USGS Logo Geological Survey Bulletin 707
Guidebook of the Western United States: Part E. The Denver & Rio Grande Western Route

(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)
Elevation 8,943 feet.
Population 79.
Denver 257 miles.

Just above the mouth of Clear Creek the Colorado Midland Railway formerly crossed the Denver & Rio Grande line by an overhead bridge, and a short distance farther on it crossed the river and continued on the west side of the stream nearly to Malta. Just above the crossing the river and railroads enter a granite canyon, which is very narrow but of slight depth, and continue in the canyon to and beyond the village of Granite. (See sheet 4, p. 134.) This village has been the center of large gold-dredging operations,31 but this industry is now a thing of the past, and the village is known principally as the stopping point for those who wish to visit Twin Lakes, a noted local resort, reached by stage from this station. Lakes are not numerous in the mountains of Colorado, so that even small ones such as Twin Lakes are highly prized.

31In the days of '49 gold was obtained from gravel mainly by the laborious method of panning, or by the use of the cradle, both slow and crude methods that do not appeal to the gold hunter of the present day, The cradle and the pan gave way to hydraulic mining, which was a great improvement on those early methods, as it enabled the operator to handle an enormous quantity of gravel at slight expense, but the waste sand and gravel produced by the process so choked the streams below the operations and so greatly interfered with the growing of crops that laws were passed prohibiting its use.

Now dredging has replaced all other methods of handling placer deposits, for it is the most efficient method yet devised, one that can show a profit even where the gold recovered amounts to only a few cents to the ton of material handled.

Dredging is practicable wherever the placer lies in the bottom of a valley or on a fairly level surface where water is available and where the placer is extensive enough to provide for several years' operations. A large excavation is made in the gravel, and in it a dredge is built very much like the great dredges used in digging the Panama Canal. The excavation is filled with water and the dredge scoops up the gravel with its steel buckets down to bedrock; the gravel, after it is hauled aboard the dredge, is washed for the gold, and then the refuse is dumped back into the hole from which it was taken. This method of handling placer gravel requires considerable capital, but on account of the vast quantity of material handled the returns are frequently large and the operation is very profitable. A view of one of the dredges used in the Rocky Mountains is shown in Plate XLI, A (p. 81).

Above Granite the railroad continues in the canyon, but the walls are low and at many places the traveler may catch glimpses of the surrounding country. About 2 miles from Granite he may see on the west (left) and ahead the ridge of gravel which bounded the glacier that once occupied the valley of Lake Creek and which now surrounds the lakes that fill the depression once occupied by the ice. The gravel brought down by this glacier contains considerable gold, and it has been washed extensively along the river by hydraulic methods and by dredges. The washed gravel now lies in great heaps and ridges that greatly disfigure the landscape.

The railroad emerges from the canyon a short distance beyond milepost 262, and the traveler finds that the valley above this point consists of flat, marshy ground which extends nearly to the head of the stream below Tennessee Pass. This upper part of the valley is probably in the same condition as the lower valley was ages ago, before the stream had cut its present canyon, and at a time when it was flowing at the top of the uppermost terrace that the traveler has seen. At that time the lower part of the valley was filled to a great depth with sand and gravel, and all the former inequalities in the surface were obliterated. The upper valley appears to be in that stage to-day. It has doubtless been filled with sand and gravel brought down from the ranges on either side until almost all the inequalities of the bedrock have been concealed, and on this level floor the stream meanders, not exactly sluggishly, for there is considerable slope to the surface, but the quantity of loose material furnished to the stream is much more than it can carry away, so that it is being continually dropped and thus obstructs the channel of the stream and forces it to shift its course to one less direct. If conditions were changed so that Arkansas River had a sharper descent or a greater volume of water, it would have more cutting power, and it would then soon trench this flat bottom, and the cut edges of the valley filling would stand up as terraces just as the terraces stand above the stream lower down.

On emerging from the canyon the traveler again has an unobstructed view of the mountain range on the west, and its aspect is very different from the view which he had below Riverside. The two most prominent peaks visible from the upper end of the canyon are Mount Elbert, which stands just above the moraines of Lake Creek, and Mount Massive, which stands farther up the range.

The altitude of the valley is so great that few plants except grass can be grown to advantage, but the hay crop is luxuriant, and stock raising is the principal business. As the train departs more and more from the great moraines that bound Lake Creek on both sides the mountain peaks back near the head of the creek come into view. These peaks are more rugged than most of those that have been in sight from the railroad. The accompanying sketch (fig. 24) shows the most prominent peaks that can be seen from milepost 265 by one looking to the southwest. These peaks all appear to the left of Mount Elbert, some of them showing from behind the projecting spurs of that mountain, La Plata Peak (14,332 feet) appears in the center, and Grizzly Peak (14,020 feet) in the distance, with the great lateral moraine of Twin Lakes in the foreground.

FIGURE 24.—Mountain peaks of Sawatch Range at head of Lake Creek, as seen from milepost 265. Moraines of Lake Creek in foreground.

On the east (right) the side of the valley for some distance is very hummocky, and on first sight it seems to be a moraine, but closer study shows that the glaciers which once came down the gulches on this side of the main valley did not extend to the area that is within sight of the railroad, and the hummocks are therefore not the result of the action of ice but of landslides and peculiarities of drainage. At milepost 267 Mount Sheridan (13,700 feet) is the most conspicuous feature of the Mosquito Range, on the east (right), but generally the peaks of this range are not so rugged nor so high as those of the Sawatch Range, on the west.

After passing milepost 268 the traveler may see on the east (right), by looking up the gulch past the white wooden schoolhouse, the first indication of the presence of the great mining camp of Leadville— the smoke of the smelters that may be seen over the top of the terrace or the tops of the smokestacks and some of the surface buildings of the mines. No adequate idea, however, of the extent and importance of Leadville can be obtained from the main line of the railroad.

At milepost 269 a good view can be obtained of the Mosquito Range, known also as the Park Range, on the cast. The view from this point is represented in the accompanying sketch (fig. 25), which shows the relative positions of the different peaks and their names.

FIGURE 25.—The Mosquito Range as seen from milepost 269, at the mouth of Iowa Gulch.

The scenery on the other side is dominated by the great bulk of Mount Massive and Mount Elbert. Plate XLVIII shows them as they appear from the vicinity of Leadville. Mount Massive (14,404 feet) is on the right and Mount Elbert (14,420 feet), the highest mountain in Colorado, on the left. Mount Elbert may not appear so high as Pikes Peak, but the traveler must remember that he is looking at Mount Elbert from a much higher position than the one he occupied at Colorado Springs when looking at Pikes Peak, and that the summit of Mount Elbert is only 4,800 feet above him.

Elevation 9,580 feet.
Denver 271 miles.

Near Malta, the junction point for Leadville, the level marshy valley is more than 2 miles wide. On the east it is bordered by a terrace fully 150 feet high, which was formed by the trenching by the stream of an older flat-bottomed valley. At Malta some of the town of Leadville may be seen. By day the cloud of smoke from its mines and smelters marks the location of the town, and by night the lights of the streets and the smelters may be seen 600 or 700 feet up the slope of the valley on the east (right). As some trains of the main line run by way of Leadville, a brief description of this interesting mining camp will be given. The description of the country along the main line north of Malta begins on page 109.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 16-Feb-2007