History of the Area
A drive through Clear Creek Canyon offers many insights into the canyon’s prehistory and history. The benches which parallel Clear Creek Canyon and the foothills and the valleys beyond were the hunting grounds and travel routes for Arapahoe and Ute Indians. Several prehistoric sites are recorded in the area. Tales are told of Native American religious rites on Centennial Cone, a well known landmark, and of sacred underground crystal caverns. Centennial Cone Park sits atop the foothills overlooking the Front Range and the adjacent eastern plains, an area repeatedly folded, faulted, uplifted, and eroded to create a dramatic backdrop for both the prehistoric and historic uses of the area.
Pioneer and Clear Creek conservation founder Carla Swan Coleman, recounted stories her mother told her about sunrise ceremonies on Centennial Cone held by the Arapaho or Cheyenne, and of evening farewell ceremonies by torchlight. A travois trail long-used by the Arapaho people in their travels from the plains to the mountains and back can clearly be seen crossing several hills in the Centennial Cone property. Click hereto read more.
RAILROADS AND MINING
Clear Creek Canyon links the first territorial capital, Golden, with the oldest mining areas in the state, Black Hawk, Central City, Georgetown, and Idaho Springs. The route of the first railroad to penetrate the Rockies lies here too.
Along much of the creek are remains for the railroad bed that supported tracks and trains for more than 50 years. Golden founder William A.H. Loveland and Central City attorney Henry M. Teller joined forces to incorporate the Colorado & Clear Creek Railroad Company in 1865, later reorganized as the Colorado Central Railroad Company.
By September of 1871, men were at work blasting ad grading for the rail bed. By December 1872, the Colorado Central Railroad, the first narrow gauge railroad to penetrate the Rockies, was complete to Black Hawk. Six years later, the line was completed to Central City.
For over 50 years, a ride on the railroad up Clear Creek Canyon was the most popular one-day excursion in Colorado. The most famous of the stations along the route was at Beaver Brook. On a cliff overlooking the track was a dancing and picnicking pavilion, reached by a long staircase. It was a favorite night-out for Denverites.
The railroad was removed after World War II as construction began on Highway 6. While most of the railroad bed was covered over by the road alignment, at the bends in the creek where tunnels were constructed, the railroad bed remains largely intact.
Clear Creek Canyon is the largest, deepest, and most spectacular of the dozen or more young canyons cut by streams that drain the eastern flank of Colorado’s Front Range. These canyons were carved as a result of a combination of geological processes that involved recent uplift of the range and concurrent rapid erosion by streams whose flow was periodically augmented by melt waters from glaciers that festooned the peaks of the Continental Divide.
From its headwaters near Loveland Pass to the mouth of the canyon Clear Creek drops more than a mile; in its course through the canyon it drops a thousand feet in the last 11 miles. The canyon is carved by the fast-flowing waters of Clear Creek in a complex array of ancient metamorphic and igneous rocks, chiefly gneiss, schist, and granite, the oldest of which are as much as 1,800 million years old! These rocks are extremely resistant to erosion, but during the last 5 to 10 million years relentless down-cutting by the stream has produced the magnificent gorge and opened sweeping views over rolling plateaus, monumental rock cliffs and promontories, waterfalls, and creeks. Backed by the vistas of the snow-clad Continental Divide to the west and Denver’s city lights to the east, this world-class landform provides an unparalleled scenic resource.
Although the U.S. Highway 6 threads it way along the canyon floor, the canyon walls are largely unspoiled and the magnificent grandeur of the canyon’s lower reaches rivals that of the Royal Gorge or the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Parts of the Lookout Mountain Road and the areas around the Buffalo Bill Museum and the Lookout Mountain Nature Center stand nearly two thousand feet above the canyon floor and afford spectacular views where the visitor can appreciate the canyon’s beauty and ponder its geologic history.
And imagine—the mouth of this spectacular canyon lies at the doorstep to the city of Golden, just 20 minutes by car from downtown Denver!
Geological History of Garnet Peak on the Beaver Brook Trail
Garnet Peak is aptly named for the abundant big almadine red garnets that are everywhere in the rocks there. The garnets formed 1,700 million years ago when iron-rich mud was forced 14 kilometers deep below the surface and heated to 700 degrees centigrade. At this point, part of the rock melted to a liquid, which moved up away from the site, leaving behind the residual garnet, biolite mica (black), and quartz. Later, a fracture opened and was filled by yet another magma, which solidified as a white pegmatite dike (one to six meters wide) that you can see a few meters back from the edge of the point. The pegmatite has big crystals of pink feldspar, gray quartz, and shiny gray muscovite. Hike to Garnet Peak.
Photos Credits: Railroad and mining photos courtesy of Mark Baldwin: Mark originally became interested in the Gilpin Tram due to his interest in the Colorado Central, the 'other' railroad that served Black Hawk and Central City. He lives only a few miles from the historic Beaver Brook Station, which was deep in Clear Creek Canyon on the Colorado Central.