The Little Colonel

In a tourist town like Central City or Blackhawk there are a large variety of interesting summer jobs. One year mom got a summer job working in a mine. Seriously.

Of course, it’s not what you might be thinking with a helmet and headlamp. She was a tour guide for the Little Colonel Gold Mine.

Charlie, mom and Joe enjoying a fine Colorado afternoon.

This wasn’t as fancy as the “donkey pulled mine train” across the street. But, there was rarely a line and it was cheaper, so I suspect that a lot of families stopped here instead. It also helped to have our friend Joe’s teepee, or my Dad carving spoons in a lawn chair, or someone panning for gold in the half barrel in front of the mine. Or even my little brother standing in front of the teepee. It all helped to bring visitors in.

This was a real mine (at one time) and after collecting the $1 admission at the entrance, mom would guide them by foot into the dimly lit, horizontal hole in the mountain. Fascinated children would hold close to their parents as she pointed out the stalactite on the low ceiling of rock. Admirers had to look very, very close and try to understand that this was a young stalactite and therefore only a few disappointing centimeters long.

Not far in, the mine appeared to end, but just as you thought your party would have to turn around, the tunnel turned left and went further into the mountain. Mom brought them deeper into the gloom to another left turn. Then all of a sudden the rock turned to concrete and the darkness changed to the indoor lighting of the gift shop next door to the mine.

Yes, wasn’t that a convenient surprise? This is one of the many places you could stop and buy souvenirs of your trip to the mountains — from fools gold to decoupaged aspen leaves to corn cob toilet paper.

 

 

 

 

We Are the Children of Clark School

The Schoolyard at Clark was a 4th grader’s dream and every modern mother’s nightmare. The kind of excitement we had then cannot be found on a playground today.

As I recall, the swing was on the only flat part of the yard and constructed of three inch iron pipe. Tall, three-legged triangles on each end with a supporting pipe between them all painted a glossy black. The swing seats hung down on chains from the support bar far above. Deep troughs in the dirt beneath the seats were worn by the countless children before us.

This was the setting for one of our playground challenges – Who can jump out of the the swing at the high point and land the furthest from the swing set?

By the 5th grade, I was one of the kids who could climb to the very top of the swing, shimmy out the chain support and drag the seat up and around the pipe thereby lifting the seats higher and providing greater distance for our flying jumps.

Tetherball provided additional modes of combat. Yes, combat. If you’ve not played tetherball in the schoolyard and had your face pounded by a hard ball swinging around a pole as fast as another kid can propel it, you just don’t know. Like the rest of the playground, the tetherball was on a hill. Surrounded by a few trees and the furthest away from the eyes we imagined on the second floor of the building, was another pipe. This one mounted vertically into the ground with concrete peeking out on the downhill side where water had washed away the dirt.

We creamed one another with the ball. Learning that the uphill position was the superior one helped me to at least win sometimes.

Another memorable game in the schoolyard was a variation on tag that could only be played here in this unique place and time.

The school, like the rest of Central City, was built on a hill. Sitting between Gregory Street and First High as it was, there was a need to ensure that run off water from the street above did not flood or wash out the playground. Stone masons from years past had built a stone wall on the north side of the yard, perhaps ten or twelve feet high supporting the road above. In the wall was left an opening that resembled a big fireplace or a small jail cell without bars. In reality it provided open access to the water flowing down from the street above, through the chamber and then down to a small corrugated drainage pipe in the floor that whisked the water away under the playground and the street into the creek in front of the school.

It was into this jail that we boys locked the girls during tag. The small chamber became sort of the opposite of a base with room enough for at least 4 kids. We captured the girls by tagging them, this meant that they also had to go up to the jail with the rest of the captured girls until they were let out by another girl who was in the game and had yet to be captured. This was pretty much the sum of the rules. A voluntary game on the part of all participants and a made up excuse to hang out on the playground with the opposite gender. In elementary school I was apparently partial to blondes, especially two particular ones. One with straight long hair and the other with shorter curly locks.

It wasn’t all fun and games though, not with Mrs. Gray as our principal. Now I’m sure she was a perfectly nice woman to adults. But to us kids she was terrifying. I had never been in a school setting and had anyone bang stainless steel utensils on a cafeteria table before. No doubt she had to yell and bang to be heard over the lunch noise of who knows how many elementary students. Nevertheless, it was frightening. The only time I got in trouble was when my sister and I were throwing rocks at on another after school. She called my parents and they handled that back at home. I was never in a chair in her office.

The hallways of Clark were lined with lockers, a reminder that it was a high school before it was repurposed into an elementary. The science room on the first floor also retained its high school lab equipment. Science class was taught by Mr. Allen who let the students light crayons on fire with the gas burners and draw colorful wax  drawings by dripping them onto paper. One year, during field day at Columbine Campground, Mr. Allen was in charge of lighting the grills for the cookout. He used a can of ether to get them started. I think he might have been a closet pyromaniac, but us kids loved him anyway.

Mrs. Quiller was probably a favorite teacher for most of the students. As the reading teacher, she certainly was one of mine. I especially loved reading alone in Mrs. Quiller’s reading loft — a literal loft built in the room to one side for the sole purpose of reading. When I started in 4th grade she moved me to a 5th grade reading book. When I advanced to 5th grade she moved me to the 6th grade reader. When it came to 6th grade though, Mrs. Quiller ran into a problem – there was not a 7th grade reader available in the elementary school. I was presented with the 4th grade reader since “at least it has new stories”. I knew that Mrs. Quiller was doing the best she could by giving me new material. I also totally understood the logic in why there were not 7th grade reading books available, but I still talked to my Dad. He talked to Mrs. Quiller and the new principal, Mr. Myers. Everyone agreed that it was silly and something needed to be done. That asking a 7th grade level reader to read a 4th grade level book simply because another book was not available in an institution of education…?

I received a new 7th grade reading book compliments of the Clear Creek County school system. Like all readers at that time, the book was named something related to the content within. On the front of my new reader was printed Serendipity.

Our Elementary Alma Mater

We are the children of Clark School,
We try to live by the Golden Rule,
We are the pride of our mother’s eye’s,
You know it true we really try,
We try to be our very best,
Do what’s good,
Forget the rest…

Or something like that, seriously, it has been 40 years! The song was written by one of the school administration, but I don’t recall who specifically.

Missouri Falls

One summer mom and dad surprised us with a trip to a local, but apparently not widely known, private location they referred to as Missouri Falls.

To reach Missouri Falls was a quick trip by truck since it was not too far off the highway outside of Blackhawk. After turning off the main road, we turned onto smaller ones and eventually passed the remains of a cabin. Dad said that this area was occupied in the past by the Hell’s Angels and their cabin was burned down by the law.  True or not, it added color to the trip.

We parked and then had to walk through the woods a little way as I recall before we came to the waterfall. In the middle of the woods, surrounded by aspen and pine, Missouri Creek dropped off the top of a rock cliff creating a pool of ice cold water in the soft stone below, then it cascaded down the smoothed rocks into another pool further down. After creating a series of smooth rock slides into natural pools like this, the small creek continued down the valley to eventually meet up with larger and larger creeks.

Dad’s favorite flower and a frequent subject of photos.

This was obviously not the kind of water park with wristbands and pay for entry. This was just a hidden spot, deep in the woods, discovered and shared with close friends over time.

Now, it also turns out that this place was clothing optional. Being only ten years old, this was the first I had even heard that public nudity was a thing. I decided that maybe it was related to the biker history?

We went with friends of the family who turned out to be comfortable in their birthday suits. I guess mom and dad knew, but Jen and I were very surprised. To be perfectly clear, we wore our bathing suits.

Getting to the very top pool over the slippery rock was a bit scary, but that one was the deepest because the water fell the furthest. Naturally, that’s where we headed first… last one there is a rotten egg… my sister was last. That trip to the top pool was the only one that day. That was fine with me because the most fun to be had was sliding down the rocks below it and splashing into the lower pools anyway. Truth be told getting to the top one was scary, but I wouldn’t give my sister the satisfaction of knowing.

It was one of those amazing Colorado summer days that creates memories forever.

We came back to Missouri Falls a number of times that year, but I never saw anyone there other than the various families we visited with. Some clothed, some not.

I came back a few summers later with my cousin Tommy. Not for the falls, but for the cliff. I learned to repel from that cliff. Tom and I walked around to the top and he tied off the rope to a big secure rock, assuring me that it was fine. Then he walked backwards and disappeared out of view over the edge.

That entire day was spent with him showing me the ropes… so to speak. I learned to tie knots, and clip on carabiners, and after repelling in tandem with Tom, I eventually repelled down by myself. That too was a thrill I would not soon forget, even after learning to ice climb at St. Mary’s Glacier and Mt. Evans with Tom later that summer.

Pisgah Lake


Pisgah Lake, aka Lake Pisgah, aka Pisgah, aka the pond on the way home was an easy landmark to get people navigated to our house. Friends had to rely on some great directions back then, you know before GPS.

The photo above must be during a spring thaw before the 4×4 clubs were able to access the area. At the far end of the lake can be seen the faint trace of what was always a well traveled off-road destination – just not year round.

The water was just deep enough to be too deep to cross. Dad pulled embarrassed drivers of brand new 4x4s out of the lake using the winch on our ’53 Willy’s Wagon every season.

The lake was frozen completely through in the winter time. We had a great time riding our snowmobiles across the flat surface and spinning them around on the ice.