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Mosquito Pass - Highway Of Frozen Death

Posted in Events on September 1, 2009 Comment (0)
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Mosquito Pass - Highway Of Frozen Death
The road from Leadville to the top of Mosquito Pass has many switchbacks. Each one provides a different view of the valley where Leadville is located. The road from Leadville to the top of Mosquito Pass has many switchbacks. Each one provides a different view of the valley where Leadville is located.

By 1861, a few hundred miners had moved into a gulch east of the Continental Divide near present day Fairplay. They were getting enough silver out of the mountain to encourage more miners to move in and suddenly realized they were becoming a town. Meetings were held in an effort to find a name for their town but an agreement could not be reached. Sterling City was becoming the favorite by default but the name was not stirring up any excitement.

Another meeting was held. When the book with the minutes was opened, a squashed mosquito was found between the pages. Mother Nature had already picked the name for their town and she even entered it in the minutes. Of course, no one in the room was sure how to spell the little insect but they finally decided on, "Musquito". The spelling was later corrected, followed by the naming of Mosquito Gulch as well as the town of Mosquito.

Prospectors are never happy where they are. Each one believes there is a bigger load just over the next hill. In this case, they were right. The hill in front of them was the Continental Divide. They followed an old Indian trail over the top and called it Mosquito Pass. The silver strikes on the other side became known as Oro City and was later renamed Leadville.

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As Leadville grew in size, Mosquito Pass became busier. It was widened into a stagecoach road with the town of Mosquito serving as a stage stop, supply point, and relay station. Hopeful miners crossed the 13,000-foot pass all year long. Some of them were not prepared for the extreme cold that came with blinding blizzards. Frozen bodies along the trail became too frequent and Mosquito Pass became known as the Highway of Frozen Death.

In August of every year, Leadville celebrates "Boom Days." A popular event is the burro race to the top of Mosquito Pass. There are always plenty of laughs as contestants attempt to convince their burros that racing is fun. They often end up chasing the animals around town. Even if the burros cooperate, the race is a test of human endurance. The contestants run along side the burros all the way to the top gasping for oxygen in the thin mountain air.

Some old books that are now out of print told the story of Chicken Bill. He was an enterprising fellow who realized the miners would appreciate some chicken dinners and would pay top price for the privilege. He gathered up all the chickens he could find, loaded them into a wagon and headed over Mosquito Pass.

During the night, the temperature dropped to below 0 degrees and a blinding snow storm brought a halt to his journey. When the sun finally returned, Bill found his chickens all frozen to death. He quickly plucked the feathers, stuffed the carcasses with snow, and continued his journey. A few hours later, chickens were frying in Leadville and Chicken Bill was counting his money.

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At first, Leadville was essentially cut off from the rest of the country by the treacherous mountain pass. News did not travel in either direction except by word of travelers. In 1878, Western Union stretched a wire over Mosquito Pass and connected Denver to Leadville. A newspaper instantly came to life. About 9,000 copies were sold on its first edition and the editors became wealthy over night. With a demand like that, nothing could be allowed to get in the way of printing. If a blizzard knocked the wires down on the pass, the editors joined Western Union crews trudging through the snow to make repairs. If the latest news could not be obtained, they just wrote whatever they thought probably happened.

After the shootout at the OK Corral in Arizona, Doc Holiday moved to Leadville. He began living an uneventful life. Then, one August day in 1884, an old enemy from his Arizona life rode into town. Both men had sworn to kill the other. Holiday waited in the saloon. Billy Allen walked through the door looking for trouble and he found it. Holiday shot him in the arm with his first bullet but the second missed his head. Other people in the saloon stopped Holiday from finishing the job and Allen lived to try another day.

Doc Holiday moved to Glenwood Springs in hopes the hot springs would cure his tuberculosis.He is still buried in that town's cemetery.

Communications became a lifeline to those who lived in the isolated wilderness where Leadville existed. When news that a telephone system had been invented by a fellow named Alexander Graham Bell, Leadville just had to have one. They strung wires between the town and outlying mines including those on the other side of Mosquito Pass. Less than three years after those famous words were uttered, "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you," Leadville was using telephones. It became known as the highest telephone line in the world.

When the railroad reached Leadville, Mosquito Pass lost its importance. The town of Mosquito was abandoned. There are still a few buildings to mark the little town named by Mother Nature, but not enough to get a feel for what it once looked like with a population of 500 people.

When silver prices plunged, Leadville's future dimmed. In an effort to bring in tourist traffic, the city built an ice palace that opened in January of 1896. The building was structured from 5,000 tons of blocks of ice. It was sprayed with water that acted like mortar as it froze on the ice. About 180,000 board feet of lumber was also used. The building covered 5 acres. It was wired with electric lighting and outside spotlights reflected off the walls. It was built in 36 days containing a skating rink, restaurant, ball room, dance floor, and gaming rooms. The location where the ice palace once stood is now a city park. There are plenty of photos available on the Internet.

Mosquito Pass is still a rough and rocky road. Most of the vehicles designed today will drag on the rocks leaving running boards bent in ways that were never intended. An experienced mountain driver can handle it easily but amateurs often get in trouble. Occasionally, someone loses control and dives off one of the steep switchbacks. That never has a happy ending for anyone inside the vehicle. The pass is normally blocked by snow on the east side until August.

Mosquito Pass is the highest pass road in the United States. There are higher passes but none of them can be driven in either direction all the way through.

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The easiest direction to travel is from west to east. At the top of the pass, a marker can be found for Father Dyer. He was a Methodist preacher who traveled the pass in both directions using snowshoes. He carried the word of God and sidelined as a mail carrier. Apparently, it kept him in good physical shape. He lived to be 89 years old.

The tires on Lone Writer's vehicle are provided by BF Goodrich. GPS is provided by DeLorme.

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Navigation
Begin the trip in Leadville. The Boom Days celebration is in August of every year. Check the Internet for this year's dates.

Trip Meter - Latitude North - Longitude West - Comments

0.0 - N39 14.9803 - W106 7.5148 - Turn East on 7th St. off Harrison Ave. Harrison is Hwy. 24. 7th becomes County Road 3 and goes over the pass.
1.2 - N39 15.2541 - W106 16.2285 - The Matchless Mine and Baby Doe Cabin tours are on the way.
2.6 - N39 15.3614 - W106 14.7015 - Turn left at the sign for "Narrow Rough Road". This is still County Road 3.
4.2

0.0 - N39 15.5729 - W106 13.1084 - The four-wheel-drive recommended begins at the Diamond Mine. It is still County Road 3 and continues to the top of the pass, which is the county line. The road number changes at that point. At the first fork, going left is a little smoother. The right fork is shorter.
2.6 - N39 16.5232 - W106 11.3693 - Take the left fork which is straight.
3.1

0.0 - N39 16.8610 - W106 11.1624 - Mosquito Pass. At 13,185 feet.
1.7 - N39 17.4562 - W106 9.7000 - Take the right fork just past old buildings.
3.0 - N39 17.6957 - W106 9.0258 - Town of Mosquito on right. End of 4x4 section.
7.2 - N39 16.6990 - W106 5.1839 - After the town of Park City, take the right fork.
9.3 - N39 16.2249 - W106 2.8474 - This is Highway 9. Breckenridge is left. Fairplay is right. If you are on Hwy. 9, there is a sign pointing to this road, "Mosquito Gulch." Between mile post 69 and 70.

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