Bald Mountain Road

There were four roads that we used to get to our log home in the Rockies. We had our own names for these roads as they didn’t have anything but forest service numbers on a topographical map when we lived at 9,640 feet above sea level. 

Columbine Campground road was the most direct, but the bumpiest. It required either a 4-wheel drive or a good truck with 2-wheel and an experienced driver. This road was a continuation of the road to the campground itself. Mostly we only traveled that road out of necessity when there wasn’t another option. Since then, the road has been blocked off to prevent more damage to the forest. 

The ‘spring’ road was fairly level and meandered by a lush meadow with a claw foot bath tub sitting just inside a barbed wire fence. Into the tub poured a fresh, cold spring through an iron pipe coming out of the ground. We often stopped to fill up when we were empty at home. That water was the best mountain spring water ever. Spring road did have a very steep climb at the end, but a tenacious driver of a 2-wheel drive car or truck could handle it.

The most out of the way road is Fall River Road. This was used when the other roads were impassable. This one at least got you to the base of Mt. Pisgah, even if we did live on the other side.  It was also the road we used if we had reason to go to Idaho Springs.

But the most passable road with the least overall elevation changes is Bald Mountain Road. It was on this road that I learned to steer for my dad while we drove back and forth to our property building our cabin. Later it became the road I drove the most to get to and from Central City when I was old enough to drive and had my own car. 

Bald Mountain road can be found as a dirt road off of the annual Aspen Trail.  Travel either direction from Central City to find it going off into the trees on the edge of King’s Flat.

While I already had driven the Jeep, the trucks, the motorcycles and the snowmobiles, my first car was a charcoal black 1970 Volkswagen Beetle. After I got my license by driving around a few blocks in the ‘city’ I was able to go to and from home whenever I wanted. Mostly it was to work at either the home of the elderly woman I mowed grass and did odd jobs for, or to my first real job as a sanitation engineer in BlackHawk.

Work allowed me to spend money on things I wanted. Like a sweet Sony car stereo with cassette and auto-reverse. I added some nice Pioneer speakers to the back and found room for amplifier with EQ in the glove compartment. To be truthful, one of the main reasons I drove Bald Mountain road was because it as the smoothest and didn’t skip my cassettes. Yes, it was actually possible to skip them.

So Bald Mountain road it was, I left the city behind, usually took the switchback by the ranch, through King’s Flat and headed off into the woods.

Pretty easy going in the beginning and it looks like it is fairly well maintained. That is until you get to the very small cemetery. Once you pass the entrance to the old cemetery you have to cross a cattle guard and make your way over some permanent bedrock. As long as you pay attention your car doesn’t bottom out.

The way then becomes flat and pretty wide; obviously not maintained very well. Smooth driving across the sandy part of the road avoiding nuisance rocks every once in awhile. 

The first big obstacles appear, this is another set of rocks that are just embedded in the middle of the road. I just drive around the big rocks and continue on my way.

Next up, a big pair of puddles from the recent rain. They are larger than my car, but I’m familiar with them, I know how deep they are and can just drive between them or around them.

The way continues like this with smaller rocks that I just avoid by steering around them, larger rocks that I drive around completely, and puddles that I know well. In the cooler temps the water has a thin layer of ice on it and breaks as I drive through it.

Now we round a bend on the inside of Bald Mountain and pass the property of one of my dad’s many friends. He met Tom M because he saw him creating a very steep driveway up to his property. He and his family were building at the top of the hill. The driveway was so steep that he had to have an old Army Jeep to get up the mountain.

More of the relatively easy driving around the side of the mountain. This is why I drive this road home. So relaxing with the sun coming through the trees, a light breeze coming through my open window and “the Clash” or “Kajagoogoo” blasting on the stereo. 

We have come around the mountain now (so to speak), what was previously a drop off with mixed trees has become flat with sparser trees. The spacing between them allows a better view of plentiful wildlife. 

A fork in the road presents a choice. To the left, the dirt road connects to York Gulch Road. The forest service road that runs down York Gulch and connects to Fall River Road and then to I-70 and finally Idaho Springs where the Safeway was. 

To the right was home.  Not much further through the younger pine and we reach another road coming in sharply from the left. This road too leads to York Gulch after connecting to the earlier road going there and thereby forming a very large triangle between. 

We come to a “saddle” between the mountains. I learned this land-form from my dad, not geography class. 

To the right, and sharply downhill is the end of “spring road”, where it is at the steepest grade. 

To the left, this view. 

You may recognize it as the landing page photo for this site. The photo was taken by my father, Douglas Gibbins. 

Continuing on though, around the side of Mt. Pisgah, the road has gotten much, much rockier. Some areas of the road have become bedrock instead of dirt. Then, as the road becomes steeper, I drive on the large rocks which are now a part of the road. Far below to the right is the pasture with the bathtub spring mentioned before. 

My little car finally crests the hill. This time of year this area is dry, but during spring run-off there would be two very, large puddles to traverse here. I drive directly through what looks like the very, small, very deep, dry lakes that are twice the width of my Volkswagen. In the spring the water would have gone up past my floorboards and I would have had to carefully navigate around the side of them. 

This is an area frequented by drivers of 4x4s. Some alone or with their families, and a whole lot of others in clubs come up from the flatlands on the weekends. When the water is real deep they make roads through the Columbine filled, old Aspen grove to get to the “other side”. 

For me, the other side meant intersecting with Columbine Campground road going downhill to the right. I continued to the left hugging the side of Mt. Pisgah on my left. A slight gradient continues with a composition of dirt interspersed with bedrock. Nothing worse than what I’ve already driven over. 

In case you were wondering the Sony stereo is playing just fine and will all the way home. 

At the top of the hill now, various roads converge as the 4x4s have made their own way up the hill through the meadow below. To the left is Pisgah Lake or Lake Pisgah or just a large mud hole depending on the season and who you talk to. Someone is building a cabin not too far from the lake, but you can’t see it through the trees. 

Slightly uphill and to the right now I pass through an area that in the winter time is completely covered in a drift. Another path can be seen uphill that drivers use in the winter time to go around it. 

Shortly the road continues to the left, but also goes straight. Following it straight through brings you to a large clearing, then straight up the side of a mountain. Joe and Emily lived on the other side of that mountain and we used to drive their 1942 Dodge ambulance right up Lloyd Hill, park on the top and walk down to their cabin. Calling it Lloyd Hill was some private joke between my father and Joe. He was in a local band and I think it had to do with the band name. 

Our cabin was further down the left road though. I take the low road instead of the high one used in winter. After driving, I see a road going steeply up to the right where it will meet the others going up Lloyd Hill. 

Directly ahead is a sharp turn in the road where it literally comes around the mountain. It was from this point that anyone in our cabin could hear the oncoming vehicles very clearly. As they came around curve the sound carried all the way up Hamlin gulch. Mom could easily identify my VW, our Jeep, the trucks, the snowmobiles and the motorcycles. 

The next part of the trek was one of the hardest in the winter. Mom used to say we had three seasons: July, August and Winter. This portion of the road was actually cut into the side of the hill. During the deepest part of the winter the entire road is obscured by a huge drift that fills in the entire section. Several 4×4 roads lead way uphill to the right through the Aspen, then lead back down once the end of the drift was reached. 

This excursion though takes place in July or August. The roads are dry and access to our cabin is easy. I continue through on the actual road, then pass the smaller one leading up to the cabin that was built by another family who later became friends. Jerry and Susan had three boys all beginning with the letter “R”.  The older boys walked to to school with us many, many times. 

Now the final stretch to our log cabin. This part is narrow with trees closing in on both sides. The snow doesn’t drift here due to the trees, but it falls and stays for the season. If you look closely at some of the largest pines, you can see the scars left at the bases from the winch on our Jeep. 

Once past this patch the road is level and in the winter, pretty clear. Today I smoothly drive around the bend past the old cattle/deer path that crosses here and leads down past our outhouse and the then corner of our basement door. 

If I feel like driving down our ridiculously steep driveway or am carrying family groceries, I turn and drive slowly down the grade in first gear. Turning left and over a culvert I pull up under the large pine next to the house. 

Sometimes I just park at the top and walk down the well worn path. It always led to warmth and love. 

The Aspen Trail

Each year, during the height of the “Aspen season”, fluorescent signs with arrows would appear like magic leading away from Central City.

This was “The Aspen Trail” – Known to every local merchant and a lifeblood of the fall sales. Tourists from all over came to our little city to see the historic town and drive through the mountains to view the majestic fall colors of our Aspen trees.

When shoppers would ask “hey where’s the best place to see Aspen trees.?” Every local merchant would explain about the Aspen trail and point them to the fluorescent arrows leading out of town. Either up Gregory Street or continuing on Main “you really can’t miss it”.

Let’s continue up Main past the old Jailhouse and the Belvidere Theatre. This is to the right of the Big T (triangle lot) and continuing past the mine tailings that make up the first and second “free parking” lot.

Trees are really everywhere now, many pine, but as you climb higher, the view opens up with meadows and more Aspen. So many coin-shaped leaves in so many colors. Really, it is impossible to describe. If you are lucky enough for a breeze, they dance across your field of view and quake.

Next you will pass through Nevadaville, an old ghostown. First with an outhouse on your left, the only bathroom for the nearby ‘rock house’. The mayor lives there, he’s the only year round resident in this town with a population of one. His general store is on the right, then you pass a couple of fallen down buildings and you are out of the town.

Not only can you take in the nearby trees, but you can also see giant patches of yellow, gold and orange in misshaped swaths across the mountain you are heading toward. Bald Mountain, by name.

Now into the pine again and seeming to crest at a rise in the elevation, there is a small road to the left, but the arrows point ahead. A home on the right can be seen through the woods as you continue through the forest. Finally it opens out into an open area with numerous meadows and another dirt road coming in from the left. Bald Mountain Road.

Oh? Did I mention the dirt road?

You’ve been driving on a dirt road since you passed the Belvidere Theatre back in “the city”!

The fluorescent arrows continue toward the meadows where Aspen can once again be seen up close and on the more distant mountains. To the left a beautiful home tucked into the trees and overlooking the these natural open areas. The owner contracted the construction of this home to the man my dad worked for, Greg Heltzer. This meant that I spent many days at that house with the two of them.

Continuing through the meadows known as King’s Flat you can see magnificent Aspen trees up close near the edge of the road and further off in the distance. As someone who lived there though, it was just “on the way to work”.

At the end of the meadows another home through the trees to your left could be seen. This one with a trampoline. My sister and I were allowed to jump on it anytime we wanted (in the summer) while we lived in the Buck House.

A sharpish turn to the left, then downhill. Not steep, but definitely downward brings you to a switchback very sharply to the right.

Finally at the bottom of the hill with a barn on your left you cross a small stream and see a blue ‘ranch house’ belonging to the barn.

Honestly, the view is amazing any time of year, but the signs press to continue past the Boodle Mine to your right and “are those really old cemeteries to the left?”

Down the valley and past an old fallen down brewery to your right… now a huge stone house in the distance on your left… suddenly a right turn only, past where ‘Tiner, the Pipemaker’ lived. You might have seen some of his work in ‘the city’.

Once the road becomes a two-way, it’s the Bennoint House on the right, the Sauer House on the left and then you are back in Central City ready to quench your thirst, assuage your hunger or shop just little more.

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.