Festivals, Rocky Mountains, CO
I am convinced that the high altitude in Colorado mountain towns makes them just a little stranger than everywhere else. If you happen to be in the mountains in June, there are a couple of summertime celebrations you might not want to miss.
Kingdom Days, Breckenridge, CO
Breckenridge was founded in 1859, but accidentally left off of some U.S. maps. This led to Breckenridge declaring itself independently ‘Colorado’s Kingdom’, which it remained until 1936, when it was finally incorporated into the United States. During ‘Kingdom Days’ in June, the town of Breckenridge celebrates its heritage as a mountain mining town.
On Main Street or in the town’s square, you can try your hand at family-friendly activities such as burro riding, steer lassoing, and gold panning, as they were done in the 1850s and 1860s. Blacksmithing demonstrations and historic mine tours give visitors a taste of what life was like more than 150 years ago, and easy guided hikes show the beauty of the area as well as historic areas around the town. The free ski gondola that climbs to the base of Peak 8 is a great way to see Breckenridge from above, and affords visitors a glorious view.
Museums and galleries are open to showcase historical and cultural exhibits, and buskers as well as professional musicians take up residence on street corners to perform American Roots music. Walking tours lead visitors into several museum homes, such as the Barney Ford House Museum and Edwin Carter Home, and specialized tours make trips to saloons, graveyards, and more. All Breckenridge Heritage Alliance Sites, many of which are buildings preserved to maintain the original feel of the town, are free to the public during Kingdom Days, to encourage locals and visitors alike to learn more about Breckenridge.
This all sounds lovely and perfectly respectable. Here, however, is where Colorado’s quirkiness shows: The highlight of Kingdom Days is the annual Outhouse Races celebration, which features teams of locals in themed costumes, working together to race wheeled outhouses down Main Street to the cheering of an exuberant crowd. One of the teams I witnessed racing was the Pottymouths, a dentist-themed team wearing scrubs and racing an outhouse decorated with giant foam teeth. The Mayor of Breckenridge himself was racing on this illustrious team, dressed as the Tooth Fairy.
Everyone I spoke to regarding Kingdom Days assured me the Outhouse Races were an important celebration of Breckenridge’s mining town heritage. No one could actually tell me why.
Madam Lou Bunch Day, Central City, CO
In Central City, they have their own way of celebrating the town’s historic heritage. Also founded in 1859, during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, the town was once so successful that it earned the title ‘The Richest Square Mile on Earth’. Central City and the neighboring town of Black Hawk combine to form one sprawling Historic District, with many original or restored buildings in both towns.
Central City celebrates not only the miners, however; it also celebrates the Madams and working girls of the cathouses. The most famous and notorious Central City madam, Lou Bunch, gives her name to the celebration, which takes the form of a street festival in the center of town. Historic mine tours and train rides lead visitors into the mountains to see gold and silver veins, and a parade down Main Street introduces tourists to locals dressed as historic figures. Can-can and vaudeville dancers join musicians for street performances throughout the day. It’s a reminder of the time Central City was Colorado’s economic stronghold, and was one single vote short of being the state’s capital.
Madam Lou Bunch is known not only for the house she ran, just below the mines, but also for the role she played in a major epidemic. As miners fell ill and the town’s prosperity and success were threatened by disease, Lou Bunch converted her cathouse into a hospital, securing her name and story in Central City’s history.
In the evening, the place to be is the Miners and Madams Ball; but during the day, Central City hosts its own themed and costumed races. Unlike the outhouses of Breckenridge, however, what you’ll see hurtling down Main Street in Central City has a great deal more to do with the theme…rolling brass beds.
Photos: Top rows: mine; Bottom rows; Central City Opera Festival Blog