Go! Roadtrips: Spirit of Cripple Creek's past lives on

BEN WELCH Updated: June 2, 2011 at 12:00 am • Published: June 2, 2011

This gambling playground for the Pikes Peak region revels in its present, even as it celebrates its past. Cripple Creek is a graveyard of dreams for gold seekers, who dug more than 500 gold mines looking to strike it rich. Few succeeded, but those who did extracted millions in gold.

The prospect of being lucky enough to take home big bucks still draws tens of thousands of visitors a year. Tourists hope to channel the spirits of Bob Womack and W.S. Stratton, two early millionaires.

Speaking of spirits, Cripple Creek has those, too. Legend claims the ghost of George Long, owner of what was then the Imperial Hotel at the turn of the 20th century, still oversees his establishment. Miss Kitty Chambers, one of the original proprietors of the Palace Hotel, who allegedly died in Room 3, still turns down the beds.

Donkeys, descendants of those that carried mining equipment, nuzzle and graze a block off of Bennett Avenue, Cripple Creek’s main street that hosts dozens of historical buildings, converted into casinos, hotels, museums and restaurants.

The Imperial Hotel and Restaurant is reopening, after closing a year ago. Gary and Wini Ledford, who restored the town’s high school into Carr Manor, a bed and breakfast, have been renovating the Imperial since September. The hotel will be converted into 15 suites, and the Midland Depot restaurant, which opened Memorial Day weekend, is serving Italian fare, with many entrees for less than $10.

“Our intent is to continue to embellish history, bring back the things the Mackins did for 50 years here before gaming, and add other dimensions,” Gary said.

The basement of the Imperial, which is being converted into a dinner theater, is lined with playbills and autographs from performers and luminaries of earlier days, including Walt Disney, Craig T. Nelson, The Grass Roots, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Mamas and the Papas and former Colorado governors.

The Imperial, the Gold Bar Room Theater and Big Jim’s Casino next door are slated for a June or July opening.

Families have nongambling options, too: Children peer through quaint shop windows at fudge. Museums offer a glimpse into the highs and lows of the past. The Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad embarks on a scenic 45-minute journey to ghost towns and mining shafts.

MAJOR UPCOMING EVENTS

June 25-26: Donkey Derby Days. Cripple Creek’s 80th Donkey race attracts even more tourists, especially families, from all over the world for a free weekend of heritage-related competitions and lots of family activities, including live entertainment and street vendors

June 25-July 4: Once Upon a Time in the West Art Show. This art display (which has nothing to do with the 1968 Sergio Leone film of the same name) will feature Native American, cowboy and wildlife pieces at the Heritage Center. A Native American Blessing and Smudge Purification Ceremony will also be hosted.

July 4: Independence Day Celebration. One of the best and biggest annual fireworks shootings since 1900. Live music and citywide block party/barbeque before the evening display.

Aug. 19-21: Salute to American Veterans. Colorado’s largest procession of motorcycles, will again invade Cripple Creek for the 24th Annual POW/MIA Recognition Ride and the 19th Annual POW/MIA Salute to American Veterans Rally. Street vendors, aircraft flyovers, competitions and parades also highlight the event.

CASINOS

The Wildwood Casino at Cripple Creek
119 Carbonate St., 689-2814; playwildwood.com

The grandest and most prominent Cripple Creek casino offers free shuttles to and from Bennett Avenue and boasts 58,000 of mining and western-themed décor. The first casino glimpsed on the way into town on the right.

Slots:600

Tables:13

Hotel rooms:67

Dining:The Fireside Kitchen, a casual pizza place, and Ruby Tuesdays

The Double Eagle Hotel & Casino and Gold Creek Casino
442 Bennett Drive, 689-5000; decasino.com

The Double Eagle slots an abundance of promotional events and contests weekly. The sprawling casino is one of the town’s most popular gambling locations.

Slots:650-plus

Tables:Six

Hotel rooms:158

Dining:Parrot Dice Grill and Lombard’s Restaurant, both offering casual dining; Winfield’s, fine dining; Prospector’s Perk Coffee Shop (sells Starbucks); the Double Scoop Ice Cream Parlor.

The Brass Ass Casino, The Midnight Rose Hotel & Casino, JP McGills Hotel & Casino
256 E. Bennett Ave, 689-2446; triplecrown casinos.com

The trio of casinos take up a strip along Bennett Avenue each have a separate theme, though the incessant clanging of coins is a feature of all three. The Midnight Rose, a Victorianesque building hosts popular poker games well into the night. JP McGills, a midsize casino also serves up a tasty assortment of Irish foodstuff, and the Brass Ass is housed in the old Brass Ass Department Store building.

Slots:854

Tables:Eight

Hotel rooms:59

Dining:Down Under Steakhouse; Dynamite Dick’s Dining Emporium, a casual bite; JP’s Pint & Platter, a stylish Irish pub with a good burger; Brass Ass Pizzeria; JP’s Grill.

Century Casino
200 Bennett Drive, 689-0333;

Formerly Womack’s Casino, this newly remodeled and newly renamed casino has a modern edge and the only wheel chair accessible Blackjack table in town.

Slots:437

Tables:Six

Hotel rooms:21

Dining:Mid City Grill, casual dining

The Gold Rush Hotel & Casino
209 E. Bennett Ave., 1-800-235-8239; grush.com

The Gold Rush’s Palladium Theater, which was originally designed to play host to a summer concert series, still sits primarily empty. The concert series is still on hold. Until then, the Gold Exchange card is an added perk available for special promotions.

Slots:420 

Tables:Five 

Hotel rooms:13

Dining:Grapevine Restaurant, steak and ribs place

Bronco Billy’s Casino, Buffalo Billy’s Casino, Billy’s Casino
233 Bennett Drive, 689-2142; broncobillyscasino.com

Spread out across four historic downtown buildings, the Bronco Billy’s chain is Cripple Creek’s most sprawling casino. It opened in 1991 when gambling became legal, and boasts to being the original casino. More than 70 flat screens ensure sports lovers won’t miss a minute of the big game.

Slots:770 

Tables:Nine

Dining:Baja Billy’s, a Mexican place; The Steakhouse; The Home Cafe

Colorado Grande Casino & Hotel
300 E. Bennett Ave., 689-3517; coloradogrande.com

The Colorado Grande claims to be  home to the only coin quarter, dollar and triple-play video poker bar in town. A bit smaller than some of the other casinos, but it keeps the old-time charm with classic machines and a ritzy atmosphere.

Slots:191 

Tables:Four

Hotel rooms:Seven

Dining:Maggies, a burger and steak place

Johnny Nolon’s Casino
301 E. Bennett Ave., 689-2080; johnnynolons.com

Cards have been dealt and bets placed since 1891 when Johnny Nolon’s Casino first had gambling. This classic Western feeling has been retained in the décor, and today, generous and frequent giveaways expand the allure.
Slots:250
Dining:Goldie’s Restaurant, a burger and sub shop

 

ATTRACTIONS

The Thin Air Theatre Company
139 E. Bennett Ave., 689-6402; butteoperahouse.com
Thin Air carries on the tradition of quality performances of drama in Cripple Creek. This season at the Butte Theater will feature “Calamity Jane” (premiering June 24) and “Hazel Kirke” (premiering July 1).

Mollie Kathleen Mine Tour
9388 Colorado 67, 689 2466; goldminetours.com
The county’s only mine tour descends 1,000 feet underground — roughly the height of the Empire State Building — to observe mining tactics old and new.

Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad
Fifth and Bennett Ave., 689-2640; cripplecreekrailroad.com
This 45-minute historical tour aboard a steam-powered train takes visitors to the ghost town of Anaconda and back. Gorgeous views of the forest and Sangre de Cristo Mountains abound.

Cripple Creek Heritage Center
9283 S. Colorado 67, 689-3315; cripple-creek.co.us
The plush Cripple Creek attraction on the highway outside the town offers three floors of interactive exhibits on the “World’s Greatest Gold Camp” and its location.

Cripple Creek District Museum
500 E. Bennett Ave., 689-2634; cripple-creek.org
Housed in the original Midland Terminal, the expanding museum has blossomed from cultural and mining history exhibits to a minivillage showing first-hand how miners lived in the late 19th century.

Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum
36 Bennett Drive, 689-6556
In its days as a city of debauchery, the jail held burglars, robbers, murderers, drunks and Robert Curry of the famed “Wild Bunch” gang. Visitors relive the tribute to the law in the museum, housed in the original jail building.

WHERE TO STAY

Carr Manor
350 E. Carr Ave., 689-3709; carrmanor.com
From a standard queen-size room to an executive suite complete with walk-in Jacuzzi, the converted Cripple Creek High School bed and breakfast is delightful. with many original features, including blackboards converted into guest books.

Hotel St. Nicholas
303 N. Third St., 689-0856; hotelstnicholas.com
This elegant mountain inn, which was originally Cripple Creek’s first hospital in 1898, features a rooftop Jacuzzi and on-site tavern.

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