South Fork, CO
About 20 miles north of our base in South Fork is the community of Creede. The little town, sitting at an elevation of 8,800′, has a population of 220 permanent residents. But during the summer that number grows due to summer residents and the many tourists who visit the area.
Like so many towns in the west, Creede was founded as a mining town. Creede was the last silver boom town in Colorado in the 19th century. It grew from a population of 600 in 1889 to more than 10,000 people in December 1891. The Creede mines operated continuously from 1890 until 1985, and were served by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.
Early in its existence Creede was a rough and tumble gambling town. While Creede was booming, the capital city of Denver was experiencing a reform movement against gambling clubs and saloons. Many owners of gambling houses in Denver relocated to Creede’s business district. One of these was Robert Ford, the man who killed outlaw Jesse James. On June 5, 1892 a fire destroyed most of Creede’s business district. Three days later, on June 8, Ed O’Kelley walked into Robert Ford’s makeshift tent-saloon and shot him dead.
While the gambling era brought some people to the town, the real money was in mining. Mines north of town produced large amounts of silver, gold, zinc, lead, and copper. Our main objective for our visit was to drive the Bachelor Loop Historic Tour, a 17 mile drive through the historic mining district in the steep hills above the town. It is a local recommendation that two wheel drive vehicles do the loop in a clockwise direction, while four wheel drive vehicles can go counterclockwise. That is because the road just north of town goes up steeply in an area called the Black Pitch. A clockwise direction has you coming down the pitch, rather than up. We did the counterclockwise route but didn’t find the road that difficult.
In the town photo above you can see a canyon in the background. That is the road leading up to the loop. As we drove out of the town to begin the loop we noticed a large opening in the rock face on our left. Turns out it is home to the town fire truck. Just next to it, also cut into the rock, is the town community center and the Underground Mine Museum. We’ll tell you more about this museum in our next post.
Across from the fire department and community center we came upon two ponds surrounded by gravel.
We didn’t know what the ponds were used for until we saw the sign on a small building next to them.
We then noticed the lights surrounding the ponds and a couple of hockey sticks floating in the shallow water. We stopped (for a second time) at the visitor center in town after driving the loop and were told the two ponds are quite busy during the winter. They even have a Zamboni (ice surfacing machine) in a small garage next to the skate shack. Forgot your skates? The skate shack is like an unattended lending library. Just borrow a pair of skates and return them when you are done.
The first mine we came to was the Commodore Mine. The mine had buildings on five levels above the road and was called one of the greatest silver mines on earth, with production taking place between 1891 and 1976.
Across from the mine is the remains of the Commodore Ore House and Chutes. Here ore from the mine was loaded into wagons for a trip down to the beginning of the rail line.
After finishing the Bachelor Loop we returned to the beginning of the canyon to visit the Underground Mine Museum. We’ll tell you about that in our next post.