Isaac Newton modestly proclaimed to fellow scientist Robert Hooke in 1676, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
Borrowing Newton's inspiration, city planners in Black Hawk soon can scrawl something to the effect of, "If I have pedaled new horizons, it is by riding atop the veins of miners."
What benefits Black Hawk as it sets out to complete a mountain biking circuit above its gambling enclave is the fact that most of the dirty work already is done. Miners and mill workers from 1859 onward carved trails and constructed hand-stacked rock walls for the Gilpin Tramway, which transported quartz ores to Black Hawk's milling center for gold extraction.
As with the Colorado & Southern Railroad line across the valley, the Gilpin Tramway's tracks and trestles were sold for scrap during World War I, leaving behind a perfect 2 percent grade of rock and dirt.
These historic leftovers climb and wind between Black Hawk and Central City at roughly 8,500 feet, making for challenging singletrack with dramatic overlooks. Though not yet well-marked and in need of some clearing and restoration, the trails are accessible for bike enthusiasts who aren't afraid to ask for directions.
I solicit help from development director Sean McCartney in the city planning office, located in an old Presbyterian church. He's elated to ride with me and my girlfriend, Sam, during his lunch hour, and provides us with rough maps and a loose itinerary to fill a day.
Before we meet up with Sean, Sam and I complete one leg of the upcoming circuit, ascending directly from town on Chase Street, past tailings piles (old earthen mine heaps), around gates to a healthy waterfall under an enormous rock wall.
Once we've backtracked and wolfed a quick bite at The Gold Pan Bakery & Deli, a brief climb up Highway 119 toward Nederland reveals a nearly collapsed wooden bridge on the roadside over North Clear Creek.
Sean guides us across and up a steep embankment to connect with the old Gilpin Tramway. It's a technical ride over some blasted-out areas, cliffy in spots, but we're excited to ride along the drystacked shelf and discover the path's history.
We eventually reconnect with the Chase Street waterfall, and our friendly guide leaves us for the "real" world. Sam and I continue on the scenic Tramway, which eventually spits us out in downtown Central City.
No bike trip would be complete without beer, so we stop in to see Buddy Schmaltz, Central City's mayor and town brewer at Dostal Alley. After a pint's lubrication, we coast back down to Black Hawk.
As if the day hadn't already reached a pleasing climax, we discover wild raspberries on a quick hike to Missouri Falls, outside of town. I assume miners used to pick these bushes clean, then head home tasting not only dirt, but perhaps their favorite snack.
-- Matthew Schniper
Daytrip: Mountain bike Black Hawk; contact Sean McCartney for maps and information at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 303/582-0615.
Escape Route: Take Interstate 25 north to Interstate 470 to Interstate 70 west; take exit 243 and ride Central City Parkway into town.