I guess this was millions of years in the making. Perhaps even longer. Mountains had to be pushed up; different ores had to be forged deep within the earth’s mantle or crust or wherever the pressure breeds the elements in dark fire of smashy crushy mushy igneous-metamorphic-sedimentary rock. Nature in His/Her Wisdom then spilled water over these mountains for further millennia. Trickling Chinese Water Torture, pounding rain, rushing torrents, and seeping creeping Gollum, all ran down to the doom of the ocean, Atlantic on this side of interest, taking little grains of sand, pebbles, and entire mountains.
Endless cycles of freezing and thawing to carve and cut and finally extracted the first signs of gold. For how long this original nugget lay there in the stream undisturbed and to the wildlife useless and to the early humans undetected the world may never know. Perhaps this little clump of rocks were dislodged a thousand years before European contact, maybe a few days after the ocean removed the land bridge allegedly used to populate the earth with humans. Whenever it happened, a worthy element finally tumbled into the tin pan of some nameless prospector, such as George A. Jackson, who exclaimed, there is gold in them there hills. And, just like that, there was a gold boom in Colorado. Then came the migrants, the immigrants, the gunslingers, the hard toilers, the first timers, and assorted kith and kin who were there for the gold. A river of naked apes who died on contact with the hard earth or made of it a profit and a fecundity of which some of us are today descended.
Since the weather can be somewhat daunting at all seasons, towns sprung up all over the mountains to provide shelter. One of them was named Silver Plume, a hamlet of some two hundred souls today that at one time numbered in the thousands long before people were as plentiful as they are now where two thousand aspiring perspiring offal-producing squirming members of our species is but a large and quite common middle school.
The mine of note was known as the 7:30 mine since it started work an hour after most mines in the area. There is as much lore as there is a truth about one of the key managers of the pit, a Mr. Griffin who was more poet than a gold digger and his short life of good deeds ended in a more Charles Bukowski manner than Jessy James, as all good poets should. The grave of this town’s semi-founder is but up a mountain trail a few miles from town, a mere cut stone plunked on the spot where he dug his own grave and then shot himself in the heart, a protest to the Promethean heartbreak of an early vanished love that no amount of work could quell.
Visiting in the winter is today a trivial matter of not driving too fast and furious on Interstate Route 70 compared to the arduous journey of old wagons and rickety trains. Colorado has a different approach to shoveling the sidewalks and plowing the roads. Today a simple highway cuts through the land, literally cutting through mountains in areas it could not push them aside. The lanes of the motorway take up most of the area between mountains and in places it takes up all of the flat space. Silver Plume was spared this crushing end to some degree. The majority of the town stands to the California right of the highway (Baltimore left). It is an easy spot to pass, and many people certainly do just that at between 65 and 85 MPH. In the low point of the town’s population, somewhere about 1960 there dwelled but 85-90 individuals who had not taken advantage of this new road to carry their lost dreams or hidden embers elsewhere in trunks and jars and made out of small ornaments to warmer or flatter areas of the globe. According to the Federal Government’s Census, those that comply and allow themselves to be enumerated today may not speak of the actual number in the village or surrounding mountains. I can only assume that this number is off by more than a few who in the spirit of the west, keep to themselves as America’s business is its business but Silver Plume is today something that can be passed by without notice but should not be.
While the highway roars back and forth providing a lullaby in the cold night of all sorts of tires on pavement, that din comes to something of a standstill at night. The noise settles and the blue lights of the homes wink out one by one, the cry of a dog left to its own bitter reflection on life create as close to silence as we can keep in this raucous modern age of petroleum machines. Blithe and nimble comes the dawn, the highest peaks bathed in the yellow glow of morning while down below the icy streets are in hues of muted color, as if one received the eyes of a cat by some bewitchment and was actually seeing in the dark, and the entire town was within one of the very pits that made it possible. If one visits and ventures past the Marijuana Dispensary right off the highway, past the old Windsor Hotel, the winter streets may eat your car if it is not equipped or able to handle sheets of ice with a few stones tossed on top to provide traction or maybe local amusement.
Over the bridge there is the main street, aptly named Main Street as it serves the primary function to connect the old school building now a museum – and much in the style of Miskatonic University or Arkham Asylum – to the other side whereupon a dead end that may have once led to some further endeavour such as a mine, sludge pit, or mine could take a more adventurous driver further. If one takes a right after the bridge (Denver side) there are a few commercial buildings some of which seem to be half or one-third their size and a few look like while the frontage on the streetside is intact, the back is some ruin in keeping with Whitby Abbey, Dunbar Castle, or the Martense Family Estate and the roof seems to cap what may have been a much taller structure. One may send up any number of unwanted children to the tower there and hope the lightning flash does not show them that these stairs end in the open and empty air. Or one can create a barrier of plastic and wood to keep in the heat and out the vermin cold as it seems these residents have. As with other towns, a hundred years of automotive history are strewn about yards or parked neatly on the road precariously balanced on the ice and whatever lies beneath. Other houses are perfect in their paint and trim and seem transported intact through time. Looking at some of these, I expected them to fade and vanish as the sunlight rode down the mountain sides to eventually touch the valley.
In the commercial area, the buildings look as one expects of a Disney ghost town in fake ruin and comical repair. For a moment, it seems that this Silver Plume is but an old roadside attraction such as Carson City and Indian Village (Catskill, NY) or Frontier Town (North Hudson, NY). Perhaps a politically incorrect depiction of a Native American/Indian/Arapahoe will emerge from inaccurately built teepees to be gunned down by The White Man and a phalanx of Rin Tin Tins in a repeat performance of the Wild Wild West(TM) every eleven AM and four PM. However, this town is the real thing. Real people lived here and continue to do so in all their frivolous and magnificent endeavours. A tiny store appears attached to a house itself no larger than a cabin.
It is rustic and charming. More rustic charming than it should be. It is empty today. Perhaps it was once a high-end boutique. The sort one finds today in SOHO, NOHO and other HOs of other cities where a single handbag or type of shoe sits along in an otherwise empty room with a starved female looking boredly at her iThingmajiggy. A few hundred yards or so there is a working post office in town (closed at the time due to the hour or some kind of frightening rot not yet documented by science). A store that has a sign that exclaims “THIS IS NOT A STORE.” An antique shoppe that apparently has itself become an antique and is for sale. And rising from the blue dawn, a bakery that apparently is open only on certain cycles of the moon if not Friday and Saturday depending on the season and perhaps whim of the proprietor or band of spirits who tempt mortals to their eternal fatitude with rich cakes and crumpets to settle in the midlands and thighs of the fallen.
To the other end of the Main Street, towards the former school, there is a block house that served as the jail until the nineteenth hundred and oughts and a small structure no larger than what one may expect would be a toilet outhouse that covers an old spring that once fed a brewery. This brewery, a Bush Beer (no relation to George W. Bush or Anheuser-Busch that I know), which burned down to the ground one fine and I assume quite an eventful day. Beyond this is the village dump. One must have a dump in each village and there, at the end of the road, is this dump in all its glory was and to this day, is found there.
I do not know what it is like to live in Silver Plume, but it seems to be an opportunity for a few to return to the Old West while not being too far off the main highway. If there was ever a time to save and restore, there is perhaps also a need to maintain. To allow the signs of time to be as evident as well as the clutter of so many interesting and rusting machines. To have some shops would be a diversion at night, a simple bar that we drunkards can walk to from the hotel. Perhaps an eatery of simple design next to the THIS IS NOT A STORE store to allow some victuals before turning out, donning or doffing ski gear, or at any time the pangs of hunger prick at the sides and bottom of the stomach would be welcome, at least to this traveler. I don’t know if this traffic would be welcome, though.
Perhaps those who live there are satisfied that the highway churns on, and the sluice of activity and automobiles continue on to Vail, Dillon, and Aspen leaving their little town in tact in its own broken wonderful jumble of a way to cling to the mountain for as long as we may have on this earth the paint, carpentry, and gumption to continue in the face of the ever-shifting rocks and the ever steady and various forms of moisture.
Editor’s Note: The author of this blog is not paid for reviews, opinions, or even writing this blog. The author assumes no measure of reliability, or if you take any of this internally, any damages associated.