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Mica and casinos

Special to the Daily Just east of Idaho Springs at mile marker #242 is the site of an unusual plane crash in 1961. The pilot abortively landed his single-engine plane in the right tunnel (looking east), shearing off both wings and landing safely. In 2003, the green marks from the plane wings were removed.
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Mica for World War II At the bottom of the hill at the junction of U.S. 6 is Kermit’s Restaurant. Just behind the restaurant, up the little canyon, is where clear sheets of mica were mined for World War II bomb sites. Mica is a naturally occurring mineral that is in abundance in the Idaho Springs area. It is used as a precursor for high-tech plastics and glasses manufactured today.The Gaming Road / Hidden ValleyAs you descend the hill just before the junction with U.S. Highway 6, look straight ahead and you will see a new four-lane road on the mountain. It is called the Central City Parkway, and it connects Interstate 70 at Hidden Valley to Central City.

Before the road, also called the Gaming Road, was built, the only way to Central City from Interstate70 was to take U.S. Highway 6 to the north, then Colorado Highway 119 up a curvy canyon.Central City is a famous mining town which in its heyday in the late 1800s had an opera house and several hotels and drew celebrities from far and wide. Even today it still supports the opera for Denver’s music aficionados with black-tie galas. The face of Baby Doe Tabor is also imprinted on a casino floor.When the gaming law was passed in the early 1990s, casinos took over and Central City started an influx of thousands to its casinos. Today there are 22 casinos in Central City and Black Hawk. Black Hawk, just a mile before you reach Central City, is a new town that sprung up with new hotels and casinos. The gambling thrived, but Black Hawk grew much faster and larger than Central City because most everyone stopped at the first casino. It wasn’t long before Central City was seriously struggling. The town had previously bonded a lot of money to make improvements so they could compete with Black Hawk, but tax revenues were not forthcoming. Many buildings sat vacant.The new road will most likely change this situation. It is paid for by the Central City Business Improvement District and will be owned by the town.So you can see, the four-lane highway serves two important purposes-to compete with Black Hawk and help alleviate the heavy congestion on Colorado Highway 119, which goes to Black Hawk.

But Black Hawk is striking back! Town officials got together and proposed a bond issue to build a tunnel from the junction of U.S. Highway 6 and Interstate 70 to Colorado Highway 119, and to widen Highway 119. This will greatly improve access to Black Hawk.Even with these substantial improvements, traffic projections show that Highway 119 will still be congested. Busloads of gamblers arrive each day at the casinos. I wonder if they really look at the beautiful mountains?The Twin TunnelsShortly after passing Hidden Valley are two short tunnels only about 100 yards long. In the fall of 1961, a pilot in a small plane was performing stunts for his friends below in Idaho Springs. Suddenly he had engine trouble and was about to crash.Coming from the west, he headed for the eastbound tunnel and drove the plane into it. The wings sheared off and the plane came to a gentle rest inside. The pilot and his passenger stepped out unharmed. The accident became a big story on the Denver news.



A short time later, I was driving from the Denver airport to the Brown Palace Hotel and was in a taxi with a business friend, telling him about the incident. The taxi driver turned his head and said, “What the gentleman is saying is true. I was the passenger in the plane!”Up until about three years ago, where the wings snapped off, there were two very distinct green paint marks at about 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the rounded opening. Each was about 18 inches long. For years, I was concerned no one would verify the story. While doing research for this book, however, I met Marjorie “Chi Chi” Bell, a historian in Idaho Springs, who said she was at the scene soon after it happened. She had to detour around on the frontage road while the tunnel was being cleared.Vail, Colorado


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