excursion4_masthead.jpg - 39348 Bytes

Buena Vista, Colorado
Photos by Jerry Clark
History from "Crofutt's Grip Sack Guide of Colorado - 1885"

Buena Vista, Colorado - 1885

Buena Vista - Seat of Chaffee County, is situated at the junction of Cottonwood Creek and the Arkansas River, 137 miles from Denver, on the South Park division of the Union Pacific Railway.

The county has here a fine court house, and there are several attractive churches, school buildings, and private residences. Stores of all kinds are carrying heavy stocks of goods, and business generally, while not to say "booming," is prosperous. The hotels are the Lake, Park , and El Paso. Here we find a cosy little opera house, which seats 300; waterworks have lately been constructed, and there are two weekly newspapers, the Herald and Chaffee County Times. The latter is published by our reliable old friend Leonard, and is recognized as a very reliable journal on everything pertaining to mining in the vicinity and teh country generally. Population 2,000.

We understand a movement is taking tangible shape to build an irrigating canal, which will make available for agricultural purposes 100,000 acres of land near the city, and add largely to the business and prosperity of Buena Vista.

There are four mining districts tributary; Cottonwood, to the west, Clear Creek, northwest; four Mile north east, and Free Gold, southeast. The ores are silver, gold, and lead, low grade with few exceptions.

The city is surrounded by a forest of small pine and ceder trees, and for some time after the place put on city airs, the streets were paved with loose boulders of all sizes, from a piece of chalk to the "Rock of Ages." Of late, the "spirit of progress" has made great improvements in the streets and walks, and in the city generally.

Six miles west, at the mouth of Cottonwood hot springs, by hack, fare $1.00, pr $1.50 the "round-trip."

"Crofutt's Grip Sack Guide of Colorado - 1885"

Buena Vista, Colorado - Today

Buena Vista is a small town of approximately 2500 residents located in the Arkansas Valley roughly midway between Salida and Leadville. Pronounced Byoonie Vista orByoonie by the inhabitants, Buena Vista is a convenient access point to the Collegiate Peaks of the Sawatch Range and Cottonwood Pass to the west, or to the numerous put-in spots for white water rafting on the Arkansas.

Although Buena Vista is a sleepy town these days, it boasted 36 saloons and a hanging judge in 1887 when the Colorado Midland arrived. Madam Cockeyed Liz ran her "Palace of Joy" bordello in Buena Vista for years until she married at the age of 40.

Buena Vista was once served by three railroads, all determined to have a piece of the lucrative mining trade in Leadville. The first to arrive were the Denver and Rio Grande and the Denver, South Park and Pacific in 1880. Both of the lines were 3 foot narrow gauge. The last to arrive was the standard gauge Colorado Midland in 1887. For a time, the South Park and Rio Grande shared a depot in Buena Vista and trackage rights to Leadville. Later, after the collapse of the Joint Operating Agreement, there would be separate depots for each line downtown. No one shared anything with the Midland. The Midland, trying to avoid the grueling grades typical of the narrow gauge lines kept its right of way high above the town. It's depot was accessible by taking a buggy up a steep trail from town.

Both the Rio Grande and the Midland followed the course of the Arkansas north of town. Since the Rio Grande had arrived first, it's roadbed was situated on the banks of the river, at one point above Buena Vista in a very narrow section of valley. When the Midland arrived, it had no choice but to dig into the hillside through a series of short tunnels until the valley opened up. It's been said that this location was the only spot in the country where one train could be in 4 tunnels at once.

The Midland tunnels still exist, and the old Rio Grande mainline, long since converted to standard gauge, still runs along the banks of the Arkansas. Going north in Buena Vista, take a right onto Main St, then a left onto North Colorado. This road takes you north out of town through the series of four tunnels. After leaving the tunnels, look for Elephant Rock. If you miss it, you shouldn't be driving. This unpaved road parallels US 24 for about 10 miles until rejoining it.

Buena Vista Photo Gallery

s95-1-38_buena_vista_school.jpg - 6870 Bytes Buena Vista
Buena Vista School House


s95-1-69_downtown_buena_vista.jpg - 6647 Bytes Buena Vista
Downtown Buena Vista


s95-1-52_colorado_midland_tunnels.jpg - 12697 Bytes Colorado Midland Tunnels


selephant_rock_2.jpg - 9285 Bytes Buena Vista
Elephant Rock


s95-1-68_arkansas_river.jpg - 10384 Bytes Buena Vista
Arkansas River DRGW grade from CM Tunnels


The Narrow Gauge Circle is written, maintained,and hosted by:
Mark L. Evans
Send Comments to:Mark L. Evans

All original materials, text, and digital images Copyright © 1996-2014 Mark L. Evans. All rights reserved. Imitation is said to be the "sincerest" form of flattery.....Please don't flatter us without permission.