A creek runs through it and other G Line stories
Posted by: Z.J. Czupor • 11.19.15
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”
Maclean’s words seem apropos when it comes to all things merging along the Gold Line, the new commuter rail line, which is currently under construction in the northwest corner of Denver’s metropolitan area.
While this modern rail line with its sleek silver commuter trains will carry a stream of people along eight station stops, it also will follow portions of I-76 and I-70, and a historic urban waterway known as Clear Creek.
While Clear Creek hardly compares to the great trout rivers Maclean describes in western Montana, it is clearly rich in the role it played in the development of Colorado’s history.
Clear Creek is the only creek fed by a river in the United States. Fall River, a tributary of the Big Thompson River in Larimer County, empties into Clear Creek along I-70 west of Idaho Springs. Clear Creek then meanders for 66 miles through Clear Creek Canyon, which is west of Denver, past the famous Coors Brewery in Golden, through north Lakewood and Wheat Ridge and roughly alongside I-76 and RTD FasTracks Gold Line. Then it flows serenely on toward the eastern plains where it joins the South Platte River.
When Colorado’s gold rush erupted in 1859, some of the most intense mining activity occurred along this creek—namely at the confluence of Clear Creek and Ralston Creek--the site of Colorado’s first gold discovery, in the area now known as Arvada.
A year later, “Honest” Jim Baker, frontier scout, trapper and guide, built an adobe brick cabin three miles north of Denver, on Clear Creek, at what is now 53rd and Tennyson Street, just west of the Regis University campus. Baker was a friend of scouts Jim Bridger and Kit Carson, and later scouted for Gen. George Custer.
Before this rhyme of geology had a name, French hunters in the 1820s called it Cannonball Creek because of the size of its river rocks. In the 1830s, the name changed to Vasquez Fork and Vasquez River after the fur trader, Louis Vasquez, who had built a fort at its mouth. The gold rushers of 1859 changed its name to Clear Creek.
If you happen to be a woman (or man) with a pan, you can still prospect for gold along these famous banks. There are Internet sites and local gold clubs and website forums that promote free and paid spots to find gold, including at Gold Strike Park, located at the confluence of Ralston Creek and Clear Creek, where it all began. Be sure to check with local municipalities first to make sure you have approved access.
When RTD named its FasTracks rail project running through this region, the Gold Line, it carried historical precedence. A year from now, when the 11.2 mile rail line opens, it will become the G Line and move riders traveling between Wheat Ridge through Arvada, northwest Denver and Adams County with Union Station in downtown Denver.
Colorado’s early settlers and prospectors knew Clear Creek well when it flowed through this pristine frontier land. They staked their futures on the promise of finding gold in the rhythms of the river. Perhaps, a new generation of Coloradans will further enliven this area as they pass by on the G Line, merging with the creek’s rolling memory and the highways that run through it.