Marie used to drive tour buses around Colorado Springs, and one of her favorite spots to highlight was the old mining operation in Cripple Creek, which is about forty miles west of Colorado Springs. She still loves sharing her knowledge of this area, so I got a free tour! Lou drove as Marie narrated, and Valli and Lou Sr. joined me in listening.
We started by driving to the town of Cripple Creek, parking, and taking a short walk. The town was founded in 1892 by the gold miners who started flooding in after gold was discovered in the fall of 1890. Now the town is a small-scale tourist attraction. Because of its status as a historical site, it is allowed to have casinos – and it does. I skipped past those and went straight to the real attraction – the candy store. I picked up a small bag of gummy coke bottles and another of gummy cherries. They also had a wide variety of truffles. I picked two: cinnamon and cappuccino.
With the essential candy stop taken care of, the real tour started. Marie explained that gold mining still goes on today, but it has changed over the years. We started off by learning about the old style of mining and finished the day by visiting a modern mining operation.
We visited the Molly Kathleen mine, which is one of the most successful historical mines in Colorado. If we’d come on the right day, we could have gone on a tour and descended into the mine shaft to see the branching tunnels where miners blasted and chipped ore from the walls. We did not come on the right day though, so we had to use our imaginations.
We did find several pieces of mining equipment displayed above ground. This dumper car was used to pick up loose ore and put it into the ore car, which then traveled along the railway to reach the mine shaft elevator.
In the pictures below you can see the tower that stood above the mine shaft, and to the right, the cable room which housed the ropes and motors necessary to raise and lower the elevator.
These buildings were the first stop on a great walking path that looped around and through an assortment of old mining equipment. We found storage buildings, insulated dynamite sheds, and a beautiful view of the countryside.
Gold mining still alive and well at Cripple Creek, but it is now done primarily at an open pit mine which sits on the backside of the hill we were walking on. During our walk, we heard an explosion and saw smoke float over the ridge.
When we finished our walking loop, we drove to the other side of the hill and observed the huge mining pit that has been blasted out over the past twenty-two years. The enormous area dwarfs the huge ore trucks that are used to transport the blown rocks up to the processing site.
The ore that comes from operations like this is an extremely low grade, usually resulting in less than one gram of gold per ton of ore. The extraction process involves crushing the ore and mixing it with water and cyanide, then allowing this solution to leech the gold out of the ore in a liquid form.
And that was the end of our tour. We drove back to Marie’s house, then went back to The Mansion and lived happily ever after!