Cripple Creek is biker country, with southern Teller bustling with armies of Harleys on any weekend in the summer due to the ideal climate and scenery, coupled with the added perks of 24/7 gambling and cocktails.
After all, this is the home for the Salute to American Veterans Rally and motorcycle ride that attracts tens of thousands of riders every August. Other biker groups often congregate in the Creek and Victor area and aren’t afraid to display their tattoos and club patches.
This biker-friendly trend will roar into high gear this week, as 200 to 250 members of the Hells Angels, one of the most notorious and often controversial outlaw motorcycle organizations, with actual military ties dating back to 1948, rolls into the area for a national run. Members of the group from across the country this week will frequent local casinos/restaurants and shops, tour the region and play recreational softball. At the same time, they will have meetings and will occupy lodging rooms and campsites in the area.
Even with the image associated with Hells Angels name, local leaders, law enforcement authorities and business operators are welcoming members of the club with mostly open arms. Many rooms in the area are booked, and some business folks see the run, which officially kicked off July 25, as a boon for the region. “We don’t have any problem with it. They probably just want to be left alone and have a good time,” said one local long-time resident and member of the Two Mile High Club.
But some locals are a little apprehensive about the group’s past image and history, and say it just takes one bad incident to create a disaster.
Plus, recent memories of the melee that occurred at the Colorado Motorcycle Expo last January in Denver still linger in the minds of Coloradoans. This incident, capped by a fight between rivaling gangs, left one person dead and caused many injuries.
However, local law enforcement officials say the community is more than equipped to handle the Hells Angels national run, which often occurs in mountain locales in the Rocky Mountain region.
“We are treating this like any large event,” said Cripple Creek Police Chief Mike Rulo “We don’t expect any trouble, but we are prepared. Our main concern is for the safety of the citizens. There will be an increased law enforcement presence in the area.”
In many ways, Rulo compares the preparation for the Hells Angels national run to what occurs for the Salute to American Veterans rally and even the state-wide USA cycling competition.
“We share a lot of resources,” said the police chief. He said the Cripple Creek Police Department will be working closely with the Teller County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies in the region. “We have a good plan in place.”
Rulo said the national run has occurred in past years without any glitches, and expects the same scenario for Cripple Creek. The Hells Angels run has been held in the past in Gunnison, Colorado, Cody, Wyoming and in Montana. Last year, it was held in Clarksburg, Virginia, a community of about 1,100 residents. Rulo described it as a gathering for members of the group and a mini-vacation, as they prepare to head to Sturgis, South Dakota, the site of the biggest biker gathering in the country.
The police chief said he hasn’t received that many concerns about the rally from local residents and business operators. According to local business owner and Cripple Creek/Victor RE-1 District School Board member Tim Braun, many locals and business operators are supportive of the run. “We don’t see any problem with it,” said Braun. “There haven’t been any problems in the other towns where this was held. It is really a non-issue.”
Some business operators, in fact, are hoping for an increase in commerce during the run.
Similar sentiments are echoed by Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray DuBois. He said that the good-will between biker members and residents, which occurs at many of these events, is often overlooked. “People just remember the bad incidents,” admitted DuBois.
To date, he said he has been quite impressed with the professionalism displayed by the Hells Angels’ national run coordinators. “They have been very cooperative. So far, everything has been extremely positive,” said the city administrator.
DuBois said Hells Angels’ representatives have mostly inquired about facilities in the area and the availability of local services.
Officials are mum, though, about specific meeting locations. A recreational softball game, involving many members of the Hells Angels, is scheduled for the afternoon of July 28 at the Cresson baseball diamond.
In recent years, the Hells Angels organization, which now operates as a corporation, has tried to improve its image through charity events, recreational activities in the host communities and toys for tots drives..
Past image still a subject of concern
But still, the past ruffian image of Hells Angels, highlighted in Hunter Thompson’s famous 1966 nonfiction book, “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang,” haunts the organization. Thompson rode with the outlaw gang for an extended period and nearly got stomped to death at the end of his journalistic stint with the club. Many also remember the Altamont rock festival in California, when members of the Hells Angels, acting as security guards, beat up many concert-goers and even the lead male singer of the Jefferson Airplane, Marty Balin. Mick Jagger, lead singer, of the Rolling Stones band, pleaded with the club members to ease up on their security tactics, which authorities claim led to a fatal stabbing and a bevy of injuries and other deaths.
Around that time, the Hells Angels were strongly involved in the hippie counter-culture movement and often a hung out with such psychedelic icons as Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and Jerry Garcia.
Since then, their image has mellowed quite a bit and many of their famous members and leaders have gotten older.
However, the Department of Justice still regards the Hells Angels as an organized crime syndicate, contending the organization is involved with drugs, prostitution, domestic violence, intimidation and violence. Angels’ leaders, however, say this perception is false, saying they are just motorcycle enthusiasts who are more known now for organizing charity events and social gatherings. Many members claim they are persecuted by police and federal agencies because they opt to live unorthodox lifestyles.
The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club was actually founded in San Bernadino in 1948. The name stems from a military squadron in China In World War II. Today, the club has charters throughout the United States totaling more than 2,500 members, and on every continent except Antarctica.
Rulo declined to comment on whether the organization has improved its standing with law officers. “Our job is not to pass judgement on the Hells Angels, but to make sure that our citizens are safe,” said Rulo.
According to inquiries his agency has conducted, the police chief has concluded that the national Hells Angels’ runs have occurred without any problems,
And in reality, Cripple Creek is a prime spot for motorcycle and sports-car enthusiasts in the summer. “Who wouldn’t want to come up here for a motorcycle ride,” noted DuBois.
Rulo said that the club members will probably spend a good portion of their time touring the area and enjoying the sites. “They want to come up here for a lot of the same reasons that you or I and many people like coming up here for,” said the police chief.