High Lonely:
The Bones of Mining in the Mountains Above Leadville, Colorado

Photos by Joe Martinez
I must admit a lust for places that have been abandoned. They are always possessed of a ghostly feeling, a feeling that someone's spirit is floating around you, sometimes benevolent sometimes not. The vibration of these places draws me in like a moth to flame. They inspire me to imagine the lives, the faces, and the struggles of the people that came and ultimately went away. They show me just how fragile humanity and its works really are in the face of nature's relentless assaults.

Leadville, Colorado, elevation 10,430 feet above sea level, is one of these places. I return there every time I make my annual sojourn to the state of my birth, and every time I am stricken with awe that men and women came here over 100 years ago, lured by gold, silver, and lead to this high, lonely place.

Many legends of the west passed through Leadville on their way to the great beyond. Perhaps the most colorful and well-known resident was Doc Holiday. Holiday would have died here had his friends not saved him from the gallows for having stabbed a man to death over a card game. They spirited him away to the healing Glenwood Springs, some 50 miles and 5,000 vertical feet away. The sulfur and mineral laden waters could not save him though. He died there of galloping consumption, but not before making an indelible impression in the story of the American West as the quintessential foppish gambler and gun fighter made famous by the shootout at the O.K. Corral.

I took these photos in early April 2002 at about 11,400 feet above sea level. I followed Leadville's innocuous 6th Street into the hills as it changed from a street to a dirt road. Up there is dead silence save the constant wind, a wind that in winter can cut a person down in minutes. These ruins litter the landscape, and uncapped mining shafts lurk under fragile layers of snow to swallow up the unwary hiker. Should you ever visit, never lose respect for the fact that many humans have perished here because they were screwing around—if you go in a hole, you stay in the hole.

Ruins like this are scattered all over the high country, some reachable by 4x4, some only by foot or mule. I long for the day I have two spare weeks, a jeep, my daughter, and some camping gear for a long summer's drive around this grand playground the creator made for us in Colorado.

Below are a few links for your amusement:

I also have to plug my favorite business in Leadville, "The Rock Hut," a rock shop that sells fossils, gifts, and tools. It's on the main drag next to a little café called "The Golden Burro." Check it out, because the lady that owns the place is a true gem of a human being. She'll even talk to you about gems if you're interested. She is also an expert on the area and its fascinating history.

Take care y'all, and remember to always KEEP GOING!

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Copyright©2002 by Joe Martinez.

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