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Trails of History


Several American Indians startled Mary Miller. It was the 1870s, and Mary and her husband Lafayette were running a hotel and stage station on Rock Creek; the Miller Tavern Ranch stood near the Rock Creek Trail on U.S. 287 and Dillon Road. The men wanted white flour, so Mary cooked biscuits. After devouring them, they left.

If you were traveling by stage in those days along the Overland Trail (U.S. 287) you would have stopped at the Miller’s to rest your hungry and jolted body. Like this spot, Boulder County’s open space lands and parks are full of history, generally unknown or forgotten. Knowing the history of an area a soldier once called “a howling wilderness” can add dimensions to your time spent exploring the trails.

One stage stop north of the Miller’s was the Waneka Station, run by Adolph Waneka, who homesteaded an area where the Coal Creek Trail crosses U.S. 287. One day some American Indians showed up at Waneka’s demanding “Bisq, bisq.” Another biscuit standoff ensued with the American Indians eventually feasting along Coal Creek. Waneka later found army clothing and an army sword—possible booty taken in an earlier fight.

What Boulder’s Legion Park lacks in trails is made up for with a 360-degree view of the Front Range and a storied history. Early American Indians like the Kiowa and Comanche used the high point as a lookout. Before the Valmont Power Station was built, the reservoirs below, much expanded and renamed over the years, were home to a popular Boulder recreation spot.

After Frank Weisenhorn started Boulder City Brewery in 1875, he saw opportunity in the lake he owned east of town: Weisenhorn’s Resort and Beer Hall was born.

In 1894, Edwin Speedy, “champion high diver of the world”, dove from an 85-foot tower into Weisenhorn Lake. “The performance was equal to the promises made and the crowd was well pleased,” noted the Boulder Daily Camera. The year before, with an umpire on skates, locals played a game of ice baseball. Weekly dances for 25 cents were also popular.

Mrs. Weisenhorn reassured Daily Camera readers in an ad that “no tough or questionable characters would be permitted on (the) grounds for a moment.” Maybe certain past lake events brought in a seamier element. Like the prize fight in 1892 between two heavyweights who had “fought before and there (was) either bad blood between them or a hippodrome.”

Miller went on to found Lafayette. Waneka’s name is all over Lafayette. And Weisenhorn quenched thirsts and entertained thousands. Many of the Front Range’s trails have histories like these. While they’re known for their natural beauty, sometimes what you don’t see is as interesting as what is around you. Next time you’re on the Rock Creek Trail, look for that old stage stop and try to smell the Waneka’s fresh baked biscuits.

+ Nathan Elite 1 Plus Waistpack, $35. Fanny packs are only cool if they are utilitarian (or made out of Kevlar). This waistpack includes a water bottle with an insulated holster and a nutrition flask for energy gel.

+ Rock Creek Trail: Take Dillon Rd. to 104th and go south. Park at Stearns Lake (pictured left). The Mary Miller Trail runs east around the lake. Continue the trail across Dillon and under NW parkway or go back, southwest towards Superior.

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