By Bill Plock
Ron and Steve bubbled to life to tell stories because I said hello. One about a bear that moseyed into the post office and scared the crap out of someone collecting their mail. The other about fellow townsfolk throwing popcorn at their neighbors acting in the annual melodrama during Pitkin days—all in good fun of course. You see Pitkin, during its most populous time in the summer might have 400 residents, many of which stay hunkered in their cabins nestled in the surrounding forest.
During Pitkin days the town opens its arms and people straggle from all over with decades long roots of visiting the one time train stop. In the 1880’s a train wound its way from the East side of the Continental divide following the cliff carved by Chalk Creek in the shadows of Mt. Princeton. Eventually it chugged to the busy mining supply town of St. Elmo at the headwaters. Greeted by a wall of mountains, engineers from all over the world solved the puzzle of how to get the train to the West slope and built the Alpine tunnel. At the time it was the highest tunnel in the world. After sneaking under the divide, the train brought supplies and people to the town of Pitkin. At one time over 2,000 people shoveled a life in this valley peaking around 1910.
Over the last 100 years the town has ebbed and flowed and is mostly visited by seasonal homeowners from other areas. Kids and kids of kids spent summers here playing in the streams and exploring the historical mining district. For us cyclists, the miners left a labyrinth of roads to explore, mostly on gravel or mountain bikes. Hundreds of miles connect the towns of Pitkin, Tincup, Taylor Park and other towns now just a memory. The roads can lead folks to Crested Butte, Gunnison and back over the divide on Cottonwood Pass to Buena Vista.
But today, in Pitkin the town bustled with its usual tourists riding OHV vehicles and ATV’s. Pitkin is one of a handful of places where it’s legal to ride on city streets. There aren’t many cyclists but in a way its refreshing to see an area so popular with others seeking a different adventure.
The melting pot of generations gather around the only store in town that also has a couple of rooms for rent. It’s called the Silver Plume General Store. But you can’t find them on Air B & B, you actually have to call and talk to Chris and make a reservation. Here is some info about it though: https://silverplumegeneralstore.com
Folks gather and sit under the porch all day as people check out the various vehicles to explore the vast historical district. During Pitkin days the community center hosts a fund raiser to support the town and its effort preserve the mining culture. The food is free but you are encouraged to buy raffle tickets to win one of dozens and dozens of quality items. Its an amazing raffle.
Said Ron, “we used to have brisket, then it got so cottonpickin’ expensive we switched to pulled pork and now we are gonna try chicken.” There was enough locally decorated cake for several weddings and outside folks took part in a free-throw shooting contest, egg toss, cornhole and a basket of camaraderie and laughter filled the air and this time capsule of simple humanity shined.
The day started with a running race and the top three won a gold painted railroad spike. Todays podium were all under 15. The winner lives in North Africa and the rest of the podium came from Minnesota. Their parents spent their youth here and their parents as well.
Ron and Steve couldn’t have been more gracious and were excited to meet the WeRide4 cycling team. Bob, the owner of the Pitkin Hotel said, “dang they just zipped by here and looked like they were having fun, I hope they come back.” He wants everyone to know his hotel can be rented out for a $1,000 a night and can sleep 40 people. If you want to bring a group for an amazing combo of road, gravel and mountain biking this would be the place.
The road is paved between Pitkin and US 50. It’s a 18 mile out and back on an old railroad grade passing through the tiny, mostly empty Ohio City. If you want to own the store, its for sale—in which case you would pretty much own the town.
Pitkin is a special place and as Bob pointed out, once they get better internet service he thinks it will become a more year round town with more permanent residents.
Ron and Steve proudly shared more stories, more history and their feeling of pride was slightly frosted with anxiousness and wonderment of what might become of Pitkin and what might be possible. I said for now it feels like Mayberry and they laughed and said, “you got that right!” I wished I could’ve stayed and thrown some popcorn and seen the melodrama, maybe next year…..
This a good article on the history of the railroad: