A Gold Mine, Literally and Figuratively

We routed through Cañon City, Colorado because there were quite a few things listed there on our “To Do” travel document.  When we arrived at the RV Park, they gave us a “Checklist for Adventure” containing 25 activities that were local or nearby. There was some over-lap with my list but not total.  It seemed the Cañon City area was a relative gold mine of things to do!

We experienced eight of the 25 activities on the RV park list and this is my fourth (and last) blog from the Cañon City area!

Number 24 on their list was “Cripple Creek – Gold Rush Town.”  We set out on a beautiful sixty minute mountain drive to Cripple Creek. Our priorities were the train, the gold mine and the wandering donkeys.

We arrived at the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad for a 45 minute journey through a gold mine landscape.   

They have four historic locomotives, three were built in Europe and one in Pennsylvania.  Two were used in mining operations in Mexico, one was used on a South African sugar plantation and one’s previous use is unknown.  Yet, they all ended up in Cripple Creek, Colorado.  

During the gold rush days, there were 500 mines within 12 square miles.

The remnants are everywhere.

The former owner of this cabin, Bob Womack, struck gold after many years of trying.  He celebrated with drink and gaming and sold his stake for a few hundred dollars.  He lost out on millions of dollars of gold.  Such foolishness.

The locomotive operated was coal fired so we had a breeze of coal dust throughout. 

After our train ride we went to the Mollie Kathleen Mine for a tour.  Mollie Kathleen filed her mine claim circa 1890 and the good old boys objected.  Women weren’t allowed to file mine claims!  Her husband, a mine lawyer, smoothed things along and she ran a very successful mine.

Today that mine has been turned into a tour, descending 1000 feet in these very small elevator cages.  Notice the sign.   It is apparent we have been spending time with our seven year old grandson when I see I am including a reference to farting.

Gold in this area isn’t found or retrieved along rivers and streams.  Only one percent of gold worldwide is found in nuggets, and 99% of those are less than a pinhead in size.  

The mines here are looking for seams containing the gold within the rock.  Once identified, the rock is exploded apart and taken to the surface for processing. In this picture the dark purple seam is the gold.

Our excellent guide showed us how, over many years, the process became more efficient and safe. Most of the innovations were made by the minors themselves, rather than engineers or management. 

One worker who didn’t work out as a mine worker was Jack Dempsey.  He may have had the ability to become Heavy Weight Champion of the World but he couldn’t cut it in the mines as a hand mucker (that person who moves out the heavy rocks after an explosion).  

One of the efficiency steps was to take donkeys into the mine to do the heavy ore carrying.  At some point President Teddy Roosevelt was shown the mine and the donkeys and he determined that this was no life for a living creature.  He mandated that they be taken above ground for at least one hour a day. (My feelings about Teddy Roosevelt get complicated the more I learn about him – but for this moment in time, I appreciate him.)

The mine owners determined that using of donkeys under those conditions was not longer efficient and they developed a rail system.  The donkeys were taken to the surface and let loose to fend for themselves.

Magnesium sulphate, more commonly known as Epsom salts, are common in the shafts.

The system of sounds, still used all over the world, was developed in the Colorado gold mines.

Gold mining has changed over the years and is now done above ground. The current mine in Cripple Creek, operated by Newmont, is huge.   It is one of the largest gold mines in North America and it is believed that only a quarter of the gold has been retrieved.  Silver and platinum are also mined.  

This region of Colorado is the fifth largest mining district in the world.

Once we were done learning about the mines we turned back towards town and had a view from above. Cripple Creek, population about 1000, seems to have a lot of infrastructure.

It seemed odd to see such a large crane in the middle of town!   We were told a new parking garage and casino-hotel was being built.  Casino’s are the second business in Cripple Creek!

We walked around town a bit looking for a quiet (non Casino) place for dinner and for the resident donkeys which roam the streets from May to October.  These are believed to be descendants of the mining donkeys. They are penned and cared for during the winter months.

In our only real disappointment of the entire Cañon City area, we did not see the donkeys.  This was the best we could manage.

We had a bonus event at the Butte Theater, put on by the Thin Air Theater Company.  We saw a wonderful production of Gentlemen Prefer Blonds.  It was outstanding, especially considering it is a small town company!

About Serene

Former full time RVers, transitioning to part time RVers. We've still got a map to finish! Home is the Arizona desert but we may not want to be here in the heat of the summer!
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7 Responses to A Gold Mine, Literally and Figuratively

  1. Mark McClelland says:

    That elevator looks mighty tight!! No social distancing possible. How long did it take to descend 1000 feet? There is a mining museum in West Texas that also features mining donkeys. What a life!!

  2. Kim Goehring says:

    Our old stomping grounds. We loved in Divide Colorado and I loved it there! 😊

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  3. We’re you in the cage with strangers or did they let family members go together? We’ve been to several mine museums and they all seem to have a donkey story. I’m glad they are taken care of during the winter.

  4. David and Joani says:

    We very much enjoyed the gold mining tour. I believe they average $1,000,000 of gold/day of operation. Their 100 year plan will return the area to its original state once they are finished. First time we climbed around on one of those giant ore hauling trucks. Bonus – Mule Days was in full swing when had lunch in Cripple Creek – we didn’t see any wild mules.

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