In a little mining town, high up in the mountains is a herd of wild donkeys that roam the streets of Cripple Creek and are the inspiration for the town’s largest festival, Donkey Derby Days. The ancestors of these adorable, stubborn, big-ear animals are believed to be the donkeys who worked the gold mines located hundreds of feet below the surface during the days of the Gold Rush. (You can still visit these mine shafts and view the stalls where the donkeys were kept with a tour of the Mollie Kathleen Mine just outside of Cripple Creek.) Eventually, the miners freed the donkeys, and they have been running wild, high in the Rocky Mountains ever since.
Not to let a good story go to waste, a few men created Donkey Derby Days featuring derbies with the wild donkeys. 85 years later the celebration is still going strong. My family and I have been attending this event for the last five years, and we always have a great time. The drive from Colorado Springs is breathtaking, and one of my favorite in the area.
LOCAL ARTISTS AND DONKEY RACES
Cripple Creek is a clean, beautiful town with one main street lined with tall brick buildings that are full of history and character. Nestled among the tall peaks you feel like you are on the top of the world. While standing in the midst of town, you can easily see the many abandoned mine shafts from decades past.
Donkey Derby Days kick off each morning with a pancake breakfast at the local firehouse and feature a day full of activities. The famous donkeys are corralled just for the weekend so kids and adults alike can enjoy their antics. The main street is lined with vendors from all over the country, but most are Colorado businesses. Artists bring their photographs, paintings, leatherwork, woodworking, and yummy foods. Up for a challenge? Enter to run in one of the several races with the famous Cripple Creek donkeys. Make sure to come hungry because the aroma of warm pretzels, funnel cakes, and sausage make your mouth drool. In the midst of it all, take the time to enjoy live music from the main stage in the center of town.
When the sun starts to set stick around for the best part of the day – the street dances! Friday and Saturday night, after the wild donkeys bed down and vendors close up their tents, the music ramps up, drinks in the beer garden flow, and dancing fills the street. Featured this year was Colorado Springs country artist, Sandy Wells at their Saturday night street dance. You can find Sandy playing at some of the best events in the area.
Mark your calendars now for next year and plan on making a day of it by touring the mine, riding the local train (a favorite for young families), enjoy the Saturday parade at noon, and finish the night with beer and dancing! Donkey Derby Days are usually the third weekend of June.
[Oh! And on your way up the mountain stop at one of the best places around for breakfast, – The Hungry Bear in Woodland Park. It’s located on the south side of HWY 24, across from the Dinosaur Resource Center. I recommend ordering the Cindy Lou.]
See you next year at Donkey Derby Days!