Friday, December 09, 2011

Gold Hill, Colorado

The mailboxes, eleven of them, sat side by side, perched atop a crudely constructed frame. Several street corners had similar setups while others had no mailboxes at all, giving a cozy feel to this hamlet overlooking the front range. Gold Hill, a small town on a ridge above Left Hand Canyon, is home to just over 200 residents - 228 in 2007 to be exact. Though located only ten miles northwest of Boulder, Colorado and accessible by four routes (one each from the north, south, east, and west), Gold Hill seems remote and isolated. The steep grades and switchbacks connecting the mountaintop to the plains and valleys below are not for the faint of heart, and this may be part of the reason for the small population.

We reached Gold Hill from the north, driving up Lick Skillet Road, the steepest county road in the United States. There were several moments when, sliding and spinning on ice and snow pack, we considered putting the chains on the tires but a slow, steady pace and an experienced driver made the ascent successful and we breathed a sigh of relief when we reached Main Street and parked the vehicle. Our first stop was just a short walk away - the Gold Hill Store. Here we enjoyed hot beverages (I can personally vouch for the creamy chai) and shared a piece of moist and hearty carrot cake (honestly, I only had one bite) while perusing the eclectic displays of local handcrafts, books and calendars with historical photographs, and a collection of vintage model cars.
In spite of our being at 8,300' elevation, the warm sun and still air made for a pleasant walk around town. Earlier in the morning, we'd read that Gold Hill started as a gold mining town but when the gold business petered out, someone had the foresight to think the town could make it in the tourist business. Unlike other gold mining communities that became ghost towns, Gold Hill survived. Most of the small homes are original structures dating back to the 1800s, according to placards posted on fences in the front yards.

We departed Gold Hill by way of the Sunshine Canyon Road. Not far from town, we stopped at a roadside turnout where we could look northwestward toward the mountains. The moderately steep descent took many hairpin turns past charred trees, rebuilding sites, and stands of starkly barren, black snags - all the result of recent forest fires in that area. For stunning photographs of the fire scarred hillsides, check out Erin's blog site. The breathtaking contrasts between cozy community, mountain grandeur, and the destructive forces of nature are, like the steep roads and rough terrain, not for the faint of heart. They might be however, just about right for a few hardy souls who choose to set their mailbox with those of their neighbors on the street corner just down the road.

No comments: