Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Gaming Capital of Colorado – Central City

Walking through historic downtown Central City is a like being in a time warp that takes you back to a rustic Colorado mountain town in the mid to late 1800’s.  You are surrounded by architecturally interesting historic buildings sporting logos from businesses that thrived during the glory days of gold and silver mining which built this town.  The time warp is abruptly over when you fling open one of the business doors and hear the blaring “cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching” from the slot machines.  It is now that you realize how this town has continued to survive after the mining industry dried up.  Central City and its sister city of Blackhawk voted to bring in gambling in 1990 and which now keeps these towns alive.  But don’t worry the gambling vice doesn't ruin the historic character of the city because gambling was a big part of this town back in the 1880’s.

The city’s history dates back to 1859 when a prospector saw gold swirling around in his pan.  He collected it from a creek located in a deep gulch and the town was born.  The news of gold brought an influx of people rushing to stake their mining claim and fortune in this town nested high in the Rocky Mountains (about 35 miles west of Denver).  Thanks to the mining riches the town of Central City stakes claim of being the “Richest Square Mile on Earth”.  We popped into all of the casinos to collect poker chips for Betsy's friend Dave in Cincinnati.  But we saved our money for our adventure and didn't feed the slots!  Only Las Vegas seems to have more casinos than Central City/Blackhawk.  

The Coeur d' Alene mine is open for tours.
The RV park sat on top of a hill and gave us a great view of Central City from our front window.
And here is what is really amazing about this city that survives on gambling – it has an opera house that draws folks from big cities like Denver, Boulder, and Golden and is one of Colorado's premier music festivals.  So how does this small town of 600 residents support an opera house with New York City quality entertainment?  It's simple, a portion of the gambling revenue supports the opera.

The Central City Opera is second oldest annual professional opera festival in the country and dazzles visitors every year during the summer festival in the historic 550-seat theater built in 1878.  Every year they feature four operas and one Broadway performance.  In order to explore the opera house and other historic buildings we stopped by the Gilpin Historical Society and Museum and inquired about a guided tour.  We really lucked out by getting a great tour guide, Maggie, who provided us with a wonderfully entertaining personal tour through the historic Opera House and Teller building, both of which played a major role in the cities sorted past and continue to be celebrated.

Central City has more than slots and opera, during our stay there was an afternoon festival called “Roots Ruckus.”   The summer goes on to celebrate “Blues, Brews, and BBQ,” Jazz Brunches at the Historic Teller House, and an ever popular event called the “Cemetery Crawl” where living history actors portray some of the deceased.  Various families are highlighted and a portion of their lives acted out at graveside.

With enough sightseeing under our belts we decided to head a few miles north to Golden Gate Canyon State Park for some hiking (and sightseeing of a different kind).  The trails were spectacular and provided a couple challenging “walks in the woods.”  After some tiring hikes, we were tired and hungry and driven to eat!  We drove to a restaurant that was famous for serving dogs a free meal (Last Shot Restaurant) – after all, Spirit was as tired and hungry as we were!

Grilled liver and rice makes for a very happy dog.

More pictures from Central City...

Spirit and I made a couple of new friends...one had two six shooters strapped to his waist and the other didn't say much.
Old mining cars are used as planters throughout the town and pay homage to their mining history.
St. James Methodist Church and a home owned by the opera.  The opera owns many homes throughout the town which serve as temporary residents for performers.  Tour guide (Maggie) said the town has great energy when the performers are in town and she is always sad when the summer opera comes to a close.
Even the convenient mart has an old facade. 
The Arapaho National Forest surrounds the town and provides ample scenery. 

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