Monday, October 30, 2017

Gold Belt Loop Drive

Yesterday was the last of our nice weather days here so we decided to drive the Gold Belt Loop from Canon City to Cripple Creek and back again.   We took Phantom Canyon Road up to Cripple Creek.  Part of this road is paved, but most isn't.   The unimproved section is basically one lane but there are plenty of places for a vehicle to pull over and let any oncoming traffic pass safely.

It follows the path of the original narrow gauge railroad that connected the gold mining towns of Cripple Creek, Canon City and Florence.   The route is twisty and turny with beautiful rock walls in some places,  sometimes piney flats alongside an always racing creek.   We saw numerous empty camping spots marked by small campfire mounds and we selected one for our lunch stop.

searching for the perfect lunch spot

We found a couple large, sunny rocks to enjoy our lunch beside the creek.  The only sounds were birds and bubbling water.   Ahhhh.   After lunch we scrambled around the rocks for a bit before returning to the Jeep to continue our drive.

looking for fish in the narrow but deep pool

dwarfed by the walls

 We squeezed through two hand hewn tunnels as the road began to climb from its beginning around 5300 feet to the gambling town of Cripple Creek at an elevation of around 9750 feet.

tunnel #1


After about 8000 feet or so my eyes felt like my head was quietly trying squeeze them out of my head.   Always happens to me about that elevation but I was enjoying the ride so much I just ignored it.

The scenery began to change as we reached the high meadows near the gold mining town of Victor, just a few miles south of Cripple Creek.

remnants of old mining operation in Victor

huge modern mine

We didn't spend any time in Cripple Creek.   These old mining towns that have been taken over by casinos creep me out.   Cripple Creek is no different than Black Hawk or Central City, closer to Denver.   The beautiful old buildings have been perfectly renovated.   Almost too perfect.   To me their windows stare out to the street with blind eyes.    They aren't what they seem to be.    The perfect streets are quiet with only a few people moving around, usually moving from one facade to another.    Maybe it's the proximity to Halloween, maybe not, but we don't linger.

We bumble a bit looking for our return road, the infamous Shelf Road.   Finally we stop in the tourist information center (we're the only car in the parking lot) and ask a woman where our turnoff is.    She tells us it's the teeny dirt road near the rv park.    We saw it on the way in and thought it looked like a dirt track into private property.

Back we go and turn onto the dirt track.   Pretty road after awhile - why was I worried about it?

We came to a huge high window in the rock.

Then came the reason this was called Shelf Road.   This section is blasted into the side of a cliff and is a one lane (just) two way gravel road with steep drop offs and absolutely nothing to keep you from just dropping over the edge.   No guard rails, trees, rocks, nothing.  In places the road surface has fallen over the edge, making the one lane even more narrow.     I trust my driver, completely, but what about someone coming toward us!    I had planned to make this drive going from north to south so we'd be on the cliff wall side and I was soooo glad it worked out that way.   I don't know what I would have done if we had been on the drop off side, no where to turn around!     As you may expect, I took no pictures on the way down.   I held on and tried not to look, waiting to get to flat ground.    Well, I did lift my head to snap one picture but it wasn't a good one, it doesn't show the real road.

Today was very cold.   The temps. didn't move above 30 degrees.  The dusting of snow on Beluga's steps didn't melt off.   We stayed inside with our heater working happily.   We napped, we read, we cooked.



  1. What an awesome drive!! Love those tunnels! Roads without room to pull over and drop offs do make me nervous. Backing up on a narrow space freaks me out! Awww! The boys look so sweet snoozing:)

  2. Gorgeous drive! But, BRRRRR! Your temps are too cold...come south and west!

  3. Love the photo of the boys napping! :-) Looks like a beautiful drive, but your description of your eyes popping out of your head at 8,000 feet sounds awful! I didn't know about old mining towns being taken over by casinos. I can imagine it's a strange vibe.

  4. Oh what a wonderful drive to the little town! Such a great pic of Dave below the window rock. A great description of those "remade" historic towns, yes, the blind eyes! I will go back on the other road for sure - single lane shelves are not my idea of fun.

  5. I'm with Jodee...take a different route back! Eeks, such bravery to master the heights your brain keeps telling you are not safe! Love your comment about "why was I so worried about this road?" Those kind of " shelf" roads creep ME out!