One would think that Leadville and Buena Vista would be more or less the same. They both used to depend on mining: Leadville was created for miners; Buena Vista was a railroad town serving mines. Both have plenty of outdoor activities nearby, including numerous 14ers. Neither has any apparent local industry other than outdoor tourism. Strangely, at least to my superficial eye, they have developed very different vibes.
Buena Vista has a mixture of Good Healthy Family types playing with their kids in the park, and dirtbags bouldering and working as guides, mostly on the river. It has preserved its downtown, and taken a lot of state lottery money to build trails, kayaking stuff, and a small bouldering area.
Coming to Leadville, I was surprised by the redneck vibe. Even the coffee place has a bar and plays bluegrass. Coming into town, you pass a sprawling trailer park and a barn-like liquor/bait/wood emporium. Stray from the highway in town, and you will see plenty of run-down houses with jacked-up trucks (actually useful here, though). Leaving town, you pass the new growth: a large supermarket and gas station. There seem to be athletes who live here to train, but not as many migrant outdoor types (e.g. I haven’t seen many bike racks).
Anyways, here are some places I have found helpful on my way through:
- Family Dollar (both)
This seems to be a Colorado-specific store. It’s kind of like a mini-Walmart, with clothes and such on one side and groceries on the other. While it has no produce and limited baked goods, it has an awesome, and awesomely cheap, selection of non-perishables. Of personal interest, it has the best selection of canned fish I have seen anywhere, better even than Trader Joe’s, most for $1 or less. 4-packs of saltines are also $1, and canned vegetables are mostly in the $0.60-$0.80 range. Shop and thrive.
- Leadville Hostel (Leadville)
5 blocks east of the highway and one block north of the stoplight, the Leadville Hostel has a homey atmosphere and a friendly proprietress. Bunks are the usual $20/night. More importantly, you can take a clean shower for $3, and do your laundry for only $2.50 (quite a bit less than the laundromat). They also have wireless for $1.
- Proven Grounds (Leadville)
Just south of the stoplight, Proven Grounds carries a variety of coffees and teas, and bakes their own breads and pastries. It’s all a bit overpriced, but the breads and teas are good (not so much the soup and coffee, and they charge for refills). They also have free wireless.
- Fish Hatchery (Leadville)
Potable water spigots seem to be less common here than in California, where they are found at most developed trailheads. The hatchery, just south of town, has a spigot outside that is free to use.
- Community Center (Buena Vista)
Head through downtown on Main Street and, where it turns to dirt, you will find the newly-built community center. It has acceptable showers ($1 for 3 min.) and a small bouldering area to play around. The problems seemed hard, but I suck at climbing now.
- Buena Vista Roastery (Buena Vista)
Buena Vista Roastery on Main Street seems to be a sometimes gathering place for outdoorsy types. They know their coffee, and sell it both by the cup and by the pound. They also have free wireless.