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COBWEB CORNERS: A train race to the silver mines

By Mel McFarland

       On Saturday, June 8, 1889, both the Colorado Midland and D&RG railways ran grand excursions to Aspen with her silver mines. It was not exactly a joint trip; the railroads were, in a way, competing against each other.
       The two engines left Denver Union Depot at 8 o'clock in the morning, the D&RG using its own tracks and the Midland using those of the Santa Fe. The tracks ran parallel all the way to Colorado Springs.
       From there, the Colorado Midland, on its own tracks, climbed through Ute Pass to South Park, passing on its way Manitou, Cascade, Green Mountain Falls and Eleven Mile Canyon, then through South Park along the South Platte River, up over the Divide at Trout Creek Pass to Buena Vista and along the Arkansas to Leadville.
       The D&RG train, after leaving Colorado Springs, ran directly south along Fountain Creek to Pueblo. The train turned and ran up the Arkansas, past Florence, Canon City, the Royal Gorge and through the cities of Salida and Buena Vista.
       Both trains were treated to excellent weather and views that were spectacular.
       At Buena Vista, the two met again. The Rio Grande had traveled about 50 miles more than the Midland, but was able to go faster. The trains then followed the Arkansas to Leadville, where both stopped for the night, their groups staying in one of the grand hotels of Leadville, the Vendome.
       At 3 o'clock in the afternoon the next day, an "all aboard!" was called, and the passengers returned to their trains.
       The routes to Aspen were quite different as well. Those on the Midland climbed the mountains to Hagerman Tunnel, passing through it to the Western Slope. The tracks followed the Frying Pan Creek to where it empties into the Roaring Fork River at the little town of Basalt. From Basalt, the Midland ran up the Roaring Fork, some eighteen miles to Aspen.
       Those on the D&RG chugged over Tennessee Pass, through Red Cliff and Glenwood Canyon on the Colorado River west to Glenwood Springs, then up the Roaring Fork as well.
       The two trains converged again at Aspen, the Midland arriving well before the Rio Grande. The riders were then treated to two days of mine tours.
       On the morning of the third day, the return trip began. The excursionists, however, changed trains, with those who came over on the D&RG going back on the Midland, and vice versa.
       On their return to Denver, a banquet was given at the Windsor Hotel. I wonder what these tourists had to say when they returned home to their cities in the East!

(Posted 8/10/17; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

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