When traveling during a pandemic you have to be flexible as most attractions are closed, and those that are open air and open are very booked up. Leaving Breckenridge we thought we might tour through a few museums about mining for gold and or silver in Colorado, but none of them were open. We also toyed with the idea of seeing the Coors Brewery (why not we’ve done the Pabst House in Milwaukee), but it too was (for good reason) closed to the public right now. Instead we found ourselves wandering the streets of Georgetown and Idaho Springs, looking at the well preserved remnants of Colorado’s former silver and gold rush history.
As we were driving through the Rocky Mountains, after passing through the Eisenhower tunnel, across the Continental Divide, we found a Scenic View point along Interstate 70. Initially we wondered what was so special about this spot in the mountains that looked like every other spot we had driven through. But then we saw the Georgetown Loop Scenic Rail, a bright yellow train winding its way through the mountain on ridiculously curving train tracks.
I read the sign and learned that the Georgetown Loop was a scenic passenger train, the train that preserved the town of Georgetown after silver mining became unprofitable (after the gold standard passed decimating the value of silver). The train was shut down during the Great Depression and disassembled for scrap, but in the 1950’s and 60’s it was restored as ski tourists started to fill the area again. At this time historic downtown began to be restored and preserved.
I wanted to take a ride on the train, but it was booked out for the day as one of the few open air attractions available in the area. So we entertained ourselves by watching the history video at the visitors’ center and slowly walking the town looking at the well preserved buildings and beautifully restored houses. I also purchased a Remedies & Recipes book thinking that it would have frontier like guidance on how to make everything from scratch. It did have a recipe for laundry soap, but other than that it was a church cookbook, complete with a recipe for instant “Russian Tea” featuring the ancient ingredient known as Tang.
The history of Georgetown is one of never quite having the right timing. When silver was booming, there wasn’t a good railroad in or out of Georgetown to get the silver to market. The Georgetown Loop was built as an engineering marvel and scenic passenger train only. And once the freight railroad was built the gold standard was set and the price of silver dropped through the floor. A scenic railroad could only keep a town going for so long – so it became a ghost town briefly until the ski boom and the white powder brought the people and investment back in. Now it sits as the gateway to the region (which we apparently did backwards, coming from the other side).
No scenic train, no Coors Brewery, we decided to take our time and do lunch in neighboring Idaho Springs, a Gold Rush town. I found a five star eatery with outdoor seating on its main street call Clear Creek Cidery & Eatery where we could get a light lunch. Light was not what arrived, but definitely tasty fish tacos, a reuben with phenomenal french fries and a chimi bowl for Jeremy.
We walked off our light lunch with a walk to the Charlie Tayler Waterwheel – a 1893 built, former functional waterwheel in a gold mining operation in Ute Creek, now a viewing piece in a city park stationed directly next to I-70. We took in views of white water rafters, wild flowers, and learned that Charlie Tayler, the man who originally ran the waterwheel, lived a long life because “he never kissed a woman, or took baths.”
On that note we piled back into the Jeep Cherokee and made our way to Boulder, Colorado so I could see the campus of Naropa University, a little Buddhist school housing the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics founded by Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Diane di Prima and John Cage.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that the institute’s campus would be tiny, its first session was held in an old bus depot in the summer of 1974 – but I was, as the school has been so big in my mind since I was a teenage poet reading about Buddhism and the Beat Generation. As well as my now lifelong study of the poetics of Allen, Gary, Anne, Jack, Diane and many others of the Beat Generation and beyond.
The Allen Ginsberg Library was of course, closed to the public, but Jeremy dutifully took a picture of me standing in front of it. It has always been a dream of mine to study at a summer poetry program at Naropa, now that I work for myself and don’t have to worry about an employer allowing me a sabbatical, I can make that dream come true, when the Pandemic is over of course.
Other than Naropa, University of Colorad0 and a lot of parks we really couldn’t see what Boulder has to offer anyone. Maybe its an acquired taste. From Boulder we headed to Golden, Colorado for a night of lodging at a hotel very close to the Red Rocks Amphitheater, where, if it was not a pandemic, we would be going to a VIP experience at a Trampled by Turtles concert.
Instead of going to a concert, we chose another form of entertainment – dining. I found a restaurant wonder of the world, known as The Fort for us to go to. The Fort is a 1962 built replica of a French Fur Trading Fort housing a giant restaurant featuring historical frontier foods, beverages, and bison, presented with a fine dining atmosphere and touch. It is also huge, and well-aired out from the outside, so although it is technically indoor dining, we were almost practically outside. The cheese factor was also extremely amazing and over-the-top but completely and utterly thematically consistent.
What is the most amazing part of The Fort, other than its exact replication of an actual fur trading fort, and its thematic dedication to frontier ingredients – is the service. Here, in the middle of this cheese fest of American frontier life, is some of the best white tablecloth fine dining service that I have experienced in the United States. Meanwhile, the food, locally sourced bison and other traditional wild game birds and fish such as quail and walleye is all phenomenal. We all ordered Bison, because when are you at a Bison steak house? Never. Also, where can you get Rocky Mountain Oysters? No where. So those were ordered, along with Bison marrow bones, Bison ribs, and Bison filet mignon.
We also indulged in the specialty side dish, from one of America’s Founding Father Presidents #3, Thomas Jefferson – remembered now primarily for his multitude of black and people of color offspring and descendants. At The Fort, however, we learned his favorite food was macaroni and cheese with green chili peppers – and we all subbed this special dish to replace the potatoes.
It was rich and delicious and totally worth the 5000 plus calories I’m sure were included in its depths. But I bet you are wondering about the Rocky Mountain Oysters. First, do you know what a Rocky Mountain Oyster is? They are the testicles of what is now a steer ( a bull has testicles, a steer is neutered). What we ate were chopped small and battered – but they were still a little bit gamey. Not bad, but not something I would go out of my way to eat again. The dipping sauce definitely made them more palatable. The Bison bone marrow was delicious butter, and the filet mignon was the most tender rare bit of lean-ness I have eaten in a while, and the ribs had the perfect char crust with the semi-sweet BBQ sauce.
It was an exceptionally satisfying meal after a long day of exploring the history of Colorado and driving through the Rocky Mountains.