On the back side of Pikes Peak, snugged onto the hillsides of a once-rollicking and wildly rich gold camp, sits today’s Cripple Creek, a limited-stakes gaming town that draws visitors from around the world.
Like many of Colorado’s mountain towns, it was first home to the Ute tribe, which moved through the high country with the seasons, living off the abundance of game and fish.
When settlers discovered gold, the landscape changed dramatically. It was Bob Womack, who had searched in vain along the southwest slope of Pikes Peak for more than a decade before hitting paydirt in 1890. Ironically, his riches were found in a place known as Poverty Gulch, which eventually became Cripple Creek.
Thousands of prospectors and the ancillary businesses of merchants and ladies of the night came to the region, and between the time of Womack’s discovery and 1910, the region was hailed as the “World’s Greatest Gold Camp.” If you were assign a 21st century value to the 22.4 million ounces of gold extracted from more than 500 mines during Cripple Creek’s heyday, you’d have yourselves more than $11 billion.
Although gold production declined dramatically in a relatively short period of time, Cripple Creek hit it big again in 1991 with legalized gambling. Many of the historic buildings became refurbished casinos and hotels, and new edifices were erected where others once stood.
In 1995 an open-pit gold mine was opened at the site of the old Cresson Mine, and it continues to produce today.
Now for many the draw is the glitter of the casino and the sounds of the electric slots and the murmur of gamers at the tables. But for history buffs, the Cripple Creek Historic District, a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, offers a wonderful glimpse into times gone by.
Many shops maintain the rustic ambience of old-time mining days, and the Cripple Creek Heritage Center offers hands-on displays that bring the past alive. Today, visitors to the area can experience the rich Cripple Creek, Colorado history through its shops, attractions and museums.
You can also tour 1,000 feet underground in the historic Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine, and the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad provides another perspective on the area’s past.