Friday, September 4, 2015

Colorado's Leadville, Colorado, and Southern Railroad

The Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad Company begins in Leadville, Colorado, the highest incorporated town in the USA at 10,200 feet elevation, departing from its century-old depot, and follows the headwaters of the Arkansas River up to a spectacular view of Fremont Pass and a distant look at the Climax Molybdenum Mine. On the trip back down to town, there is a brief stop at the old French Gulch water tower from which you can see Mt. Elbert, Colorado's highest peak. The trip covers about 22 miles round-trip in 2 1/2 hours and goes up about 700 feet. This is a standard gauge railroad with a diesel locomotive, though an old steamer is on display in the parking lot.


The engine rounds a bend revealing itself and the first few cars. 

The first mile or so goes through town, but the remainder of the trip is through lush forest with plenty of openings through the trees to allow views of the valley such as below. The Arkansas River headwaters and Colorado Highway 91 snake their way through the valley. The snow-topped mountains in the far distance are the Collegiate Mountain Range.

The French Gulch Water Tower...

They have observation cars which are completely open to the air as seen below, coaches with sliding windows and roof, and a box car which has washrooms facilities and a concession stand selling food and souvenirs. If you buy your shirts, caps, etc. while on the train ride, you do not have to pay sales tax. The same items bought at the store in the station have the tax added.

You can tell by the denuded mountain sides that we are nearing the mine that the railroad served. And when you look at the section of track visible ahead of the train, you pause to wonder if the roadbed and track will support the weight of the train or will we all go tumbling down the mountain side. Well, we made it!

The trip ends near the summit of Fremont Pass (elevation 11,318 feet). The Climax Mine is seen against the denuded mountain it has been disassembling for a century. The other side of the pass (heading to Copper Mountain Resort) reveals the tailing piles and polluted lakes created by the mining operations. Fortunately, efforts are underway to counteract the pollution problems. This metal was discovered in this area in 1879 and this mine is the largest molybdenum mine in the world and for many years it supplied 3/4 of the world's supply of the metal.


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