Golden was founded in 1859 at the height of the Colorado Gold Rush. Since it was directly on the trail that prospectors took to the goldfields, one would assume the town was named after “gold.” But, in one of many quirky things, Golden was actually named after Thomas L. Golden, who by an amazing coincidence was one of the first prospectors in the area.
Here are some other bizarre things about this little town at the foot of the mountains.
- From 1862 to 1867, when Colorado Territory was the Wild West, Golden served as the first territorial capital. The large brick building the politicians used for their meetings as the first “state capitol” was a saloon. And it still is – the Old Capitol Grill & Smokehouse, which is today a wonderful, historic restaurant on main street. The decision to move the capital to Denver won by only one vote!
- Of course, the first visitors to Golden came much earlier – 68 million years ago! Golden was a marsh at the edge of a great inland sea and many dinosaurs got stuck in the mud and later became fossilized. The first dinosaur bones ever discovered were found in and around Golden, including the first Tyrannosaurus Rex. Today, you can take the Triceratops Trail, a 1.5-mile gravel path that winds around downtown through vertical walls of sandstone lined with traces and tracks of dinosaurs, birds, mammals and insects from 68 million years ago. Or play a round of golf at Golden’s Fossil Trace Golf Course, where you can see real Triceratops footprints adjacent to the 12th green.
- These first dinosaur bones were discovered in 1877 by Professor Arthur Lakes from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. He went on to create the school’s Geology Museum, which is free and open to the public seven days a week. In addition to many exhibits on dinosaurs, the museum has an eclectic collection of all things gold and minerals. You can see and learn about the gems in Miss Colorado’s crown, look at rare gold coins minted in Colorado in 1860, enter a uranium mine, and examine rocks from the Moon and Mars. Stop in the gift shop and you can even buy a small sliver of rock from the Moon! It’s also a good place to stock up on gold panning supplies. Every weekend, you will still find modern gold-panners searching for precious nuggets along the banks of Clear Creek.
- President Ulysses S. Grant and General William Tecumseh Sherman once stayed in Golden (in a building that is now the Buffalo Rose Saloon).
- The historic figure most associated with Golden is Buffalo Bill Cody. Buffalo Bill was the world’s first superstar, performing his Wild West Show in more than 1,000 cities around the world. When he died in Denver while visiting his sister, he allegedly asked to be buried on top of Lookout Mountain above Golden, where his grave would have views of both the snowcapped Rockies and the great plains. His funeral in 1917 was (and still is) the largest ever held in Colorado.
- If Buffalo Bill’s grave appears to be fortified and buried in concrete, that’s because it is. Some people from Cody, Wyoming resented that Buffalo Bill was buried in Golden, and they threatened to “take him back.” The Colorado National Guard was called out and a tank was parked on the grave. Eventually it was dug up and buried under tons of reinforced concrete. Today, the adjacent Buffalo Bill Museum is a hoot with many of his costumes as well as those of Annie Oakley and Chief Sitting Bull -- both appeared in his show. Don’t miss the gift shop, considered by many to be the largest and best souvenir store in Colorado.
- There’s a wonderful statue of Buffalo Bill on Washington Ave. (the little girl on his shoulders is his granddaughter). Every July, Golden celebrates Buffalo Bill Days with a pancake breakfast, parade and a downtown Wild West Show.
- A block away is a statue of another man destined to have a large impact on Golden. In 1872, a young brewer from Germany was walking near Clear Creek and discovered many cool springs of crystal water. He knew water was a major ingredient in beer, so he opened a brewery. His name was Adolph Herrman Joseph Coors. Today, his brewery is the largest single-site brewery in the world, producing 13 million barrels of beer a year, about 4.3 billion bottles – or 221,000 bottles of beer for every resident in Golden. You can take a free tour of the brewery daily, and afterwards sample three free glasses.
- One of America’s favorite candies, Jolly Rancher, also comes from Golden. The sour treats were first created in 1949 by Bill and Dorothy Harmsen. They called their shop the Jolly Rancher to suggest a hospitable, western place. Originally, Jolly Rancher was an old-fashioned candy store located on Washington Ave., producing ice cream, chocolate and hard candy. Today, the Hershey Company owns Jolly Rancher, but Golden still has several places selling old fashioned candy and ice cream, including Golden Goods and Golden Sweets.
- Of course, the quirkiest icon of Golden is the 58-foot long Welcome Arch that has been saying “Howdy Folks!” since 1949. There used to be hundreds of these arches all over the West; Golden’s is one of the last to survive. The best time to photograph it is during the annual holiday candlelight walk in December, when Washington Ave. is closed to traffic and thousands of Golden residents turn out to march down the street holding candles and singing carols.
- Just a block off Washington Ave. is Golden’s Armory Building, the largest cobblestone building west of the Mississippi. Built in 1913, it took 3,300 wagonloads of stream-worn boulders from Clear Creek and quartz from Golden Gate Canyon to create this stone castle in the center of town.
- In addition to Coors, Golden has six other craft breweries, the quirkiest of which is downtown’s Golden City Brewery. The brewery was founded in 1993 by two geologists, Charlie & Janine Sturdavant, in their own house! The beer is sold from their carriage house, and the beer garden is literally their own backyard.
- Golden’s Sherpa House Restaurant and Cultural Center was built by Lhakpa Sherpa as an authentic representation of a typical Sherpa house in the Solu-Khumbu region of Nepal. When Lhakpa wanted to offer a beer from Nepal to go with his authentic dishes like yak stew, he discovered there was none. So he got with has neighbor, Charlie Sturdavant (owner of Golden City Brewery) and they opened the first brewery in Nepal. You can taste their creation at the Sherpa House. The beer’s name? Why, Sherpa Beer, of course, made with water from the Himalayas.
- Speaking of the Himalayas, you can see the actual clothes worn by the first Americans to summit Mount Everest in Golden’s American Mountaineering Museum. The climber’s mountain gear was made by a then little-known designer named Eddie Bauer. Among the treasures in this museum, the only one of its kind in America, is an ice axe that climber Pete Schoening used on K2 to single-handedly save six teammates from falling to their deaths.
- More unusual items can be found at the Golden History Park -- some of them living! The downtown park contains a historic farmstead from 1878, including a 100-year old chicken coop filled with seven historic chicken breeds (Dominiques, Buff Orpingtons, White Plymouth Rocks, Silver-laced Wyandottes, Golden Wyandottes, Rhode Island Reds, and Black Australorps). Bring some quarters and you can feed the chickens and watch them fluff their feathers. These are not your standard white chickens, but are instead some very exotic, colorful and unusual animals that look like something from a Star Wars movie.
- Finally, there is the Galloping Goose. This one is not alive, but is a 1928 Pierce Arrow limousine put on train wheels with a bus welded on the back. The Goose was a crazy contraption that ran over Lizard Head Pass near Telluride, Colorado, carrying passengers through the Rocky Mountains. Somehow it picked up the name, “Galloping Goose.” Today, it runs on weekends at the Colorado Railroad Museum on a circular half-mile track, tooting its horn as it crosses the road, and giving passengers a bumpy, fun, and definitely quirky ride back into the past. Only seven Galloping Geese were ever made, and three are here at the museum in Golden.
And as you leave Golden in the evening, take one last look up at Mount Zion behind town to appreciate one of the country’s oldest mountain monograms. Every evening, the stone monument of the Colorado School of Mines (a giant white “M”) is illuminated. These days they use energy efficient light bulbs, of course. The monogram is made up of thousands of white painted rocks. Freshmen to the college must climb the mountain and deposit a rock. When they graduate, they climb up and take one with them as a souvenir.