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Mosquito Pass - Highway Of Frozen Death

Larry E. Heck | Writer
Posted September 1, 2009

The Highest Pass Road In Colorado

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.

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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