The foothills area west of Denver has a fascinating history. It was a dinosaur thoroughfare in prehistoric times (think Dinosaur Ridge, and the Triceratops Trail), and later a home to Paleo-Indians, and then to people of the Cheyenne, Arapahoe and Ute Native American Indian tribes. The area was settled in the the 1800’s by pioneers who created small supply towns for miners near the bases of the canyons which contained wagon trails (toll roads) providing access to gold mines in the mountains. These included the settlements of Mt. Vernon Town, Apex, Arapahoe City, Golden City and Golden Gate City.
To satisfy my curiosity about the history of the area, I’ve been going on “history adventures,” hitting the hiking trails to check out some of the historical sites in the foothills. Here’s one of my history adventures—hiking in search of the Funicular on Golden’s South Table Mountain.
Golden became an established city in 1860, and served as the capital of the Territory of Colorado from 1862-1867. As the city grew, it attracted tourists from Denver. After trains began service to Golden in the 1870s, the city became an access point for people on their way to the mountains to fish, hike and camp.
In 1906, father and son William H. and Clyde L. Ashworth built a resort on top of “Castle Rock,” a butte jutting out on the Golden-facing side of South Table. In 1908, the property was turned into a dance hall and casino by a pioneer family named Quaintance who owned land on South Table Mountain. To bring guests to the dance hall, Charles F. Quaintance built a funicular railway running from Golden to the top of South Table Mountain and called it the Castle Mountain Scenic Railway. The funicular was a cross between a train and an elevator, using two trains running in opposite directions to pull each other up rails to the top of the mountain. It had 23 passenger cars. The funicular had a short life, operating only from 1913 to 1915. Its rails were removed for use as scrap metal during WWI. In the 1920s, Castle Rock became a meeting place for local area Ku Klux Klan members; and the dance hall structure burned down in 1927.
We went out to hike South Table Mountain to search for remnants of the funicular that carried local residents and tourists up to the dance hall on Castle Rock.
There are a number of trails that lead up to the top of South Table Mountain. One of the shortest trails providing access to the mesa near Castle Rock is called the Lubhan Trail. It begins in a neighborhood and has limited parking. We headed up the short, steep, many switch-backed Lubhan Trail and climbed up on top of the mesa. For detailed information about the hike including trail head location, please see the excellent write up by my friend who accompanied me on this hike, Denver Hiking Examiner Deb Stanley, listed in the Bibliography section below.
Once we gained the top of the Mesa, we walked a short distance to the stairs which lead up to the top of Castle Rock (elevation 6,338 ft.).
The top of Castle Rock provides excellent views of the City of Golden, and the hills and mountains which line the Front Range (e.g., Lookout Mountain, Mt. Zion, Colorow Hill, Indian Mountain and Galbraith Mountain).
From the top of Castle Rock, we could see the scar left by the funicular, which appears as a straight line highlighted by recent snow.
The top of Castle Rock contains numerous metal spikes and other remnants of the dance hall structure.
After exploring the top of Castle Rock, we headed down Golden Summit Trail on the North side, hoping for a better view of the funicular scar. On the way down, we saw remnants of structures which may have been part of the funicular but may also have been part of another structure left over from the dance hall days.
After exploring the top and side of Castle Rock, we began to descend on the Golden Summit Trail. This trail transverses across private property. Jeffco’s website says to stay on trail.
We finished the hike in just a couple of hours much of which was spent exploring. The picture below, taken from town, shows Castle Rock, with the funicular scar on its left.
Bibliography (and resources for additional information):
“A Brief History of Golden”, http://golden.com/golden-history/
Lomond, Carole. Jefferson County Colorado – A Unique & Eventful History! Views Publishing Company, Golden, Colorado. 2009.
Warden, Barb. Funiculars of Golden Colorado. Golden Dot Com Publishing, Golden, Colorado. 2013.
Steers, Stuart. If the Shoe Fits, 1998 Westword.com, http://www.westword.com/news/if-the-shoe-fits-5058425
Funiculars of Golden, Colorado, http://www.goldenfuniculars.com/funiculars.htm
Hiking in Golden: Lubahn Trail aka Sleeping Elk Trail on South Table Mountain, Deb Stanley, http://www.examiner.com/article/hiking-golden-lubahn-trail-aka-sleeping-elk-trail-on-south-table-mountain
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