Magazine article Sunset

Gorgeous Georgetown: All aboard for a Rail and Driving Adventure in Mountain Mining Country near Denver. (Travel Three-Day Weekend)

Magazine article Sunset

Gorgeous Georgetown: All aboard for a Rail and Driving Adventure in Mountain Mining Country near Denver. (Travel Three-Day Weekend)

Article excerpt

Ride the Georgetown Loop Railroad and there's one point where it appears you're about to tumble off the mountainside into Clear Creek far below But the train steams safely across the creek on tracks that seem to run through thin air; supported by the beams of a venerable steel bridge.

It's a fitting metaphor for the communities of Clear Creek Valley: Their past serves as a bridge into their future, lending support to keep them from tumbling into decay The valley's four historic towns--Georgetown, Silver Plume, Empire, and Idaho Springs--were founded in the 1860s and 1870s, during the mineral boom that gave birth to present-day Colorado. Today they're among the state's oldest and best-preserved communities, and their mining camp charm accounts for much of their appeal.

That's particularly true in Georgetown and Silver Plume. With more than 250 lovingly restored 19th-century residences, churches, schools, and commercial buildings, they are the Rocky Mountains' answer to Colonial Williamsburg--a living snapshot of Victorian life in the West.

You wouldn't necessarily know it by the recent headlines--and the jokes on the late-night talk shows--concerning Georgetown. Allegations of colorfully disorderly conduct by the town's mayor, a former exotic dancer named Koleen Brooks, made national news. Voters removed her from office in a recall election in March, after which Brooks immediately posed for a Playboy spread.

Amusing, maybe, but the political sideshow poses little competition for the spectacular Clear Creek Valley Drive up Interstate 70 from Denver; and the valley appears to plunge right into the heart of the mountains, gradually climbing to the foot of the Continental Divide. Four 14,000-foot peaks press in close, casting shadows on the hamlets that hug Clear Creek.

Most of the interstate traffic whizzes through here without stopping, racing east to Denver (less than an hour away) or west to Breckenridge, Vail, or some other resort. But history puts a nice brake on things in Clear Creek County. Turn off the interstate, slow down, and savor the leisurely pace of these small Colorado towns.

friday

Service with a smile. You can get breakfast all day at the homey Happy Cooker (412 Sixth St.; 303/569-3166), in a Victorian cottage. Believe in yesterday. Any tour of historic Georgetown should begin at the Hamill House Museum ($5; 305 Argentine St.; 303/569-2840), the former home of William A. Hamill, a British silver-mining magnate. The Hotel De Paris Museum ($4; 409 Sixth; 303/569-2311), owned and operated by the National Society of Colonial Dames, is also a must-see. Other highlights include the old stone jail (at Sixth and Argentine), the Georgetown School (Ninth and Taos Streets), as well as half a dozen churches.

Pics and peaks. Find photography, fine art, and crafts by Colorado artists at Grizzly Creek Gallery (512 Sixth; 303/569-0433) and Arts at Georgetown (614B Sixth; 303/569-2302).

High byway. Views are sublime on Guanella Pass Scenic and Historic Byway. Follow Rose Street south out of town, then take the switchbacks up the hill; pavement gives way to a good dirt surface about halfway up. Plenty of great trailheads dot the road; if you're feeling ambitious (and the weather permits), hike up 14,060-foot Mt. Bierstadt.

Ram on. Bring your telephoto lens to the Georgetown Wildlife Viewing Station (on Alvarado Rd. by Georgetown Lake), which offers clear views of the 400 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep living on the steep hillsides. The best viewing is at dawn and dusk.

Go Euro. The menu at Cafe Prague (511 Rose St.; 303/569-2861) features genuine Bohemian fare, while Tasso's Bistro (1025 Rose; 303/569-3336) serves up continental cuisine with a Mediterranean flair.

saturday

Ready, set, dough. Though just 21/2 miles west of Georgetown, Silver Plume is nearly 1,000 feet higher in elevation. Start the day here with bread or pastries at the Sopp & Truscott Bakery (486 Main St. …

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