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(All together now…”I don’t have to speak, she defends me.”)

In many ways, Donkey Derby Days is like any other small town festival.  With the exception of a lot of asses.  Well, maybe that’s also consistent with quite a few small town festivals.

Small Town Festival, Big City Ass (not mine)

The festivities themselves started bright and early at 10:00 am on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning, and we were right on the spot for the first event: the Hairiest Legs contest.  While we were desperately hoping that there’d be some mountain women in this competition, we were disappointed.  In fact, there were only a few participants.  I would recommend to the organizers that this event be held later in the day, after the Beer Tent has been open for a while.

The Beer Tent In A Quiet Moment

The judge for the hairiest legs contest not only had to view them but had to stroke them.  There were no wookie-worthy contestants, but the winner, Levi, did indeed have a most hirsute pair of gams.

Levi, He of the Hairiest Legs

We made our way through the street vendors, stopping on occasion to inspect their wares more closely.  I saved $30 by not buying myself a dress I really wanted.

You can almost see the dress I didn't buy over there on the right...

Glass items were very popular. One gentleman was concerned that his crystals were setting the tablecloth on fire (they were).

Opaline crystals

The Air Force Academy Falconeering Club had a beautiful bird on display.  Kelsea didn’t mind looking at the cadet either.

Air Force Falcon

As is common at almost every festival, someone was selling stuff from South America.  Do they come all that way just for the summer?  And how do they make any money?

Denizens of the Lower Realm

Mountain ladies were selling handmade soap.

Touchy Feely Soapy

We took a side detour into a couple of shops along the main drag to get out of the sun.  Kelsea tried on some magnificent hats.


We resisted nearly uncontrollable purchasing impulses.


And then wandered back down to discover one of my favorite elements of any festival….. the petting zoo! Kelsea has temporarily outgrown the petting zoo.  I, apparently, am experiencing my second (third? fourth?) childhood, so I was right in there with all the other 8-year olds.  Let me tell you, this was some petting zoo!

We had a mini-yak.


A rather assertive and wide-bodied llama.

A One-Sided Conversation

Caution: Wide Load

A ram and numerous goats:

There was a little girl who had a little curl...

Incredibly Teeny Incredibly Cute Incredible Baby Goat

And of course, the star of the show, the donkey.

The Star in Profile

The donkeys, however, after consulting,


Decided to be ornery and present me with their best side.

The result of the consultation.

Some of the tamer critters were providing donkey rides for the younger set.

Ready to Ride

Trying To Tip... Or Eat The Tips?

That made the poor chained-up pony rides on the hill at the “kids” part of the festival rather unnecessary.  Those ponies always looks so miserable.  I wish that particular form of entertainment would be banned. But we did like the giant Plinko Board.

Giant Plinko = Cool/Pony Rides = Not Cool

We filled out a survey for Santa,

Santa? We did see a sign for his house up the road...

and found ourselves the perfect parade watching spot across from Big Jim’s casino.  The parade opened up with the Civil War Soldiers.  Or maybe they were the Calvary.  I’m not quite sure.

Parade Opener

And it consisted of queens (not the city kind):

Queen of Somewhere Way Out West


Happy Dog, Happy Dog

Classic cars:

An Oldie...

And a goodie.

Classic people:

Escorted Down The Avenue

Fire and rescue services (Kelsea’s favorite):

She waves at every emergency vehicle she passes (but not the po-po).

Pre-Parade Pose


A long line of ranchers

Here come the cowboys... (an inappropriate song line comes to mind)

A big man needs a big horse. One big horse = check.

and Shriners.

One of many Shriners

I was so happy to FINALLY see their little cars in an actual parade.

What if we all drove these little cars? Would the world be a happier place?

Next came the event we’d ALL been waiting for: The Donkey Derby!  I will say that Kelsea and I discussed participating.  First we said yes, then we said no.  Then we decided we needed to train so we could do it next year.  Then when we realized we wanted to do it this year, it was too late.

The Long Donkey Road

Participants started up at the top of the hill by the old jail and received a set of terrifying instructions from a mountain man.

Mountain Man who provided instructions to city slickers

Donkey Chaos

Lining up (in a manner of speaking)

The more ornery local pack was gathered to offer brays of advice to their brethren as they started down the street.

Watching and Laughing

At the sound of the rifle shot (hope it was blanks or we might be one donkey or ass-puller short), they were off!  Off is a relative term.  Some would go and some wouldn’t.

Donkey Chaos In Motion

One poor man had to physically lift his donkey in the air to get it started after it stopped.

The newest fad - donkey hefting.

One refused to move until its bowels had done so.

Emptying the tank

And one looked as if he were about to drop dead on the spot, poor thing.

One unhappy donkey

But others were frisking along so quickly their handlers had trouble keeping up.

Does this thing come with instructions?

It was a long course, down the hill and up the hill, about a mile in all.  At the end, everyone got a trophy and the donkeys got lots of noms.

Give me noms. Now.

It was quite an event, and it helped our strategic planning to see it on two different days.  We saw the start and the middle and then met the tribe at the end.

Tune in tomorrow for the second day competitions and some outtake shots from the parade!  I leave you with this image to shadow your dreams.

Attack of the 50-foot teenager

[If I spring a leak, she mends me….
Thanks, Cheryl – and for all of you who had the song running through your head since yesterday, well, let’s keep it going.]

I know that a lot of people think of a hotel as just a place to dump their stuff and their carcasses at the end of a long day of vacation.  I am not one of them.  I do not need the whole 5-star treatment (though I must say that when I’ve had it, I’ve enjoyed it).  But I do like to stay in comfortable, interesting, non-traditional places.

One Perfect Unconventional Place to Stay

This has led to sojourns in bug-infested rooms with cold-water showers.

One Less Than Perfect Unconventional Place To Stay

And overnights in rooms so frilly you’d think you were going to be smothered in your sleep by a rogue ruffle.

Hiding from Vicious Flounces

Up in Cripple Creek (yes, you can start singing again if you need to), I’ve found a gem of a place in Carr Manor.  The town has several in-casino hotels, but as I don’t gamble, they are totally not my style. And the reviews on TripAdvisor for such places are not particularly stellar (I know we can’t always rely on TripAdvisor, but even taken with an appropriate number of grains of salt, these are pretty bad.) The B&Bs rate much better, and Carr Manor is the best.

Carr Manor (the former Cripple Creek High School)

Carr Manor is the former Cripple Creek High School.  Its current owners, Gary and Wini, are a wonderful couple who moved here from California, though Wini has roots in Cripple Creek of which she was barely aware when they chose to buy the Manor.  They have fixed it up, retaining many of the original features of the building, including the original chalkboards from the school in quite a few of the 14 guest rooms.

An Old School Chalkboard With New Memories

Two large upstairs rooms are used for meetings and special events.  A lovely lounge area offers a big screen TV and books.  Complimentary homemade cookies, sodas and water are always available.  Several of the guest rooms are themed for personages who spent some time in the area (Lowell Thomas and Jack Dempsey, for example), and one is dedicated to one of the penultimate cowboys, Roy Rogers, who was Gary’s neighbor back in his days in California.

The Roy Rogers Room

The suites, particularly the two spa suites are exceptionally luxurious. Perhaps someday I’ll have the pleasure of staying in one.

The Jacuzzi Bar in the Ralph Carr Spa Suite

I’ve stayed in two of the rooms now – once this past weekend and once in February.  We were in the Corner Queen this time, which was spacious with lots of light and a comfortable bed. It was a bit noisy, as we could hear people conversing on the street outside the room in the morning.  The Standard Queen that I had on the 2nd floor in February was lovely as well – though the old fashioned keyholes can be a bit challenging after a cocktail or two.

Room at Carr Manor

Breakfast is fabulous, in a sunny room off an open kitchen filled with pictures of Wini and Gary and their large family, and images of the town.  Our surrogate innkeepers this trip, Rex and Carla, were equally charming and exceptionally knowledgeable about local lore, to-dos, and trivia.  And Carla’s a marvelous cook.

Breakfast at Carr Manor

The only thing missing from Carr Manor (at least in my opinion) is a ghost, but either you have one or you don’t, so I don’t hold that against this lovely place.  Besides, Gary and Wini have bought the old Imperial Hotel and are fixing it up to be another fantastic guest house (the casino downstairs is leased and operated by another party).  The hotel also was (and will be again) the home of a theatre troupe in an intimate setting down in the basement.

Downstairs and Backstage at the Imperial Hotel

Gary was kind enough to give a few of us a tour of the areas under construction in the Imperial back in February.  And for the so-minded, believe me, there are several ghosts there.

Under Transformation

I know Gary had hoped to have some rooms open by now, but the best laid plans… he’s confident he’ll have six rooms open sometime this season.

The Bishop of Chicago's Former Bed - No One Is Quite Sure How It Wound Up Here

The good news is that the restaurant is open and that’s where we had dinner.  That’s the unfortunate thing about casino towns – it’s hard to find a place to eat with your teenager.  The Midland Depot fulfills this need nicely, with simple Italian food that will likely appeal to both children and adults.

Stained Glass In The Midland Depot Restaurant

This evening, we were serenaded by a handsome baritone playing an acoustic guitar, who was actually an almost-opera singer living here for the summer.  We provided him with applause and even did the wave for him (just the two of us.) Unfortunately, we did that when he was drinking a glass of water and we made him choke.

A Happy Diner In Between Waves

Kelsea was spooked in the ladies room, and by an unfortunate woman who came around the corner when she was telling me about being spooked.  I think Kelsea jumped two feet and the woman was equally startled.

Hallway to the Haunted Bathroom

We weren’t ready to go home after dinner, so we thought we’d try to find a place to shoot pool.  We love shooting pool together, and for some reason, we only do so out-of-town.  I think the last time we did so was up in Cheyenne last Labor Day.  We found Ralf’s which boasted that it was a family friendly place – perfect! There were arcade games and shuffleboard in the front, and pool tables in the back near the small stage and the bar.  The waitress said Kelsea was welcome in the bar area as long as food was being served, which was until 11:00.  Well, we shot with some of the boys in the bar, who were miners and cowboys starting their weekends, until after midnight and had a fabulous time.  The boys were buying me wine, dancing with both of us, and being really very jovial and gentlemanly.  But as I said before, I berated myself for not being a paragon of motherhood by taking my 14-year old to a bar to shoot pool.  She loved it.  She said it was so comfortable and relaxing.  The people were nice.  She wasn’t interested in drinking or flirting.  She just liked being at ease. And I think I set a good example of how to handle one’s womanly self appropriately in such a setting.

Our other dining experiences in Cripple Creek consisted of street food at the Donkey Derby (and no, no one was cooking donkey) – while there were many delicious sounding items, we settled for hot dogs –

Street Faire Food (and I use the term "food" loosely)

and of pizza at The Creek, a local restaurant that served only pizza and burgers.  It was so busy in there, filled with folks in historical dress carb-loading after the parade.

Somewhere Out Of Time At The Creek

The cool juke box was signed by numerous celebrities, and the pizza lunch lasted us two days, which was helpful.

Celebrity Signatures (Or Good Forgeries)

One place I wish we’d had the hunger to try is a little spot called Crawdaddies, which I think is only a summer place.  It’s out of a little house up the hill, and serves three homemade Cajun dishes daily.  If you’re going up, look for it!

So, now you have the summary of how to sleep and sup in this little town.  I am planning a return trip for the Cruise Above the Clouds Car Show in the Fall, and perhaps an overnight ghost investigation visit to the old jail next month.  As you can tell, I really like this Cripple Creek.

Cripple Creek Skyline

Stay tuned tomorrow for the down and dirty on the Donkey Derby!

One Of Oodles Of Donkey Icons

(Kudos to waywardbound for the perfect post title!)

Kelsea and I packed so much hoopla into our two-day getaway that it felt like we were gone for much longer – in a good way.  It’s awful when that happens on a getaway that doesn’t go well (she says, remembering an endlessly hideous car ride from DC to NJ.)

On my trip to the Cripple Creek Ice Festival in February, I decided that Kelsea would really like this little mining-cum-gambling town.  I hadn’t been so sure of the place before my first visit.  In 1991, the state of Colorado legalized gambling in three rapidly declining mining towns: Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek.  Black Hawk and Central City are towns I knew well both prior to and after gambling came to them thar hills.  In fact, we lived outside of Black Hawk when ex-Pat worked up there around the time Kelsea was born.  One of the “requirements” of legalized gambling was that the casinos had to respect and retain the original characters of the towns.  Apparently, in those two towns, that requirement was interpreted as “Well, we left a brick with a plaque on it.”  Horrible, in my opinion.  So I wasn’t too keen on seeing Cripple Creek, but I wanted to see the Ice Festival.

The Ice Festival on Bennett Avenue in February 2011

I was so amazingly surprised.  The casinos in Cripple Creek, while in many, if not most, buildings along Bennett Avenue, the main drag, are somewhat unobtrusive.  The buildings truly are original and the town still has real residents who hold real jobs.  Mining is still an active industry in the area, as is ranching, and that helps.  The only impact that the casinos have on a non-gambling visitor with a teenage daughter is that there is a dearth of places to eat – no one under 21 allowed.

The town has museums, live theater, and festivals like the Ice Festival and like the purpose of our visit this weekend, the 80th annual Donkey Derby Days, which will be the topic of several posts this week.  And today, you get to learn a bit about the history of the town and the event.

Oooooo, that smell...

Cripple Creek was founded around 1890, when Bob Womack discovered gold and started one of the State’s final gold rushes.  At one point, the population was over 35,000 and the town lost its bid to become the state capitol by a mere three votes – obviously, Denver won.  How different many things would have been had that not been the case.

The town burned in April 1896 when a bartender knocked over a kerosene stove in a fight with a lady of the evening whom he accused of stealing his money.  Unfortunately, a second fire occurred several days later, when some hot grease from a local restaurant came into too-close contact with some hot coals from the first fire, virtually destroying what was left of the town.

Cripple Creek Fire - 1896 (image courtesy of Cripple Creek District Museum)

But we are hardy and determined folk here in the mountains, and the town was rebuilt with primarily brick structures, many of which are still standing today.

Donkey Derby Days was started in 1931 when Charley Lehew decided that the town needed to do something to draw in tourists during the summer.  He and two business partners had the light bulb idea to capitalize on the herd of donkeys that roamed the town.  Donkeys had been a key component of successful mines – they were used to carry loads up from the depths of the earth.  Unfortunately, the only way to get the donkeys onto the shaft lifts was to knock them out with sledgehammers.  The whole process seemed kind of bizarre and certainly no fun for the donkeys.  As they graduated out of the mines, no doubt with brain injuries, they were allowed the freedom of Cripple Creek.  Many residents treated them as pets.

Donkey Copping Some Shade

At any rate, Charlie and his pals built a race track, and started the event.  It has gone on for all these years, changing in character, but always retaining its mining root flavor.  In some decades, people rode the donkeys.  At one point, the race consisted of a ride between Cripple Creek and the neighboring mining town of Victor, eight miles away. The town has its own herd of donkeys, descendants of the original herd.  They are impossible, love to mingle with townsfolk and tourists, and are contained (when they are contained) behind the old jail, which closed in 1992 and became a museum in 2004.  The donkeys are tended to by the Two Mile High Club (which until several years ago was called the Mile High Club, but changed its name for obvious reasons.  At an elevation of 9494 feet, the town decided that was close enough to being two miles high.)

Up To Two

For the current Donkey Derby Days, there are two versions of the race: one in which pairs of participants lead donkeys down a mile-long stretch of Bennett Avenue, stopping at five waystations to do things like bob for apples or kiss a cardboard cut-out of a prostitute.  The donkeys that participate in this event are borrowed from a local outfitter, and are halter-trained and relatively docile, as far as donkeys go.  The second race variation is open only to town businessmen (and women) and the donkeys that participate are all members of that legendary, ornery, obstinate heritage herd.  Pat Conner, one of the docents at the Jail Museum, told me that it’s a hoot and that most of the businessfolk can’t even get the donkeys down the first hill.  I think the locals (like Pat, who has lived there 50 years) enjoy it mostly because it puts these interlopers in their place and humbles them a bit.  You can’t help but be humbled when you realize that it’s really a donkey in charge.

The festival now has street vendors, a parade, and wonderful little competitions such as best beard, best donkey call, cutest/smallest/largest/most talented dog, and hairiest legs.  We saw it all, along with a live performance of a melodrama, a whorehouse tour, and an overnight in the town of Victor, in its haunted Victor Hotel.  So stay with me, and I’ll give you all the poop from the weekend

The event certainly lived up to it’s slogan –  It was ReDONKulous!!


Photo title: Life’s Illusion?

Cripple Creek, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “Anything in life that we don’t accept will simply make trouble for us until we make peace with it.”  —  Shakti Gawain

Daily gratitudes:
Early release from work on a Friday
The pink edge of a sunset

Photo title:  Up the Staircase

Carr Manor, Cripple Creek, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “We must select the illusion which appeals to our temperament, and embrace it with passion, if we want to be happy.”  —  Cyril Connolly

Photo Title: Mitties

Quote of the day: “Never let go of that fiery sadness called desire.”  —  Patti Smith

Photo Title: White on White

Cripple Creek, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “There are no permanent changes because change itself is permanent.”  —  Ralph L. Woods

December 2019
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