More – In The ‘Ville

 Living on the Edge: Five Years of Leadville Today

Colorado's highest peak at 14,443 feet, Mt. Elbert is always changing , yet always the same in Leadville Today.

Colorado’s highest peak at 14,443 feet, Mt. Elbert is always changing , yet always the same in Leadville Today. Photo: Brennan Ruegg

By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today

It kinda sounds like Leadville is losing its edge.”

The comment had popped up innocently enough in a conversation I was having with someone who was raised in Leadville, but currently living down valley. His words caught my attention, ensnaring me and making it difficult to pay attention to the remainder of our discussion.

The statement made me sit up in my chair, shifting my weight from side to side, as if to reset the balance between my role as a professional journalist and that of a 25+ year resident who had moved to the highest city in America to escape just the type of influences and attitudes that had now found their way to the mountain top.

The words twisted and turned, over and over like the mountain road I was driving, as I made my way back to Leadville along Highway 24. It was unsettling, and spoke to the ongoing comments and concerns that had come into focus recently. It was about the gentrification of Leadville; it was about newbie vs. long-timer; it was about new ideas literally taxing stoic generational families out of their homes, out of their neighborhoods. It was about change.

But as I rounded that last bit of highway, before it opens up to present Colorado’s tallest peak, a sense of surety returned. Mt Elbert: it’s never the same, yet it never changes.

Colorado's highest peak Mt Elbert shows some fresh snow as the seasons slowly shift and winter comes into focus.

Colorado’s highest, Mt Elbert shows some fresh snow as the seasons slowly shift, winter comes into focus.

I’ve looked at Mt. Elbert pretty much every day for the past quarter century. Like many who choose to live here, it anchors me; it’s always there. I can depend on it. Whether it’s laden with the green velvet of summer scrub or ablaze in the brilliance of autumn’s colors, it reminds me of what is true, of what is Leadville. Even on those days when Colorado’s highest peak is encased in clouds receiving the life-giving gift of water, I know it’s still there, even though I can’t see it. Mt Elbert has stood the test of time; it has endured the storms of life; it stands firm and strong while all else around it seems to swirl in uncertainty.

It was in that spirit that I created Leadville Today five years ago on November 1, 2011. At that time, there was a growing concern that the only news being distributed and shared about America’s highest city was bent towards the negative. There seemed to be a vacuum for good news and the daily information that people needed to live their best Leadville life. So, I choose to step into that space and create something that would balance out that view, to make a true difference for the people who live and visit here.

Because, you see, it’s together that we weather the storms that loom and pass over Mt. Elbert. It’s as a community, that we enjoy the days of summer’s sunshine, even if we’re not under the same roof or in the same neighborhood. It’s collectively, that we believe that there IS daily good news coming from our mountain town, even though we might not be able to see it.

In fact, it is exactly that union, our commonality, that gives Leadville its edge, whether you’re a native son, new comer, or visitor. Whether you’ve been here a week, or a quarter century; whether you ride a bike or hunt. Whether you work in town or commute, whether you are raising children or are retired, Mt. Elbert stands tall over all of our differences, providing a common goal to look up toward.

And that edge, THAT Leadville edge, like Mt. Elbert, is something that can never be lost. Because it’s bigger than me, and it’s bigger than you. It’s bigger than whoever gets into office, or whoever has the most cash or owns the most property. And it will continue to be there long after you and I are gone.

Just something to think about and remember as you live your best life, on the edge in Leadville Today! Thanks for all of your support and encouragement these past five years. It’s uplifting and truly DOES make a difference.

Need some inspiration? Just look out the window! And that's exactly what Leadville Today reader Neil Spaulding, and then he grabbed his camera and got this incredible sunset shot of Mt. Elbert, Colorado's highest peak. #ThisIsWhereILive

Need some inspiration? Just look out the window! And that’s exactly what Leadville Today reader Neil Spaulding, and then he grabbed his camera and got this incredible sunset shot of Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak. #ThisIsWhereILive

Spac_50Leadville Today: What About Tomorrow?

How can I miss you if I don’t go away? While Mt. Elbert is lovely to look at, it’s also healthy to step away from the mountain to gain a new perspective. And after five years of hard work, that’s exactly what I’m going to do for the next week.

Leadville Today will be back for the 2016 Election results on Wednesday, Nov. 9 and with daily reports after that. But for now, it’s time to hit the pause button. It’s time to step away from the screens, to put the phone down, to just be. After all, how can I miss you if I don’t go away, and certainly the opposite is true as well!

However, fear not, as the Leadville Today website will still be here during that break, it just won’t be publishing daily posts during the next week. So take a look around, check out the stories you might have missed. And if you have an idea for a story, send it to us via the LT Contact Form.

Also if you’re interested in writing a story or taking pictures for an event, consider becoming a LT contributor and join us for the upcoming November 15 meeting. Simply fill out a Contributor Form, let us know what you’re interested in doing and we’ll send you the appropriate meeting details. And remember, you can subscribe to Leadville Today for FREE.

Until then, look up, look to Mt. Elbert and all its never, and ever changing glory, and remember the reasons you’re here, living on the edge in Leadville Today!

Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin LLC, a digital media company located in Leadville, which publishes two online news websites: LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com. She may be reached at info@leadvilletoday.com

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Halloween 1990: The Day Hunter Came to Leadville

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It was 26 years ago when the legendary writer Hunter S. Thompson came to the Lake County Courthouse as a character witness. Photo: Leadville Today/Brennan Ruegg

Spac_50By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today

The day started out different. It was Halloween 1990 and the series of costume parties from the night before had left me with a splitting headache and a hollow belly. It was mid-morning and I was taking in one more cup of coffee on my front porch, when the whirring of a mechanical bird interrupted my recovery.

Shading my eyes from the bright October sun, I looked up and quickly determined it was not a Flight for Life helicopter, which could have made for a different type of news story that day. But then, who would be coming to America’s highest city, especially by air?

In The Ville Head ShotThen, I remembered: it was “Justice for Jessie” day. It was the day Hunter S. Thompson came to town.

Like many young journalists, Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” had whet my appetite for the crazy, carefree life on the road. Little did I know that I would soon be experiencing my own “Cigars and Margaritas,” but this time in in Lead Vegas!

From time to time, Hunter would take up the cause of some under-privileged, under-paid, and under-the-thumb of justice person. “Justice for Jessie” had become his most recent cause, and he was coming to Leadville be a character witness for a Pitken County resident who found herself in trouble after passing through Lake County on her way home to Aspen.

One summer day in 1990, a hard-working housekeeper named Jesse had hitch-hiked her way home as far as the Kum and Go on historic Harrison Avenue. But it wasn’t until her ride was long gone, that the damsel-in-distress realized that she had left her backpack in that car.

Her quick, albeit questionable, thinking prompted a call to the Lake County Sheriff Department, who was able to locate and stop the car, and retrieve Jessie’s backpack. A quick search of the backpack by deputies revealed the owner’s identify, but also turned up illegal paraphernalia and a small amount of marijuana.

The boys in blue returned to Kum & Go to reunite the pack with its rightful owner. Jesse cheerfully identified the bag as hers, and then was promptly charged with possession of an illegal substance.

Now the story probably would have ended there, but this particular woman was already on probation out of Pitkin County and had rallied the support of famous Aspen resident (although he really lived down valley at Woody Creek) Hunter S. Thompson to help fight her battle. This most recent “search and seizure” of a down-on-her-luck Aspen housekeeper only seemed to amplify the Gonzo Journalist’s message. He had become increasingly concerned about citizen’s rights when it came to law enforcement looking through your stuff without probable cause.

The Gonzo Journalist Hunter S. Thompson came to Leadville as a character witness in a legendary Lake County court case. Photo: publicbroadcasting.net

The Gonzo Journalist Hunter S. Thompson came to Leadville as a character witness for the “Justice For Jessie” Lake County court case. Photo: publicbroadcasting.net

The “Justice for Jessie” case would be heard on Halloween, which only added to the media circus that started to gather at the Lake County Courthouse on October 31, 1990. All of the news rags known for their sensational reporting wanted to hear what Hunter had to say. Now remember, it was 1990, so it was way before smart phones with cameras and the onslaught of social media. In fact, in today’s world this may have been a very different story.

Before heading over to the courthouse, I stopped in for another cup of coffee at The Golden Rose (now, the Chinese restaurant) and watched the scurry going on across the street, as everyone vied for position and a glimpse of the famous character witness.

Just as I swilled that last bit of java, a small parade of people whisked past the window and entered into my space. It was the Gonzo Journalist himself; he bellied up to the empty bar and called out, “Margaritas for everyone!”

Then he added, pointing to me, “A margarita for her too” And so it began – “Cigars and Margaritas” in Lead-Vegas!

For the next couple of hours Hunter set up camp in the restaurant, as his minions would run back and forth across to the courthouse, keeping him apprised of the case’s progress, waiting for his turn to take the stand.

Screw the court case, I thought. I’m drinking margaritas with Hunter, and it’s hardly noon! The rest of the journalists were across the street in a packed courthouse, waiting for some tidbit, some sound bite. I was sitting across the table from the Gonzo Journalists wearing his hat and swilling Cuervo. I was living every journalist’s dream!

There are many things that stay with me from that day; I’ll share a couple. First, I was amazed at his ability to consume tequila. I mean, it wasn’t until nearly 3 p.m. that he actually took the stand and he seemed pretty coherent after drinking mucho margaritas. It was classic Hunter; but honestly I don’t know if I would have believed it, unless I saw it.

Which leads me to my second impression, the guy was smart, very smart. I knew I was one of the lucky few to be part of his roundtable discussion, as the politics of the day were discussed, dissected and diluted over massive amounts of tequila.

Eventually, Thompson went over to the Lake County Courthouse and took the stand. I followed along to witness the legendary event, peaking through the small windows of the courtroom back doors. The place was packed with journalists and there he was on the stand – as a character witness! I couldn’t hear a thing he said. I just stared in amazement, watching through those small windows, as he swung that unlit cigar about in the air.

After his testimony, the media circus moved across the street; word must have got out that Hunter was hanging out at The Golden Rose and the crowd started to grow. I was surprised at the number of generally, unimpressed-with-celebrities locals who turned up. But this was Hunter S.Thompson. As the day stretch into Happy Hour, the margaritas continued to flow.

The party finally came to a screeching halt with the arrival of Hunter’s pilot, who announced that if they didn’t leave now, that they would be spending the night in Leadville.

Whoosh! They were gone. The party was over.

As I walked back to the table to get my jacket, I spied a notebook out of the corner of my eye. I quickly picked it up, looked around, and slid it under my coat. Jackpot!

I couldn’t walk home fast enough. I sat down on my couch and began flipping through Hunter’s notebook. There were half-written essays, scribblings about the “Justice for Jessie” case, and notes on an upcoming trip to Hawaii. It was the latter that I found most interesting; the “grocery list” and budget for this Hawaiian vacation was something I could only aspire to.

That fantasy was interrupted by the whirring of Hunter’s helicopter; I knew it was him, after all Leadville does not have an afternoon flight pattern. As the sun set over the mountains, I watched Hunter’s helicopter head over Mount Massive, back to Aspen, back to Woody Creek.

What a day, I thought! And I suppose it was that feeling that prompted my next action. I put the notebook in a manila envelope, sealed it up tight, wrote “Property of Hunter S. Thompson” on the outside, then put it inside another envelope and addressed it to the Aspen reporter who was part of Hunter’s entourage, and had given me her business card at some point in the day. I then slapped enough stamps on it to ensure its journey home, and walked it down to the post office.

Did I hesitate for a moment as I stood in the dark before the mailbox? You bet I did! Not only had the tequila buzz and ethical determination to return his personal property begun to fade, but I started to think about all the money I could make by selling it. I thought about my call to Rolling Stone Magazine or The National Enquirer. There was some classic Hunter on those pages.

But justice prevailed again that day, and the envelope slid from my hands down into the depths of that big, blue mailbox.

That day stayed with me for a while and the Hunter stories reigned supreme at the Leadville bars, until somebody else did something we could talk about. As the weeks passed, it seemed like just another story; a story I’d tell to people, who would always ask, “Is that true? Did you really have his notebook? Why didn’t you keep it?”

I started to wonder if the notebook had found its way to back to its owner, Then I got a call from the reporter at the Aspen paper; she had a message from Hunter.

It seems the Gonzo Journalist was pretty impressed by my gesture to return his private notebook, and had invited me to his New Year’s Eve party at his Woody Creek home. I was thrilled, and a bit scared. After knowing what a day of tequila-drinking in preparation for a court case was like, I could only imagine what a New Year’s Eve with Hunter might bring.

But I never made it. A bad case of the flu left me down-for-the-count that New Year’s Eve. Besides, that’s definitely a story that nobody would have believed from a journaist living In the ‘Ville!

Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin LLC, a digital media company located in Leadville, which publishes two online news websites: LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com. She may be reached at info@leadvilletoday.com

Laboring the Weekend Away: 121 years of Labor Day

Labor Day Weekend: for many, this three-day weekend represents the final fling of summer. In the high country, it’s the last warm-weather holiday for backyard cookouts before the cooler weather sends us indoors.

And while BBQs can be a lot of work, that’s not why it’s called Labor Day. This holiday has paid tribute to the American worker for 121 years.

The roots of this celebration can be traced back to a time when the U.S. workforce was experiencing great transition. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and people were trading in their rural farm lives for the dream of a secure, year-round income that came with a factory job.  Unfortunately, they often found themselves toiling 12 – 14 hour days in dingy, and sometimes dangerous conditions.

Historic Labor Day Parade in New York. Photo: Free Nice Pictures.

Historic Labor Day Parade in New York. Photo: Free Nice Pictures.

It was his outrage concerning these working conditions that prompted Peter McGuire, a leader of the carpenters union, with the idea of a day for workers to show their solidarity. So in 1882, they had a big parade in New York. Workers showed their disdain for working conditions by carrying signs that read, “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for recreation!” The whole happening turned out to be more of a festival than a demonstration. There were picnics and fireworks, plus everyone took the day off from work.

The demonstration was successful in capturing the interest of the nation, motivating President Grover Cleveland to sign a bill making the first Monday in September a national holiday honoring the American worker. Ultimately, his gesture was viewed as political, trying to appease an unhappy constituency concerning his handling of a labor strike at the Pullman Company in Chicago which left 34 people dead. Cleveland’s scheme did not work. While Labor Day was established as a national holiday, the president lost his bid for re-election.

That was 1894. So what about today? Is the American worker any better off? While the statistics demonstrate working conditions are safer today than 121 years ago, the mental and emotional turmoil of today’s laborer reigns as the primary concern.  Today if you were to tell your employer that you demanded 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep, and 8 hours of recreation, you might find yourself standing in the unemployment line for eight hours. Today’s laborer is expected to come in early, stay late and work on weekends. Today’s American worker is told that they are “lucky to have a job” and that there are 50 people who would be happy to take their position if they’re not content with conditions.

But with unemployment numbers consistently hovering around double digits, perhaps we should stop focusing on revolution, and hope for some evolution within American corporations. In the meantime, those lucky enough to be employed: enjoy your holiday! On the other hand, if you’re laboring today, don’t worry; we’ll save a burger from the grill for you.LaborDay
 
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The Story of The Great Pumpkin: My VW Bus and Me

In The Ville Head ShotFor me, it was love at first sight. Not the kind you might experience with another person, or even with a place, like Leadville. This was different. This was love of a vehicle.

And I know, some of you can relate.

It was January 1998 and I was in search of my traveling journalist vehicle. I had sold everything I owned and had whittled my possessions down to two suit­cases, a trunk full of journals and some family photos. I left Leadville, looking for a reprieve, and headed south toward warmer weather to execute the next phase of my traveling-journal­ist plan. Every day, I searched the Arizona Republic classifieds, until my dream vehicle appeared – in print – one rainy Sunday morning:

1974 Westfalia. Incls all camping gear, new clutch & tires, 2 Brits flying home, quick-sale required. Only $1,200. Lv msg at KOA site #194.

A phone number was included, but I wasn’t going to risk a call. Three weeks into my search, I had learned that if you didn’t jump on a good deal, someone else would. I had already been beaten to the punch a few times.

The Great Pumpkin and the Rainbow Connection: Gopod Times.

The Great Pumpkin and the Rainbow Connection: Good Times.

 

Driving across to west Phoenix, the highways were eerily empty; a fog had descended on the valley floor and misted the desert with an unusual density. When I arrived at the KOA Kampground, the haze-seemed to have cast a spell on the normally early-to-rise RVers; not a soul was stirring.

I turned down one of the aisles toward site No. 194, my headlights burned through the mist and suddenly I caught a quick glimpse of my future. My heart leapt. It was nothing like it read in the ad. This time, it was better.

It was a bright orange, 1974 VW Westfalia bus -The Great Pumpkin! It was a two-story, two-bedroom trav­eling house, equipped with a sink, a stove and a refrigerator. It was perfect! Sure, it appeared dwarfed compared to the giant looming RVs camped around it. And, yes, it might have shown a rust spot or two. But for me, it was love at first sight!

The owners were nowhere around, so I spent the entire day at that KOA – waiting, and wondering why anyone would place such a “for sale” ad and then not be available to close the deal.

On The Road Again! The Great Pumpkin cruises over Poncha Pass in Colorado.

On The Road Again! The Great Pumpkin cruises over Poncha Pass in Colorado.

“I think they left with another couple in a big­ger RV early this morning. Probably won’t be back until tomorrow,” announced one neighboring camper once the morning had started to shake everyone loose. He must be wrong, I thought. Who would post such an ad and then leave, I thought as the KOA clerk placed another phone message regarding the ad on the bus’s wind­shield: “Maybe the wind and rain will blow them away,” he sympathetically suggested.

It wasn’t long before word spread through the campsite about my determination. I met all kinds of wonderful people that day, from all across the country. I heard all about their stories and travel adventures. They brought me snacks and hot coffee. They would honk and wave at me as I sat in my mom’s Buick that rainy Sun­day, waiting, all, day long.

By the end of the day, there had been no sign of the owners. Perhaps they would be gone for the night. Reluc­tantly, I wrote a note, bigger and bolder than the weather worn messages that the clerk had posted. I folded it up and wrote, “Read me first!” on the outside. I stuck it on the wind­shield among a soggy pile of post-its, knowing that to remove the other notes would have been bad karma.

As I prepared to leave my post, the skies finally cleared. Looking at The Great Pump­kin one more time in my rearview mirror, I saw the sunset glow orange and I knew. I knew that big orange bus would be mine. It was destiny.

That next day, I got the call. “Hi, this is Alex, calling about the bus.” I immediately recognized the English accent; the ad had said two Brits. My note had worked!

“I have to tell you,” he explained, “We had no idea that we’d get the response we did. Otherwise we never would have left for the night. We were bombarded (think heavy English accent) when we returned. Not only were all those notes stuck to the wind­shield, but everyone in the bloody campground came to us, saying that we must call you first. They said that you waited here all day for us yes­terday. Is that true?”

Well, when he said it like that, it did sound a bit manic. But I stood my ground. I had seen my future: traveling through the forests of Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, trekking down the Baja Peninsula, and finally back to my beloved Leadville.

“Yes, that’s true,” I said. “And if you haven’t sold it, I’d like to come right now.” My hope had been restored when I met Alex and Katherine, a wonderful Eng­lish newlywed couple. After getting married in England, they flew to British Colum­bia (his dad lives there), saw The Great Pumpkin, fell in love with it and bought it. They had just completed a three-month honeymoon, traveling through the Rocky Mountains, down through Washington, Idaho, Montana, circling through Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico, and chasing the warmer weather, their travels finally ended in Ari­zona.

They had to sell the VW bus and return home to England, deeply saddened by leaving their first home together as a married couple.

I had not divulged much more about my life other than my traveling-journalist plans, and that I was staying with family in Arizona, until I found my dream vehicle.

It was clear to all of us that fate was playing its hand. But if I had any doubts, they were quickly put to rest when the couple answered my question: what was your most favorite place you visited dur­ing your Rocky Mountain honeymoon?

Leadville, Col­orado, they said, it was love at first sight! Ah, yes there’s magic – and The Great Pumpkin – In The ‘Ville!

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Gudy Gaskill: The Mother of the Colorado Trail

By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today

In The Ville Head ShotIt was in 2002 when I first met Gudy Gaskill. And believe it or not it wasn’t on a Colorado trail!

Gudrun “Gudy” Gaskill who will forever be fondly remembered as the ”Mother of the Colorado Trail,” died last week, July 14, 2016 in Denver at the age of 89. For those who may be unfamiliar with her story, it is succinctly surmised by the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame (CWHF) as follows:

Gudy Gaskill spearheaded the effort to build the 500-mile Colorado Trail, one of the top outdoor attractions in Colorado. She rallied thousands of volunteers from every state and many countries to help build the trail, one segment at a time. Today, the Colorado Trail is a three-foot-wide path for hikers, bikers, horseback riders, and back-country skiers, that winds through Colorado’s mountains avoiding towns and cities, from Denver to Durango. This high-altitude wilderness trail is a model studied by other states and agencies.Spac_50

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But if Gaskill’s vision is considered to be one-of-a-kind, then the woman herself certainly broke the mold!

Gudy Gaskill, "Mother of the Colorado Trail"

Gudy Gaskill, “Mother of the Colorado Trail”

Never was that more apparent than at the 2002 CWHF Inductions, which was held at the glitzy Donald Seawell Ballroom in downtown Denver. I had been invited to join my dear friend and mentor ML Hanson at the Founder’s Table and was looking forward to the evening’s inspirational stories, After all, in addition to Gaskill, the Class of 2002 included:

That year, in addition to their special induction plaque, the women would also receive a beautiful crystal bowl. These were special gifts given by Joy Burnsley, owner of Denver’s historic Burnsley Hotel and CWHF Inductee, Class of 2000.

From the dusty trail to the glitzy ballroom, The Colorado Women's Hall of Fame honors honors the trail-blazing accomplishments of women - like Gudy Gaskill, Class of 2012. Photo: Kathy Bedell

From the dusty trail to the glitzy ballroom, The Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame honors trail-blazing women – like Gudy Gaskill, Class of 2012. Photo: Kathy Bedell

As Gaskill took the stage to accept her place among an elite group of Colorado women, she was presented the elegant serving vessel, at which point she spontaneously said, “Oh my goodness, what am I going to do with this?” then proceeded to place it upside down atop her head as if it were a bicycle helmet!

The ballroom erupted in laughter, paving the way for Gaskill’s acceptance speech. We hung on every word, celebrating every triumph in her story; much like the steps travelers take along her treasured trail. Happy Trails, Gudy!

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Grace in the Hand of God: An Arkansas River Story


It’s that time of year when the snow is starting to melt, the rivers are running high and the whitewater rafting business is gearing up for one big “All Paddle” on The Arkansas River. So, it seems like a good time for a river story.

In The Ville Head ShotI had never done Class IV Rapids before, so I invited my friend Grace along for the free river raft ride. I had been given the white water raft trip as a “media” perk, hoping that I might write about my adventure and in turn bring them more rafting business.  They said I bring a guest, and I’ve found that it’s a good idea when you’re going to encounter “intense, powerful rapids requiring precise maneuvering in fast, turbulent water,” to bring along a friend with a name like Grace. Or Hope or even Buoyant. It increases your odds of survival.

After arriving at the raft company’s headquarters along the Arkansas River, we zipped up our wet suits (optional depending on the time of season), listened intently to the safety lesson, pulled on our helmets and boarded our paddleboats with a nice couple from Chicago and our raft guide: Billy-from-Boston.

The trip was incredible. Our raft team worked together like a well-oiled machine: “forward three!” and “back two!” By the end of the trip we were doing high fives with our paddles and singing river songs. It was a raft trip not soon forgotten!

And then . . . we reached the Hand of God. In brief, the Hand of God is a rock in The Arkansas River where the water’s current has carved out a hole that drops down five feet where it meets the river. The raft companies usually “put out” here and give people a chance to hang out on shore or experience the Hand of God.Spac_50Hand of God Rock_Wide_Leadville Today

Spac_50It’s really not that scary, especially if you can swim, which is always a good idea if you go rafting. Billy-from-Boston docked our raft at the Hand of God to check out the action. It was a busy day on the river and lots of fellow rafters had gathered on the shore as spectators.

“Anyone want to slip into the Hand of God?” But before Billy could get the question out, Grace was out of the raft and headed towards the rock. Our faithful guide followed up, quickly behind her. I reluctantly followed.

Now Grace is from Leadville, born and raised, so naturally when she reached the top of the rock, she turned to the crowd and informed the other rafters that “Leadville was in the house!” The crowd loved it and Grace played it off for another 30 seconds and then turned and looked down into the Hand of God.

“Oh wow,” she said with trepidation.

“So what you do is . . ,” explained Billy, “lower yourself down into the hole and . .”

Hand of God Rock_Leadville Today“Oh wow,” Grace interrupted. “Hmmm. I don’t know if I can do that. It’s kinda far down there.”

At this point, the crowd on the bank was getting louder: “Leadville! Leadville!”

“Now once you get down into the hole . . ,” but Billy never got to finish that sentence either.

Grace had been motivated by the chanting crowd, and with a do-or-die approach she began to lower herself down into the Hand of God. However, at the last second, Grace did something that turned this simple riverside dare into a prime-time reality show. She turned to our faithful river guide and asked, “will you hold these?” handing him her eyeglasses as Grace plunged into the Hand of God.

Now for anyone who wears glasses, you probably gasped a little at this part of the story. Panic can set in pretty quick when you can’t see! As Grace shot down into the Hand of God, cheers erupted from the riverbank.

“Woo-hoo! Leadville’s representing!” And they waited for their newfound river goddess to pop up on the other side of the rock, as did everyone brave enough to take on the challenge.

At this point, I approached the top of the hole’s chute to assess the situation. Grace’s head was neatly encased in her life vest, which was doing its job: keeping her afloat. She was spinning herself around in the hole, trying to get her near-sighted bearings, moving her hands along the wall of the cylinder.

Billy-from-Boston was calling down the next set of instruction, “Ok, now use your hand to find the spot where you can duck under. . .”

It was too late. Grace’s sightless fear was setting in – quick!

Then, in true comic form, Grace began to shout: “Fear Factor! Fear Factor!” as she spun around and around in the Hand of God.

By now the crowd on the bank started to wonder what was taking so long, as their chants rose above the sound of the rushing water: “Leadville! Leadville”

I knelt down at the opening of the Hand of God.

“Grace,” I said calmly. She looked up from her spinning and “Fear Factor” squawking long enough to refocus. “Put your hand over at three o’clock. You’ll feel the break in the rock that you duck under to get back out to the …” This time it was me who didn’t get to finish.

Grace had found the portal and pulled herself under, releasing herself from the Hand of God and popping up into the river. A bounty of accolades erupted from her legion of new-found fans. “Long Live Grace in the Hand of God!”

Have fun and be safe on the river and when you’re spending time In The ‘Ville.

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The Return of The Local Mail Slot In The ‘Ville

By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today

In The Ville Head ShotOne day, many years ago, a Leadville business owner asked me to drop some letters in the mail for him, as I was already headed that way. I gladly scooped up the stack of notes by the door, but looking down at the address on the top letter in the stack, I stopped and turned back to my friend, asking, “Will they really deliver this letter?” I asked holding up the handwritten post.

“Oh yeah, this is Leadville,” he retorted. The address literally read “Joe Fattor, City.” That was it. No address. No city name. No zip code.

“Just be sure you put it in the Local Mail slot at the post office, he’ll get it,” I heard as I headed out the door, toward the PO.

I was new to The Cloud City and this was one of many curiosities that I was discovering in this small mountain town I had come to call home. That was 25 years ago. That was before 9/11. That was back when the 80461 Post Office had a Local Mail slot.

For those who remember, this was the mail slot for letters and such being mailed within the 80461 zip code, which includes Leadville and a large percent of Lake County. LeadvillepostmarkIt meant that you could drop a letter in that slot and it would more than likely, be delivered the next day. And most importantly for many it would have a “Leadville 80461” postmark stamp on it.

But after the September 11th attacks on the country, many security measures were put into place and one of them was that all mail needed to be received and processed through the Denver post office. That’s right, a letter going from E. 5th Street to W. 2nd Street in Leadville would travel all the way down the mountain, be processed, and then hauled all the way back up the mountain.

It was one of those ridiculous regulations that seemed increasingly wasteful as this federal agency struggled to make ends meet, continually reducing its budget while increasing the cost of a stamp. Leadville locals just got used to the idea that it would take several days to mail a simple letter or card across town.

So in a world that seems to make less and less sense, I am happy to report that the Local Mail slot is back at old 80461!   That’s right, common sense has returned in the form of a mail receptacle that will take your Leadville notes, cards and letters, have them processed by a fine, upstanding member of our local community and place your post, responsibly in a mailbox just down the street!

The back story regarding the return of the special Local Mail slot is varied, and talked about only in hushed circles around those high writing table in the post office lobby. Reports of people “leaning in” with good, old-fashioned common sense and reasoning are rampant!

Regardless, the Local Mail slot is back! So pick up that pen and paper, scribe an old-school note or card, and drop it in the special slot located inside the main post office at 130 W. 5th Street in downtown Leadville. Heck, even the price of a stamp recently went down! Will wonders never cease, In The ‘Ville?  Locals Mail Box Back Leadville Today

Spac_504H Scholarship: Ranching, Farming Traditions Live On

Ray Dawson (middle) with the Lake County Conservation District has awarded two 2016 “Beginning Farmer/Rancher Aquaculture Production” Youth Scholarships. The scholarships of $250 each will help cover expenses to raise market geese, chickens and goats. Pictures here are the scholarship recepients Brittany Romero (left) with her goats Slugo and Bb, and Shania Gurule (right) with her goat Sam are both members of the Broken Arrow 4H Club. The 4-H livestock will be shown at the Chaffee County 4H Fair July 27 – 31, 2016. Congratulations girls, it’s great to see the agricultural traditions carry on in Leadville Today!

Ray Dawson (middle) with the Lake County Conservation District has awarded two 2016 “Beginning Farmer/Rancher Aquaculture Production” Youth Scholarships. The scholarships of $250 each will help cover expenses to raise market geese, chickens and goats. Pictures here are the scholarship recipients Brittany Romero (left) with her goats Slugo and Bb, and Shania Gurule (right) with her goat Sam. Both are members of the Broken Arrow 4H Club. The 4-H livestock will be shown at the Chaffee County 4H Fair July 27 – 31, 2016. Congratulations girls, it’s great to see the agricultural and ranching traditions carry on in Leadville Today!

 

The Never-Ending Search for Princess “Falling Rock” 

By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today

Falling Rock. Watch for Falling Rock.

falling-rockThe signs can be found all along Colorado highways and beyond. While most believe that they are cautionary indicators of unstable terrain, there’s another story that many have not heard.

This is the story of Princess Falling Rock and the never-ending search to bring her back home.

The story begins in the rich and fertile San Luis Valley, a unique area where the Sangre de Cristos and San Juan Mountains appear to face off in a dramatic display of scenic beauty. It’s here that Chief Rock established his summer camp for thousands of his people who would hunt and fish during the warmer months, hoping to reap a harvest big enough to take them through the long winter.

It was also in this valley that the Chief’s cherished daughter was born. However, the much anticipated event was accompanied with such pain and trembling that it shook the mountains, causing huge boulders to come crashing to the ground as his daughter found her way into this world. Ultimately, the blessed event left his wife dead after giving birth. The circumstances surrounding the arrival of what would be Chief Rock’s only child, were so significant that he appropriately named her Falling Rock.

While the Chief’s grief over the loss of his wife was unbearable, the love he had for his beautiful daughter was unmatched in all the land. He adored Falling Rock. As a young girl he would take her into the mountains and teach her everything she needed to know about living and surviving in the rough mountain terrain. By the time she was a young woman, her legendary mountaineering, hunting and fishing skills were unmatched only by her beauty.

One summer, the Chief decided it was time to find a husband for his beloved Falling Rock, a man worthy of his daughter and his legacy. Princess Falling RockMany warriors and brave men came before the Chief to prove themselves worthy, but his daughter was not interested in any of them.

By the end of that summer the highly sought after princess went off into the woods to escape the fray of young men who sought her hand in marriage. She was never seen or heard from again.

Chief Rock’s grief was enormous and he refused to leave the summer camp without his daughter, bearing out one long cold winter after another. He cried out for his beloved Falling Rock as he criss-crossed the unforgiving terrain in search of her.

Over time, the region saw changes and more people moved in and began to settle the area, bringing with it what is now part of the present day highway system. Toward the end of his life, Chief Rock negotiated with state transportation officials, allowing them access to build roads through his traditional hunting grounds, but on one condition. To help in the never-ending search for his beloved daughter, signs were to be posted by the highway department as a reminder to all people who travel through the Rocky Mountains to “Watch for Falling Rock.” To this day, that agreement is still honored.

So as you travel about in the inclement spring weather, perhaps dodging boulders that come crashing down on the roads this time of the year, keep an eye out for Princess Falling Rock. Maybe this is the year she can come back home.

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I Was the Easter Bunny at Cinderella City!

In The Ville Head ShotOk raise your hand if you’ve lived in Colorado long enough to remember Cinderella City! Ah yes, that incredible mall at the junction of Hampden and Broadway, right off the 285 thoroughfare which made it an easy stop for mountain folks. While the Cinderella City Mall with all of its Disney-themed corridors has been gone for many years now, its memory lives on. This is one of those.

For many students, spring break con­jures up images of skiing in T-­shirt weather or perhaps frol­icking on the beach at some tropical location. But for me, during my college days at the University of Denver, spring break meant one thing: work.

Back then, a three-week vacation from school meant that I could find a job and work enough to save for next quar­ter’s expenses. It was my fresh­man year and I was checking out the jobs posted on the bul­letin at the student union. One caught my attention: WANT­ED: Easter Bunny.

It didn’t take long for me to secure my position as Mrs. Easter Bunny at the local mall, Cinderella City. My duties were simple. I’d calmly walk the kids with their information (name, age, and number of pictures they were buying) up to Mr. Easter Bunny so that they could sit on his lap for a picture.

Oh No_easter_bunny_full (1)Our costumes were your basic full-length, white fur coverall crowned by a claustrophobic papier-mâché bunny head with long, tall ears. As far as I could see, the only dif­ference between the Mr. and Mrs. costumes was that the “she” had an apron and blouse and the “he” had slacks and a snappy vest sewn directly into the fur.

The guy who played Mr. Easter Bunny was good with the kids. And the kids were always ready with a big hug and bright smiles when it came time for the photo. It was an easy gig that paid well. Until Good Friday when I showed up for work and discovered I had been promoted to Mr. Easter Bunny.

It seems that mall security had received complaints about the regular guy from parents whose kids had taken a picture with him. The former Mr. Bunny had such a good memory for names that when he was shopping the mall, off duty (without costume), he’d call kids by their names, thus freaking out parents who had no idea who this stranger was who knew their kids by name. Weirder yet, he had made repeated requests to wear the Easter Bunny outfit home on the bus. What can I say, the guy had a fetish for fur, and it cost him his job.

Ultimately, it was those cir­cumstances that led to my moment in the sun. I was now Mr. Easter Bunny! How hard could it be? I’d been watching the procedure for over a week now: kids come up, sit on your lap and take a picture. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long to discover that this type of work actually does require a specialist.

My first day as the Grand Hare was two days before East­er, and the line of kids and parents seemed to wind endlessly through the mall. I immediately changed into the Mr. costume for the first time. It was then that my troubles began.

First, the Mr. Easter Bunny head was much bigger than the Mrs. head. As a result, it wob­bled about and spun around like some kind of rabid rabbit. Now you can imagine what this looks like to a kid: you’ve got your Sunday best on and are approaching a creature three times your size whose head is spinning around, all the while hearing language more colorful than a basket full of freshly dyed Easter eggs spewing from your fine, furry friend. Part of the problem was that while Mr. Bunny had been replaced, Mrs. Bunny had not. There was no buffer, no gently guiding Mrs. Easter Bunny to bring the children to the Mr.

Ah the memories, of that once-beautiful, now demolished - Cinderella City Mall!

Ah the memories, of that once-beautiful, now demolished – Cinderella City Mall!

Gone were the quiet, calm conversations that I saw my former coworker create with the nicely coiffed children. There were no pictures of beautifully smiling kids perched upon this bunny’s knee. Instead, there were tears, mixed with melted chocolate, stream­ing down kids’ faces. Most had passed their patience limit and were now crashing from the sugar high we had bribed them with earlier. For two hours I sat captive in a papier-mâché prison that reverberated with every fearful shriek imaginable from kids brave enough to actually get that close. The photographer’s demeanor was quickly deteriorating as well.

And then it happened. I did something that has proba­bly psychologically scarred some of those kids for life. In fact, many of them have probably never had a normal Easter since that day. Some kid got a hold of my cottontail and yanked it so hard I almost fell to the floor. But I held my ground. My Mr. Easter Bunny costume however, did not fair so well.

Enough! To the horror of dozens of kids and parent waiting in line, I pulled off my “Mr.” head and screamed, “Enough!” I turned and headed straight toward the employee changing room, leaving dozens of – now strangely quiet – parents and kids behind. Then I remembered the second difference between the Mrs. and Mr. Easter Bunny costume: it did not allow me a layer of clothing underneath. Red-faced, I walked through the crowd, exposing a group of kids to something that probably looked more like a Playboy Bunny than the Easter Bunny. Needless to say, the next day I hopped my way to the unemployment line.

But don’t let that story make you miss out on this time honored tradition of getting the kids’ picture taken with Mr. Easter Bunny; it makes for lasting childhood memories. Happy Easter!

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“Home On The Range,” In The ‘Ville, During Ski Joring

In The Ville Head ShotThe original song “Home on the Range,” has a true Leadville beginning. It was 1885 and a group of young miners were trying to make ends meet by writing and playing music at some Leadville saloons. The foursome lived in a small cabin on the outskirts of town which they referred to as the “Junk Lane Hotel.”

Bob, Bill, Bingham and Jim penned the song “Colorado Home,” which went on to be known as the popular “Home on the Range.” In fact, on November 19, 1945, the Leadville origins of this well-known song were recognized and inserted into the Congressional Record.

Once you read these less commonly-known verses, you can better understand the song’s Leadville connection:

 

Oh, give me the hill and the ring of the drill,

In the rich silver ore in the ground;

And give me the gulch where the miners can sluice,

And the bright yellow gold can be found.

 

Oh, show me the camp

Where the prospectors tramp,

And business is always alive;

Where dance halls come first

And faro banks burst,

And every saloon is a dive.

 

A Ski Joring tribute (Sung to the tune of “Home on the Range”)

 

Oh give me a horse

And a rider of course,

Then put some snow down on the street.

Grab a person with skis,

And really good knees,

Harrison Avenue is where we will meet.

Many consider Leadville Ski Joring one of Colorado's True Wild West event held in downtown's historic Harrison Avenue. Photo: Robert Myer.

Many consider Leadville Ski Joring one of Colorado’s True Wild West event held in downtown’s historic Harrison Avenue. Photo: Robert Myer.

 

Chorus:

Ski, ski down the street,

Where the jorer and horses do meet.

Where never is heard,

A discouraging word,

We just hope that they land on their feet.

Oh give me a hill and

The skiers to thrill,

Over jumps as they fly through the air.

The horses are quick

And the course can be slick,

No other event can compare.

Chorus:

Oh give me a place,

Where a race is a race,

And the best Joring team gets the win,

We think we’re the best, so to heck with the rest,

Remember: “Don’t fence me in!”

Huge crowds and big jumps is what Leadville's Downtown Winter Celebration is all about ! Photo: Verl Luppes.

Huge crowds and big jumps is what Leadville’s Downtown Winter Celebration is all about ! Photo: Verl Luppes.

 

Chorus:

Oh give me your bet

And you’ll never regret,

The investment you

Make in a team.

As they pick up a ring,

Hear the money – ka-ching!

It’s like living the lottery dream.

 

Chorus:

And later at night, when the heavens are bright,

Cold beer and good whiskey will flow.

So put on your pants

And get ready to dance,

Just perhaps it will

Bring on more snow!

 

Chorus:

Ski, ski down the street,

Where the jorer and horses do meet.

Where never is heard,

A discouraging word,

We just hope that they land on their feet.

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Leadville Street Names Change with The Times


Streets. Avenues. Boulevards. No matter what you call them, they’re the thoroughfares that get you from Point A to Point B.

In The Ville Head ShotStreets can also help people find your address, the place where you live. During Leadville’s pioneer days, people’s residences were recorded in city directories. There was no “my number’s in the book,” or even postal delivery. Back then, if you wanted to find someone in a busting-at-the-seams mining town, these directories where your first point of reference. Of course, it’s a far cry from today’s people finder: Google. In fact, initially there were no specific numbered addresses given to businesses or people, location was simply listed as “one door west of the barn!”

Chestnut Street was Leadville’s first main road, dividing the south and north sections of the town. In addition, it was Pine Street, not Harrison Avenue that divided the east side of town from the west. Early in 1878, there were five east – west running streets designated: Front (the first street located directly north of the original Oro City and California Gulch area), then Elm, Chestnut, State and Main. The north-south running streets were Harrison, Pine, Spruce, and Leiter.

Many folks wonder how Harrison Avenue got its name. No it wasn’t President Harrison but rather Leadville’s pioneer smelter entrepreneur Edwin Harrison. As Harrison’s wealth and influence grew, so did the buildings along the street that bore his name. It didn’t take long before the shift of power came about and Harrison Avenue dominated Leadville’s gridiron.Leadville Map_Leadville Today

Of course, this change meant that the numbered addresses on the cross street had to change because the east-west dividing line had been moved. If you compare city directories from 1879 and 1880, addresses of the same business vary. But remember, none of these businesses moved, only the addresses were changed!

Eventually Leadville grew north, and then east and more streets were added. Many times city maps had streets on them with no names. Other times they were given names, often presidential, like Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln. But just as often they were known among locals by a different name, referring to some geological feature, or local character who lived on the block.

Eventually, it was deemed advisable to the town’s existence, to abandon the names of the east-west running streets in favor of numbered street names. City council took action and all east-west thoroughfares were given numbers.

Old State Street - today known as 2nd Street - was honored during Boom Days 2014 when an honorary sign was placed at the corner of 2nd and historic Harrison Avenue. Photo: Leadville Today.

Old State Street – today known as 2nd Street – was honored during Boom Days 2014 when an honorary sign was placed at the corner of 2nd and historic Harrison Avenue. Photo: Leadville Today.

For the most part, the idea worked. But the mountain folks are funny when it comes to change. Chestnut Street was “grandfathered” and has never changed. State Street was changed to 2nd Street but the old name hung on well into the middle of the 20th century, except for the block between Harrison and Pine Streets where it continues to be referred to as old State Street.

Even as Leadville and Lake County continues to grow, new streets are made and named. There are the more recent ones down off of County Road 4, where you can find Ranch Road and Alpine Cirque (a cirque in Leadville?!)

Of course, most of the West Park streets are named after 14ers. And then there’s the Gem Valley subdivision with Ruby Lane and Turquoise Street.

Over the years, old-timers have referred to Harrison Avenue as a real dividing line between the east and westsiders. Leadville children were often given strict instructions not to venture to one side or the other. One life-long resident stated: I knew that my family had made it when we moved to the west side.”

When I first arrived in Leadville – 26 years ago today – I lived on W. 8th Street. Over the years, as a renter or a roommate, I’ve lived on East 6th Street, and West 6th Street, up on 10th and down on 4th. I’ve lived in the city, and out in the county. Of course, Leadville eastsiders claim that you can’t beat the views, and I’d have to agree, because that’s where I live. . . In The ‘Ville.

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How To Put Your Best Foot Forward in 2016

“Happy New Year!” This greeting will be heard for weeks as The New Year gets under way this Friday, Jan. 1. In The Ville Head ShotFor many, there are traditions that must be adhered to in order to ensure a prosperous 2016.

Besides the champagne toast and mid­night kiss, New Year’s traditions and superstitions draw a connection between what people do on that first day and their fate for the rest of the year. Here are some ways to ensure a good outcome for the next 12 months.

Midnight Kiss. Kiss those dearest to you as the clock strikes twelve. Not only is this a fun way to celebrate with your favorite people, but it also makes certain those affec­tions and ties will continue throughout the next 52 weeks. No lip lock? Be prepared for a year of coldness.

Money. Cash must be placed in every wallet in your home to guarantee prosperity. Don’t start things off with debt (easier said than done after Christ­mas!) Write those checks and mail them off before the first. Likewise, personal debts should be settled – especially if you owe me! good_luckHowever, do not pay back loans or lend money on January 1st as this will ensure you’ll be paying out all year. Also, don’t let the year start with bare cupboards or things will be that way throughout the year.

First Footer. The first person to enter your home after the stroke of midnight will influ­ence the upcoming year. Ideal­ly, he should be dark-haired, tall, and good-looking – I did not make up this part, but I’m certainly not opposed to it! Tra­dition states it would be even better if he came bearing cer­tain small gifts such as a silver coin, a bit of bread, a sprig of evergreen, and some salt. Blonde and redhead first footers bring bad luck, and female first footers should be shooed away before they bring disaster down on the household. Don’t let first footers walk right in even if they live there. They should knock, be let in, and leave by a different door than the one through which they entered. No one should leave the premises before the first footer arrives – the first traffic across the threshold must be headed in rather than out. Also, these initial guests must not be cross-eyed, have flat feet, or eyebrows that meet in the mid­dle. So, be wary of all your red­headed, female friends with no arch support and a unibrow!

Out With the Old. At mid­night, all the doors of your house must be opened to let the old year escape unimpeded. fathertime-babynewyearOld Father Time must leave before Baby New Year can come in. So fling open those portals to assist him in finding his way out. However, it’s important to note that no objects – absolutely nothing, not even garbage – are to leave the house on the first day of the year. Don’t so much as shake out a rug or take the empties to the recycle bin.

Good Luck Food. Most of us are familiar with the South­ern tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day to attract good luck and money. Many cultures believe that any­thing in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbol­izes coming full circle. So, think donuts, onion rings, and my favorite, bagels.

Work. Make sure to do – and be successful at – some­thing related to your job on the first day of the year, even if you don’t go near your place of employment that day. Limit your activity to a token amount, though, because to engage in a serious work project on the first of January day is very unlucky.

Clothes. Wear something new on January 1 to increase the likelihood of receiving more new garments in the upcoming year. Also, do not do the laundry on New Year’s Day lest a member of the family be washed away (die) in the upcoming months. Some folks go as far as leaving the dirty dishes.

Breaking Bad Habits. Avoid breaking things on that first day, otherwise wreckage be part of your year. Avoid cry­ing on the first day of the year because that will also set the tone for the next twelve months.

Weather. Examine the weather in the early hours of New Year’s Day. If the wind blows from the south, there will be fine weather and prosperous times in the year ahead. If it comes from the north, it will be a year of bad weather. The wind blowing from the east brings famine and calamities. Strangest of all, if the wind blows from the west, the year will witness plentiful supplies of milk and fish but will also see the death of a very impor­tant person. If there’s no wind at all, a joyful and prosperous year may be expected by all.

There you have it. Just a few things to consider as you ponder the next 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds. Hope they’re happy!