So, we took a couple of days off from home maintenance and work, and drove the 1½ hours up to Cripple Creek. It is a super small town nestled into a high mountain plateau just to the west of Colorado Springs.
This is a classic Gold Rush boom town that became famous in 1874, when the first gold ore was discovered in a meadow nearby. The true, massive gold find wasn’t until 1890, when the word got out and the population exploded, much like the blasting in the mines springing up all over the place.
In its heyday, Cripple Creek was home to over 30,000 residents (depending on who you talk to, it got up to 50,000). The “Gold Camp” area, as the locals call it, encompasses the towns of Cripple Creek, Victor and a small settlement called Goldmine, now just a few houses on the side of the main road between the two towns.
Just like in the movies and stories of Western lore, Cripple Creek was a rough, mostly lawless mining camp rife with fights, murders, prostitutes, and smelly men looking to get rich at any cost. It became “civilized” when honorable women came, the town got basic permanent structures and merchants who sold more than mining supplies. (The town’s worst vices simply moved to a back street and business continued as usual.)
Even though there’s still a productive gold mine operating outside of town, Cripple Creek experienced economic decline for decades once the real boom ended, until 1991 when the citizens voted to bring back gambling as well as ensuring they would use the funds raised to preserve the historic buildings and culture of the town.
It’s a mini Vegas now, only more rustic and with betting limits just to keep things civil. Our least favorite part of Cripple Creek was the casinos – We played penny slots and video poker, winning a couple of dollars and getting a few free drinks. Meh.