Road Trip: Idaho Springs gives visitors a dose of mountain charm
Special to the Free Press
When Bonnie Hammett and her husband moved to Idaho Springs more than 10 years ago, they had planned to stay six months. They’d come so he could work on a project at the Henderson molybdenum mine outside of Empire, and they never left.
Hammett said the area is worth at least a visit because of the history alone, not to mention the locals who can tell you all about it.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to find better folks to make you feel welcome like it’s your hometown,” she said. “We love it here.”
Idaho Springs sits 30 miles west of Denver and 200 miles east of Grand Junction. The name of the town comes from the legend that a Native American chief and his tribe traveled there each year from Idaho to bathe in the healing waters.
The Indian Hot Springs live on in their modern form, a healing waters spa with geothermal caves, outdoor Jacuzzi baths, a mineral-water swimming pool, indoor private baths, spa services, a hotel and cabins. The hot mineral water flows from the wells at 120 degrees and is then distributed to the hot mineral baths and swimming pool. Guests can visit for the afternoon or stay overnight (http://www.indianhotsprings.com, 303-989-6666).
Prospectors founded the town in 1859 during the Colorado gold rush, and it became the center of the region’s mining district. The Argo Tunnel was built over a period of 17 years to reach Central City, more than 4½ miles away. The tunnel provided water drainage, ventilation and economical transportation of the gold-bearing ore from the many mines it intersected.
The Argo Mill — the largest of its kind in the world — was constructed to process the gold-bearing ore from these mines. Visitors can take a tour through the Double Eagle Mine at the top of the mill and learn about the history of the tunnel, the mine and the mill, with live equipment demonstrations (http://www.historicargotours.com, 303-567-2421).
The Heritage Museum & Visitor Center is a great place to get your bearings. It’s operated by the Historical Society of Idaho Springs and provides directions, maps and a gift shop, as well as the donation-based museum. The museum features a variety of exhibits and photographs exemplifying the history of metals mining and the railroad (http://www.historicidahosprings.com, 303-567-4382).
Hammett, who works at the visitor center as the retail manager, said some of the women who run the front desk have been helping visitors for more than 15 years.
“Come find us here, and we will get you on your way,” she said.
MINING TO MODERN
The top five miles of the Mount Evans Road closed after Labor Day, but the drive to Echo Lake is very worth the trip. Situated on the lake’s shore is the Echo Lake Lodge, built in 1926 and offering a gift shop and restaurant service. A campground, picnic tables and barbecue grills are available for use, and the area has direct access to the Chicago Lakes and Lincoln Lakes hiking trails (http://www.denvermountainparks.wordpress.com/the-parks/echo-lake-park, 720-865-0900).
“We ask them what they are looking for,” said Hammett of recommending hikes in the area. “Some want to go higher, some want to go lower. We have many hikes that are up in the Mount Evans area, as well as hikes along I-70 West.”
The hot springs could be a perfect way to unwind after hitting the trails, but the Miner’s Pick Bed & Breakfast may be where you want to hang your hat. Located near the historic downtown, the house was built in 1895, offering three guest rooms, all with private baths (http://www.theminerspick.com, 303-567-4870).
Walk right from the Miner’s Pick to the shops and restaurants on Miner Street. The Soap Shop on the east end of the main strip is a fragrant journey of homemade soaps, lotions, bath fizzies and more (http://www.sudsorama.com, 303-567-0428). The nearby Fall River Botanicals shop sells teas, lotions, oil, soaps, balms and spices, made by herbalist Leila Duran (http://www.fallriverbotanicals.com, 303-567-0152). For unique home and kitchenware, stop at the west end of Miner Street and check out The Wild Grape (http://www.wild-grape.com, 303-567-4670).
Get into your flow at The Yoga Room, set in the back of the Two Brothers Deli. Added in 2008, the studio space offers Vinyasa-style yoga and workshops (http://www.theyogaroomis.com, 303-905-2205).
A trip to Idaho Springs would not be complete without at least one slice of mountain pie from Beau Jo’s Pizza (http://www.beaujos.com, 303-567-4376), as well as a craft draft from Tommyknocker Brewery. It’s Tommyknocker’s 20th anniversary this year, so get in there and try a Maple Nut Brown Ale, a Pick Ax IPA or a seasonal brew such as the Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest Ale (http://www.tommyknocker.com, 303-567-2688).
The downtown coffee and ice cream shops are right across from each other, just east of Beau Jo’s and the brewery, so finish your dining experience with some warm drinks and sweet treats.
Look across the highway at the Charlie Taylor Waterwheel for your final dose of history. It was built in 1892 by gold miner Charlie Taylor and then moved from its original site to its present location in 1948 and restored in 1988. View it from the parking lot behind Idaho Springs City Hall, 17th Avenue and Miner Street, or down the bike path from the Clear Creek Ranger Station.
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