I visited Colorado for the first time this summer in 2019. Although my wife has made numerous trips to Colorado, the state has been on my wish list for many years. I particularly wanted to see the Colorado Rocky Mountains, so we flew into Denver, rented a car, and drove southwest to the ski resort town of Breckenridge where we enjoyed several days of relaxing, shopping, eating great food, and taking a few sight-seeing side trips. Fortunately, my wife planned for us to take an out-and-back train excursion that runs from Leadville, Colorado, up the side of the nearby ridge.
The Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad climbs roughly 700 feet as it winds its way through the trees of the San Isabel National Forest and over steep ravines pointing toward Freemont Pass until it reaches an old water tank that was used by the historic mining trains many years ago. Then the train heads back down the track and ends up back where it started at the depot 2.5 hours later. The views of the Arkansas River are incredible from the train’s vantage point 1,000 feet above the valley floor. The conductor on our trip was fantastic, providing us with entertaining stories, facts, and figures on the way up the ridge, then letting us enjoy the ride back without commentary – only the magnificent vistas.
At an elevation of 10,152 feet, Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the United States. It still has the feel of a frontier mining town, with saloons that attracted legendary wild west characters like Doc Holliday and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Several of the highest peaks in Colorado, exceeding 14,000 feet, are visible from the small town and during the course of the train ride. There are many ways to experience the beauty of the Rockies: driving, biking, hiking, climbing, and more. I highly recommend the novel approach afforded by the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad.
For most of my life I have lived in the rural parts of Georgia. Of course, some would argue that outside of Atlanta, there’s nothing left except rural parts. During a good portion of their histories, many small-town businesses in Georgia were supplied by railroads. Rail tracks often ran right through the middle of town, as they still do. Most of the freight trains no longer stop in these small towns because those businesses are supplied by the trucking industry, but the trains still travel through the towns quite regularly. Most small Georgia towns will only have one or two places where roads either go over or under tracks; otherwise, vehicular traffic has to stop for trains as they make their way through town.
I can remember as a child being stopped at a railroad crossing in the car with my parents. It was exciting and fascinating to hear the whistle of the engine, to feel how it shook the ground as it passed by, and to watch the succession of rail cars as they sped through the crossing. Counting the rail cars and reading the graffiti painted on their exterior walls was great entertainment. Then I celebrated my sixteenth birthday and started driving. The novelty of freight cars roaring through town wore off and was replaced by impatience waiting for the train to pass so that I could get where I was going. Now as I have aged and live with a more hectic schedule, as most of us do, I find myself dreading the sight of the flashing red lights and the descending black and white striped crossbars that indicate the approach of yet another freight train and just one more delay in my already too-busy schedule. But, even worse, and something that raises my blood pressure to dangerous levels, is when the passing train slows down until it finally comes to a complete stop, blocking the road. This is a situation that railroad companies avoid if at all possible because some townships have actually filed suit against railroads for causing significant traffic problems with stopped or even stalled trains.
Thinking about how enraged I have been waiting 10-15 minutes for a train to finally move past a crossing, I can’t help but draw comparisons with the current political climate in the U.S. Our government, especially on the federal and state levels, is like a train stalled on the tracks at a major crossing. People who are from multiple origins and who have many different objectives are on either side of the crossing. They can’t get to the other side. They can’t even see the other side. They are completely separated by this huge obstruction that refuses to move forward and clear the way for the good of everyone involved. The real frustration comes from the realization that the train operators don’t seem to care at all that they have brought everyone, and everything, to a stand-still. A train can carry an incredible amount of materials, or people, from one place to another most efficiently, as long as it keeps moving. When it slows down, or worse yet, stops, the train is useless. If a train can’t deliver, it has totally lost its value.