“There has been but one Leadville. Never will there be another.”
– 1916 quote from Olden Times in Colorado aptly describes this grand and glorious city
Leadville, Colorado, often called “The Two Mile High City” and “Cloud City,” is the highest incorporated city in the United States at 10,430 feet. Leadville is located at the foot of Colorado’s two highest peaks – Mount Elbert and Mount Massive. Of the mountains that are within a 30 mile radius of Leadville, there are fourteen that are over 14,000 feet and at least fifty that are over 13,000 feet tall.
Leadville was incorporated in 1878 and is the county seat and only incorporated area in Lake County. Most of the buildings in the 70-square block Leadville National Historic Landmark District were built between 1880 and 1905.
Leadville is one of America’s last remaining authentic mining towns. Early in the spring of 1860 some prospectors found gold in the gravel at the site of the California Gulch. Large quantities of the precious metal were obtained from the gulch, and within a year the town that was built along its banks, known as Oro City, is said to have had 10,000 inhabitants. Active prospecting over the entire region commenced in the spring of 1877, and the development of rich and productive mines from that time on advanced with a rapidity that was truly marvelous. In petitioning for a post office the names Cerusite (the mineralogical name for lead carbonate) and Agassiz were proposed but rejected as being too scientific. Lead City was suggested, but finally a compromise was reached on Leadville. In January 1878, the city of Leadville was incorporated and by 1879, the population had reached 18,000. In 1880, three years later, the city of Leadville had 28 miles of streets, and more than 5 miles of water mains and was in part lighted by gas. It had 1,100 pupils in daily attendance at its schools, five churches, three public hospitals, an opera house, six banks, and’ many business houses, constructed of brick and stone.
Leadville, which began in 1860 as a gold camp, became in 1879 the greatest silver-lead district this country has ever produced and in 1915 became predominantly a zinc district.
The Climax mine, located 13 miles northeast of Leadville, is a major molybdenum mine in Lake and Summit counties, Colorado. Shipments from the mine began in 1915. At its highest output, the Climax mine was the largest molybdenum mine in the world, and for many years it supplied three-fourths of the world’s supply of molybdenum. After a long shutdown, the Climax mine has reopened and resumed shipment of molybdenum on May 10, 2012.
Leadville is located in the geographic center of Colorado, 103 miles west of Denver and 129 miles northwest of Colorado Springs. All of the highways leading into Lake County and Leadville have been designated as the Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway. Most of the byway is above 9,000 ft (2,700 m) and thus the name of the byway is Top of the Rockies. Part of the byway starts in Aspen, traveling on SH 82 east over Independence Pass and near the Twin Lakes to just north of the town of Granite; this route then continues north on US 24 to Leadville. From Leadville, a spur of the byway continues along the entire length of SH 91 to Copper Mountain, through Fremont Pass. There is also another route from Leadville, that goes northeast on US 24 over Tennessee Pass to Interstate 70 in the Eagle Valley.
Just 15 minutes from Leadville at the eastern gateway to Independence Pass, Twin Lakes is the largest glacial lake in Colorado. The aptly named town lays adjacent two natural lakes at the foot of Colorado’s highest Fourteener, Mt. Elbert.
Leadville is surrounded by the Sawatch Range on the west and the Mosquito Range to the east, Leadville sits in a high mountain valley, which envelopes the headwaters of the Arkansas River.
At 1,469 miles (2,364 km), the Arkansas River is the sixth-longest river in the United States, the second-longest tributary in the Mississippi–Missouri system, and the 45th longest river in the world. At its headwaters, the Arkansas runs as a steep mountain river through the Rockies in its narrow valley, dropping 4,600 feet (1.4 km) in 120 miles (193 km). Its origin is in the Rocky Mountains in Lake County, Colorado, near Leadville. Trout Unlimited considers the Arkansas one of the top 100 trout streams in America, a reputation the river has had since the 1950s.
The Sawatch Range is a high and extensive mountain range in central Colorado which includes eight of the twenty highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains. The range contains 15 peaks topping 14,000 feet (4,000 m). The range forms a portion of the Continental Divide, and its eastern flanks are drained by the Arkansas River. Notable summits include Mount Elbert, Mount Massive, La Plata Peak, Mount of the Holy Cross, and the Collegiate Peaks (Mounts Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale).
Mount Elbert is the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains of North America. At 14,440 feet (4,401 m), it is the second-highest mountain in the contiguous United States (after Mount Whitney in California), the highest of the fourteeners of Colorado, the fourteenth-highest mountain in the United States, and the highest point of the Sawatch Range. Situated in Lake County approximately 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Leadville, it lies within the San Isabel National Forest, near Twin Lakes, in the center of the state of Colorado.
There are three main routes up the mountain, all of which gain over 4,100 feet of elevation. The standard route ascends the peak from the east, starting from the Colorado Trail. The most difficult is the Black Cloud Trail, a Class 2 climb which takes ten to fourteen hours depending on the pace, and gains 5,300 feet in elevation.
Mount Massive at 14,428 feet (4,398 m) is the second highest peak in the Rocky Mountains of North America, and is the third highest peak in the contiguous United States. It is located in Lake County, approximately 7 miles (16 km) west-southwest of Leadville and 18 miles (29 km) east of Aspen.
Mount Harvard at 14,421 ft (4,396 m) is the third highest mountain in Colorado, and the fourth highest mountain in the contiguous United States. It is located in the Collegiate Peaks, part of the central Sawatch Range of Chaffee County, approximately 22 miles southwest of Leadville.
La Plata Peak at 14,343 ft (4,372 m) is the fourth highest mountain in Colorado, and the seventh highest mountain in the contiguous United States. It is located in the Sawatch Range in northwestern Chaffee County, approximately 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Leadville, Colorado, just south of Twin Lakes and State Highway 82 on the east side of Independence Pass.
The Mosquito Range is a high mountain range in the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado in the United States. The peaks of the range form a ridge running north-south for approximately 40 miles (64 km) from southern Summit County on the north end, then along the boundary between Lake and Park counties. The range forms a high barrier separating the headwaters of the Arkansas River near Leadville from South Park and the headwaters of the South Platte River near Fairplay. The highest mountain pass road in the U.S. crosses Mosquito Pass (13,188 feet) between Leadville and Fairplay. The highest peak in the range is Mount Lincoln at an elevation of 14,286 ft. Other fourteeners in the range are Mount Bross (14,172 ft), Mount Democrat (14,148 ft), and Mount Sherman (14,036 ft).
Mount Lincoln at 14,293 ft (4,357 m) is the eighth highest peak in Colorado, and the eleventh highest mountain in the contiguous United States. It is located in the Mosquito Range, just west of Hoosier Pass, and is the highest peak in that range. It lies just east of the Continental Divide in northwestern Park County, approximately 5 miles (8 km) east of Climax and near the town of Alma. Alma is 12 miles from Leadville.
Mount Princeton at 14,204 ft (4,329 m) is the fifteenth highest mountain in Colorado. It lies in the Collegiate Peaks, in the central part of the Sawatch Range, just west of the Arkansas River. While not one of the highest peaks of the Sawatch it is one of the most dramatic, abruptly rising nearly 7,000 feet above the Arkansas valley in only 6 miles.
Mount Sherman at 14,043 feet (4,280 m) is a fourteener in the U.S. state of Colorado. It is located in the Mosquito Range, approximately eight miles south of Mount Lincoln. It lies on the border between Lake and Park County, approximately seven miles east-southeast of Leadville.
Population (2010 census)
Lake County: 7,310
Colorado is the only U.S. state that lies entirely above 1,000 meters (3,281 ft) elevation; the 30 highest major summits of the Rocky Mountains of North America all lie within the state. Colorado contains 75% of the land area of the U.S. with an altitude over 10,000 feet.
Colorado has the world’s largest flat-top mountain, highest auto tunnel, largest Rodeo, highest suspension bridge, largest natural hot springs pool, Pinto Bean and melon capitals of the world. In North America, Colorado has the highest paved road, the highest continuous U.S. highway, the tallest sand dune, the only place where the corners of four states meet, the largest airport and the largest city park system. Colorado has 156 rivers that have their headwaters in the state, 7 of which are major rivers; the state boasts more than 65,000 miles of streams, nearly 2,500 cold-water lakes and reservoirs, and 360 warm-water lakes. The Rocky Mountains formed 1.7 billion years ago and geologists estimate that it will take 126,000,000 years for them to erode away. Of the mountain peaks in Colorado, 54 are over 14,000 feet tall, 637 are over 13,000 feet tall and 961 are over 12,000 feet tall. Colorado has 960 wildlife species.