently the coldest place in the state. Nine months of winter, two months of mud, and a month of nice weather is a typical year. It can snow any day of the year and I vividly remember watching the fireworks on the 4th of July in a raging blizzard! When I was living here in the 90’s it was a rough town. Miners, hippies, outlaws and people running from the “real world” congregated in this high, sleepy little mountain town. I used to love “dirty Leadville” but now talking to my friends who are still up there it appears that it has been discovered by the extreme athletes, outdoor enthusiasts, and the money that follows that industry now. Gone are the days of good cheap living because nobody “wanted” to live up there! Real estate, rent, and the cost of living has skyrocketed along with the rest of Colorado…..
Leadville has a rich history, gold was discovered in 1860 in California Gulch and thousands of miners flocked to the area. By 1870 the gold was played out, but some enterprising miners sent some of the heavy black sand that was clogging their sluice boxes to be assayed and soon discovered it was loaded with silver, hence the second boom started and people got FILTHY RICH! So many people flocked to the city in the clouds (town once had over 20,000 residents!) that it almost became the capitol of Colorado but Denver won out due to the fact that Leadville was remote and balls cold……
There are quite a few notable characters who inhabited Leadville during the boom days. Among them were Doc Holiday and the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown from the Titanic. There were hundreds of bars and brothels and even a red light district on Chestnut Street. Then, the silver crash of 1893 came and the town went to s***. Over 90% of the populous was unemployed and Leadville became a ghost town as people left to find work in other areas.
The onset of WWII brought other economic development to the area when the US government built Camp Hale to train the elite 10th Mountain Division who fought in some of the bloodiest battles in the Italian campaign. Many 10th Mountain veterans returned after the war and started the present day ski industry in Colorado. Famous ski resorts like Aspen and Vail were founded by the returning veterans. My great uncle, Joe Eula trained at Camp Hale in 1942. And some of his stories about Leadville made it sound like it was just as raucous as the mining days. Imagine 15,000 young soldiers decending on a town of 2,500 for a little R+R. Joe told me stories about drinking at The Manhattan Bar, my watering hole of choice 50 yrs. later when I lived up there!
Now town has become a bedroom community to the resort towns in the area and the locals drive the treacherous, windy roads every day to work in the service industry in Summit and Eagle counties. When I lived there we called the commute “the taco 200” and “the burrito Grand Prix” because the drive was SO INSANE! Imagine 8 Mexicans passing you at 80 mph on icy, snowpacked roads in a Cadillac Fleetwood with baloney skins for tires! I can vividly remember driving to work one morning in my buddies beat up Toyota truck, smoking a fat doobie, and witnessing a van teetering on a cliff with probably twenty Mexican women clamoring out saying Our Fathers and Hail Marys because they had almost went off a 500 foot precipice! Holy S*** ,the morning commute was and still is sheer lunacy!
I have many fond memories of the time I spent in Cloud City. It was a good place to be at that time in my life, but I doubt I could ever live there again . It’s a great place to visit, but I just can’t imagine ever living in the tundra! But,It’s rich history and beautiful surroundings make this place truly special. If you’re ever in Colorado you should come see it, stop in “The Hat” for a beer and tell them Chris sent you…….