“The election was a very quiet one compared to former years. There were only four shooting scrapes, sixteen fights, and thirty drunks up to three o’clock, at which time our reporter was unable to follow his regular vocation”
The Gladstone Kibosh, April 13th, 1901
The Gladstone Kibosh was a fictional newspaper that ran farcical bits of news for over 7 years. It was a total laugh and a fine representation of its time. Silverton in the early 1900’s was a place of enterprise, riches, desolation, tall tales and wild west. It was a town where millions were made and millions were lost and you needed both a tough skin and a good sense of humor to survive it. Just my kinda old west town!
It started, like all the SW Colorado stories with gold and silver. In the late 1800’s the draw of riches drew settlers like magnets to the San Juan Mountains. Silverton, lying as it did in a wide basin became a natural a focal point. The arrival of the Rio Grande Railroad in 1882 sealed the deal and it grew like a weed into a rough and tumble mining town.
With growth came all the reputation and notoriety of an old west town. Down the main drag (Blair Street) there established an astonishing 34 saloons and bordellos, the biggest enterprise outside of mining. The brothels with classic names like “The Bent Elbow” and “Shady Lady” were run by hard-nosed madams and independent women looking to make their own way. Out here money, gambling, booze and loose ladies ruled the roost.
The Silverton of today has kept all the lure of that fascinating old past. There’s a fabulous museum dedicated to its’ mining history (Mining Heritage Center) the original Silverton Narrow Gauge terminus and Railroad, notorious Blair Street with many of the old saloons, and a bunch of cute little cafes and shops. You can even pan for gold at the Old Hundred Gold Mine. We spent a cool 4 hours exploring all of it, eating at the local BBQ and even getting to see the steam engine come into town (and you BET I was excited!).
But you gotta make the drive to get to all this wonder, and that drive is one in a million. The 25 miles between Ouray and Silverton make up the core of the famous Million Dollar Highway (Hwy 550). Characterized by sharp curves, sheer drop-offs, towering cliffs, narrow lanes and nothing between you and your maker this is not one for the faint of heart. There are big ‘ol 18-wheelers who make the drive, but I saw an outer wheel come off the edge as one of them took a turn, and was rather happy “the beast” was safely back at camp.
Why it’s called the Million Dollar Highway no-one knows. Some say a million dollars of gold ore are hidden in its fill-dirt, others that it cost a million dollars to build. I like to think it’s the views, but that’s just the romantic in me. Either way it’s one helluva drive and worth the time to take the winding road. This is the place where riches were made, and the drive, the spot, the history and the views make it all worth a million dollars in my book. A good day indeed!
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