Georgetown Loop Railroad proves educational | VailDaily.com

Georgetown Loop Railroad proves educational

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO, Colorado

Charlie Owen/Special to the Daily

During a visit to Georgetown, the present and past collide at the Georgetown Loop Historic Mining and Railroad Park. Whether winding your way through beautiful aspen trees while the tour guide gives a brief history of the railroad or just enjoying the lush scenery on a good-old fashioned train ride, this surviving bastion of a long-gone era is fun for all ages.

The Georgetown loop was created in 1899 to help the silver mining efforts between Georgetown and Silver Plume. The railroad was abandoned in 1938, but restored in 1973 as a full-blown tourist attraction by the Colorado Historical Society. Now you can get a taste of what life was once like in mining country ” without all the back-breaking labor or a shortened life span.

Once the conductor yells “All aboard,” it’s time to settle in and enjoy the ride. The Colorado Historical Society refurbished three open-air carts and one covered cart are left over from the early mining era. The whistle bellows a mighty roar, and the packs of children onboard all cover their ears to block the noise. Steam rolls out of the engine-car’s exhaust stack and the train begins its trek over three miles of twists and turns through the rugged mountain side. Along the way, the guide points out interesting landmarks and talks about how things used to be. The train picks up speed, but then comes to a slow, jolting stop at the old Lebanon Silver Mine, where those who paid an extra fee get off for a tour deep into the cavernous earth.

But before anyone can venture underground, one of the mine guides debriefs the audience with another dose of historical information.

“We’re going to take you back about 130 years in time,” said Mark Evans, one of the guides working the tour. Evans leads the group into “the dry,” which was a shed-size locker room for the miners. It’s very small, but 25 people managed to cram inside. His vivid descriptions bring to life the terrible conditions that these men had to face while trying to make a living, also pointing out that they were the highest paid workers in the country at the time. Finally, the 500-foot descent into the dark mine begins.

The temperature in the mine stays a constant 44 degrees, and water drips from the walls and roof and collects in running pools along the ground. As you descend, it’s hard not to feel the claustrophobia setting in.

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During the walk through the mine, Evans informs the group of a startling fact: They now stand 200 feet beneath I-70. (“Standing” is perhaps a generous description: The top of the mine is so low that anyone over 5-feet tall can’t stand up straight).

After about 30 minutes, Evans leads the expedition safely back to daylight, where the conductor signals that it’s time to board the train again. Next stop: Devil’s Gate.

The expansive Devil’s Gate bridge keeps the train from plunging into Clear Creek below; it is also the highest point on the tour, and the most scenic; in dramatic turnaround from the claustrophobic, zero-visibility cave, passengers can see in all directions for miles.

The train makes one more stop to pick up and drop off passengers at the depot, then starts the journey back to the Georgetown station. This section is non-stop, and once the train reaches cruising speed, passengers can relax and enjoy a long, breezy ride to the end of the line.

“It’s fun ” I thought it was pretty cool to travel via train, I guess,” said Spencer Comerford of Vail.

“You just want to definitely pick your day for the weather,” added his uncle, Jim Ring.

But even with a little rain, the experience is a good one compared to what transpired here over 100 years ago; after all, we’re not risking our lives working twelve-hour days in a treacherous mine. But the Georgetown Loop Historic Mining and Railroad Park gives visitors the chance to peer into the endless dark and imagine what it might’ve been like.