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Aerial View of Cripple Creek and Victor Mine

Aerial View of Cripple Creek and Victor Mine

My seventh day touring mining towns in Colorado was spent in the vicinity of Goldfield and Victor in the Cripple Creek Mining District. I traveled to the American Eagles Overlook above the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine and hiked on the Vindicator Valley Trail above Goldfield.

Headframe and Shops at the American Eagles Mine

Headframe and Shops at the American Eagles Mine

Since I had arrived in camp rather late the night before, I took all of the morning to recharge my batteries, literally and figuratively. My long trip the day before which started in South Fork and traveled through Creede, Lake City, and Gunnison had used up all the spare batteries I had for all my cameras, and I was still exhausted myself. I showered in the headquarters building of the KOA and finished setting up camp, making up my tent and sleeping bag for tonight. Then I spent the rest of the morning charging up my various camera batteries and spares in the game room while reading an old Andre Norton book on my iPad.

American Eagles Headframe

American Eagles Headframe

Finally in the afternoon I headed out, driving south and taking the gravel road up to the overlook. It crosses the main road used by the ore trucks taking overburden to the dump locations. I stopped on the way to look at the open pit mine operations of the Cripple Creek and Victor Mining Company, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of AngloGold Ashanti. They are digging a huge pit down through what was the old Cresson Mine (the same mine that discovered the huge vug back in 1914, basically a large geode the size of a room lined with 60,000 troy ounces of gold). I’ll speak more about the open-pit mine tomorrow, because I took an excellent tour of it. While observing the operation, I used a time-lapse app on my iPad to record the huge trucks driving their loads out of the pit.

Panorama of the Cripple Creek and Victor Open Pit Gold Mine

Panorama of the Cripple Creek and Victor Open Pit Gold Mine

The American Eagles Mine was the highest mine in the district at 10,570 feet with one of the deepest shafts at 1540 feet. The land around it is a small spot of green surrounded on all sides by the CC&V operations. From there, one can see all the way to the Collegiate Peaks in the west and to Pike’s Peak to the northeast. Winfield Scott Stratton, whose famous Independence Mine turned him from an itinerant carpenter into the richest man in the district, bought the American Eagles Mine in 1895 as part of his consolidation of mines in the area. Today, the old headframe still stands with its double hoist and cage. Several out buildings, such as the shifter’s house and blacksmith shop, still stand as well. I spent a very pleasant hour at the top, reading the signs and enjoying the cool breeze.

Dumping Overburden from the CC&V Open Pit Mine

Dumping Overburden from the CC&V Open Pit Mine

Vindicator Valley with Headframe and Mill

Vindicator Valley with Headframe and Mill

On the way back down, I stopped and hiked the Vindicator Valley trail. This area lies between the overlook and the town of Goldfield. It includes the Vindicator Mine and Mill, with a large steel headframe and the decaying remains of the mill. I walked along the path, which is about 2 miles total. In places it was a bit of an uphill hike, and I should have been tired by the altitude, but I have grown acclimated and I actually felt better and more vigorous that I do at my normal 4500 feet.

Sign for the Vindicator Mine and Mill

Sign for the Vindicator Mine and Mill

All through the valley are many remnants of mining structures, such as powder magazines, ore bins and transport systems, headframes, and mills. Some of the structures have been moved here to preserve them from the CC&V operations. The company seems to have a real interest in preserving the history of the area, and Colorado overall does a much better job of this than Utah, where the only value seems to be to close the mines, cover the dumps, and pretend mining never happened.

Steel Headframe for the Vindicator Mine

Steel Headframe for the Vindicator Mine

Other structures I passed included the LaBella steam powered electric plant that was at the bottom of the trail and powered the operations in the area, the Gold Knob Mine (seen as wooden cribbing toward Goldfield), and the Theresa Mine headframe. This mine was active from about 1895 through the 1950s. It was closed during World War II, as was all gold and silver mining in the country. By the time the mines reopened, so much work was needed to repair and upgrade them that most of the mines closed. It wasn’t until the 1970s that gold operations started up again, mostly leaching of old low-grade mine waste and some small open pit operations. But in the 1990s a large-scale open pit mining operation was engineered and begun which is now the CC&V mine. As the mine has grown, so have the piles of overburden rock, seen on the upper slopes of Vindicator Valley.

LaBella Electric Plant Site

LaBella Electric Plant Site

From photos I’ve seen of what the area around Victor looked like in the early 1900s, things have changed quite a bit. Many of these mines, such as the Theresa, were worked off and on from the 1890s through the 1950s, and many original wooden headframes were eventually replaced by steel headframes.

Theresa Mine Headframe

Theresa Mine Headframe

Some structures were torn down for scrap metal, others were destroyed by time. Some, such as the Lillie Mine and Mill, were bought out by other companies (such as the Vindicator Mine or the Gold Cycle Mining Group owned by David Moffat and A. E. Carlton, which bought up many of the defunct claims) and their buildings were torn down and foundations buried by waste rock. In the 1970s and 80s much of this waste rock (huge piles of it) were dug up and processed using the leach pile method to recover gold from the marginal ores. This changed the look of the valley and moderated it. The CC&V mine has done a lot to reclaim the slopes and replant native species, such as areas of pine trees growing throughout the valley. They have reinforced some of the structures and built the trail systems with interpretive signs.

Anna J. Mine looking up Vindicator Valley to the American Eagles Overlook.

Anna J. Mine looking up Vindicator Valley to the American Eagles Overlook.

Powder Magazine. The explosives had to be kept separately from the mines to prevent accidental destruction.

Powder Magazine. The explosives had to be kept separately from the mines to prevent accidental destruction.

After this walk I drove into Victor at sunset to try to buy a steak for supper, but the small grocery store only had hamburger. I did take some good photos of the town in nice lighting. Back at camp, sunset lingered as I cooked supper and took some additional photos of the grass and aspens around camp.

A Sign in Victor, Colorado explaining the bawdy side of town.

A Sign in Victor, Colorado explaining the bawdy side of town.

The Fortune Club in Victor, Colorado, known for its . . . er . . . entertainment.

The Fortune Club in Victor, Colorado, known for its . . . er . . . entertainment.

Third Street in Victor, Colorado.Third Street in Victor, Colorado.

The Back Side of Pike's Peak

The Back Side of Pike’s Peak

Aspens and Colorado Blue Spruce at my camp.

Aspens and Colorado Blue Spruce at my camp.

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Marriott Hotel

Marriott Hotel in San Francisco

On Thursday, March 10, I experienced my first full day of the NSTA Annual Conference in San Francisco. It was a remarkable day for me, for several reasons. I attended some excellent sessions with ideas on how to improve my teaching of chemistry and integrate technology into my classroom, I presented a session on this project (The Elements Unearthed) and the Science Demonstration Program at Walden School, and I received an important honor from a well-known person.

Periodic Paint Swatches

Periodic Paint Swatches: An Introduction Activity to Periodicity

All of my sessions today were at the Marriott hotel, right across the road from the Mosser where I stayed. My first session taught me an easy to implement idea on how to introduce the periodic table and the idea of periodicity of the elements using paint swatches from a hardware store’s paint department. Students are given a variety of basic hues with variations in tint and shade and are asked to put them into a meaningful two-dimensional array. In educational parlance, we would say this type of activity is de-contextualized (that is, removed from the context or content of the lesson far enough that students can easily relate to it). The presenters (Jesse Wilcox and Scott Moore) went further to suggest how to do the next step: an alien periodic table with missing elements very similar to what I already do (more contextualized), before introducing the actual periodic table (full context).

My second session was by D. J. West, a Senior National Science Consultant with McGraw-Hill, on good websites, sources, and ways to integrate Web 2.0 technologies into the classroom. He mentioned quite a few that I hadn’t heard of, and I now need to check them out and start using them.

My third session was on ways to improve Back-to-School Science Nights, which we will be doing in May.  Bruce Wear gave many ways of improving my planning and execution that I hadn’t thought of and which will come in handy. He presented about 25 steps and ideas, and he also showed some simple activities for physical science demonstrations that will be useful if I teach physics next year.

After lunch, I attended a session by the folks at Google on how to use Google Earth, including many features such as how to access new layers of data that can be found freely on the Internet. They mentioned that when natural disasters strike, they try to act quickly to provide before and after imagery, such as images of New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina. Little did we know they would have need of such fast data updating just the very next morning. I loaned the presenter my MacBook Pro video dongle, and they promised to send me something (what I don’t know).

The Google session was in the Pacific C room, which was where my presentation was to be held, so I stayed and prepared. I had finished creating some sample videos of my student’s presentations and of my visit last fall to Cripple Creek, Colorado. Here’s the Cripple Creek Video (which I will add to the downloads page along with the chem demo videos over the next few days).

I knew my presentation would be pushing the hour limit, but I wanted to show recent progress. My title was “Sharing the Stories of Chemistry in Your Community Through Video.” Perhaps a bit esoteric, so I knew my audience would be fairly small. I also knew I was going up against Bill Nye the Science Guy, who was speaking as the Executive Director for the Planetary Society. Despite all this, my presentation went well; I had six people there by the end and one stayed after to talk more about what I was doing. I had been promoting my session rather shamelessly all day, and quite a few people expressed interest, but not many of them came. At least they have my e-mail and can contact me if they want information.

I took my computer back to the hotel, then walked back to the Marriott for the reception I had been invited to. This was from 5:30 to 7:00. It was for ExploreMars, the organization I’ve mentioned that is promoting the human exploration of Mars within the next ten years. Here’s the press release:

http://www.exploremars.org/education/MEC_FinalPressRelease.php

Artemis Westenberg and Chris Carberry were there to make the awards. They began just one year ago, and one of their first projects was to create the Mars Education Challenge, where high school teachers create curricula and lesson plans that promote Mars exploration and science as part of regular classes. I had submitted several lesson plans at the end of January, and I was notified on March 2 that I had taken third place in the contest, which not only means a nice award check but some money toward my travel expenses to this conference. It was a very nice day when I got the e-mail saying I would receive this award (I did quite the dance of joy in my classroom)!

Major Award

Third Place Award for the Mars Education Challenge, presented to me by Bill Nye

The second place winner, Andrew Hilt, and myself were there to receive our certificates and checks – handed to us by Bill Nye himself. So maybe Bill competed with me for attendees at my afternoon session, but he kind of made it up to me. Andrew and I both said a few words about why we were competing and how we decided to do this. Andrew is from Wisconsin and spoke about the controversy there where the governor is trying to eliminate the teachers’ union and cut back on salaries, benefits, and retirement in a misguided attempt to cut expenses by cutting back on education (which will only come back to haunt them). He mentioned how under-appreciated teachers are, and how hostile many people in Wisconsin are just because teachers ask for the same rights to collective bargaining that other workers have. I spoke on my visit to the launch conference for the Mars Odyssey probe, and how I watched the moon rise over the Atlantic Ocean, and decided then to dedicate myself to promoting Mars education, just as ExploreMars has done.

I ran into several Solar System Educators during the day and Nancy Takashima invited me (or I invited myself . . .) to dinner at Buca de Beppo. I was a bit lake because of the reception, but had a chance to talk to Shannon McConnell from JPL, who is now the lead education director for the GAVRT (Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope) program. Julie and Gary Taylor, Nancy, Martin Horejsi, Kay Ferrari, and others were there, and it was fun to get back together with them even though I am not active in the program any longer. But now I’m back in a high school setting, teaching science once again, maybe its time to get hooked back in.

It was quite a busy and exhausting day. I learned much, shared much, was rewarded for my time and efforts, and met up with old friends. A great day!

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Mollie Kathleen sign

Sign for the Mollie Kathleen gold mine

Over Labor Day weekend I traveled with my family to Denver to visit my brother-in-law’s family. On the way, we stopped off at Cripple Creek, Colorado, to tour the gold mining district. I’ve been near there twice before but never took the chance to stop and visit, so this time I determined to get there no matter what. Since we left after my classes were over on Friday at 2:45 p.m., with occasional stops for food and stretching, we didn’t get into our motel until 2:30 a.m.

Mollie Kathleen mine

Mollie Kathleen gold mine

On Saturday I got up early and drove a couple of miles out of town on Highway 67 to the Mollie Kathleen gold mine. I arrived about 8:50 and the first tour was at 9:30, so I took the time to take photos around the mine site of the old equipment and original headframes. One person there told me a bear had walked through the site just ten minutes before I arrived.

Old headframe at Mollie Kathleen mine

Old Headframe at Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine

At 9:30 we donned hard hats and were loaded tightly into the double-decker man skip to travel 1000 feet down to the bottom level of the mine. Jim Smith was our tour guide, and of all the tours I’ve taken of mines around the country, this was one of the best. Not only did he explain how the equipment was used, he actually demonstrated it (it is still in working order). We saw how hydraulic drills, stope drills, muckers, bucket dumps, and other types of equipment were used by the miners. The tour lasted about an hour. I videotaped the whole thing, but wasn’t able to take many photos because we moved through the tour fast enough that I couldn’t use both cameras at once.

Mucker model

Scale model of a mucker, Cripple Creek Heritage Center

Mollie Kathleen mine tour

Jim Smith explains stoping drill, Mollie Kathleen mine tour

Jim described how miners would discover a gold vein or deposit, and shafts and crosscuts would be dug into the bottom of the deposit so that it could be stoped upward (following the deposit as it twists through the rock), standing on planks using a stoping drill that could jam and flip you off the plank at any time. Some deposits were found filling cavities called vugs, where the gold would replace the granite rock and form rich veins. The normal grade of ore assayed at about $2 of gold per ore car; some of these vug deposits, such as the one in the Cresson Mine, assayed out at over $4000 per car. Miners were paid $3 per day at that time (the same as miners in the Tintic District in Utah) and it was common for miners to “high grade,” or smuggle rich ore samples out in the false bottoms of their lunch pails.

Crosscut tunnel and ore car

Crosscut and Ore Car, Mollie Kathleen mine

Mary Catherine (Mollie Kathleen) Gortner discovered the mine in 1891 shortly after Bob Womack and Winfield Scott Stratton had discovered their gold lodes. She was visiting her son, who was prospecting in the camp, and walked up Poverty Gulch to where he was working. As she sat down to rest, her foot kicked a rock that looked like promising gold float, and she followed the rock to its source (which had already been missed by numerous miners) and memorized its location – she was too afraid of someone jumping her claim to even mark it. When the rocks she hid in her dress assayed out as rich gold ore, she returned and staked a claim as one of the few women mine owners in the district. Since then, the Mollie Kathleen has been in more-or-less continuous operation as a producing gold mine; the Lanning family that owns it now still goes in during the winter to mine out veins. They can make a small profit, with gold at over $1200 per ounce now (the main problem for the gold mines in the district isn’t the lack of gold, but the lack of a local mill to process it). But the main source of income now is from the mine tours.

Cripple Creek Colorado

Cripple Creek, Colorado from Heritage Center

After the tour I visited the Cripple Creek Heritage Center across the street and took some panoramic videos of the town, as the view was great. There were headframes on most every hill and holes everywhere where prospectors had tried and failed to find gold. At the top of the major hills was a huge continuous tailings pile from the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine, a large open pit/surface mining operation that is still operating. They are concentrating the ore through leaching the tailings piles, and it is interesting to see this modern mining operation superimposed on the older, historic mines.

Next post, I’ll describe the towns of Cripple Creek and Victor and some of the mines in the area.

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    I’m sorry that I haven’t written for a couple of weeks. This last week I’ve been laid up with a kidney stone and haven’t felt up to sitting at this computer until today. If you’ve ever had one, you know why – the pain is tremendous. To keep from writhing on the floor in agony, one has to take rather strong pain medication (which I am very thankful for) and it isn’t good for one’s mental acuity. The stone was the first I’d ever had, and it came upon me suddenly last Friday morning. It wound up being large (12 mm), so this Monday evening I had a laser laproscopy to break up the stone and remove the pieces. I’m still a bit foggy and my concentration isn’t up to par yet, but I’m at least semi-vertical. If this post doesn’t make much sense, please excuse me. 

View along Hwy 24 in Colorado

View along Hwy 24 in Colorad

    At my last post I was still in Colorado on Sunday morning, Sept. 6 at Mueller State Park west of Colorado Springs. I had intended to get to Cripple Creek the evening before, but daylight ran out on me. It was a beautiful morning, and I had to decide once I left the park whether to turn right and go 12 miles to Cripple Creek and spend the day there going through the Molly Kathleen Gold Mine and the visitor’s centers or turn left and head back to Utah. I’d been on the road for six days already, and by this time I just wanted to get home, so I opted for left. Cripple Creek will have to wait for another time when I can spend a whole day there – to give it any less wouldn’t do it justice. I’ve read the book Midas of the Rockies about Winfield Scott Stratton (it’s a bit hard to find – I stumbled across a 1937 edition in our local library) and have wanted to visit Cripple Creek and the Independence Mine ever since. Perhaps next September when the aspens are turning I’ll be back this way with the funds to do it right.

Drilling competition rocks at Leadville, CO

Drilling competition rocks at Leadville, CO

 

    I turned onto CO-24 at Divide and headed west, driving through wonderful country. The few photos here don’t do it justice; once I get my health back I’ll piece together a panoramic shot. I traveled north on 24 from Buena Vista, then stopped at Leadville and took a few photos. Leadville was once the highest incorporated city in the U.S. at over 10,000 feet elevation. It was a major silver mining town and made a fortune for Horace Tabor and others, but when the price fell out of the silver market, Tabor lost his fortune. It’s quite a story, and the town still celebrates its mining heritage with Boom Days each year,

 

Silver mining ruins at Leadville, CO

Silver mining ruins at Leadville, CO

Main St. in Leadville, CO

Main St. in Leadville, CO

which includes a man-mule race to the top of Colorado’s highest peak and a hydraulic drilling competition. I’ve been through the Mining Hall of Fame here before, but didn’t have a functioning camera at the time. I’ll have to stop here as well when I make my next trip out to Colorado.

 

Mining along CO-24

Mining along CO-24

 

 

 

    I continued on the 24 through glacial valleys and around hairpin turns past old mine diggings. Some of the aspens were already beginning to turn. At Minturn I joined I-70 and continued west through Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, and on into Utah. I stopped at the Book Cliffs to take some spectacular shots (the clouds and lighting were just right), then turned off at Green River and took US-6 through Price and on to Utah Valley and home. It was a long drive, but I managed to get home by about 6:30 to see my wife and two youngest children again after 10 days absence (they had flown back to Utah on Aug. 25).

 

The Book Cliffs, east of Green River, Utah

The Book Cliffs, east of Green River, Utah

 

    Since then I’ve started to capture the footage I took along the way and am beginning to make contacts for an advisory board for this project, which I will work on quite a bit in October. By October 22 I will have put together at least a couple of episodes. Sorry it’s taking so long, but my biggest hang up right now is simply hard drive space. We’ve been waiting for a deposit reimbursement from our Philadelphia apartment so that I can get another hard drive; the 1 TB drive I bought in May is already full, and I can’t do much more editing or capturing without more space. On October 22 I will be presenting at the Utah Museum Association conference and will show some completed episodes and footage of the Tintic Mining Museum while there. I’m also working on footage of my interview with Dr. Eric Scerri that I have promised to send him. It took some time to figure out how to capture from my Canon Vixia HD30 camera; my Final Cut Pro software can capture SD tapes from that camera just fine, but not HD. I finally got it to work by using iMovie to capture the HD tapes instead. In the meantime I also have to make a living, and since I’m not teaching any longer I’m doing some freelance video production work with a friend, and that’s taken up my spare time until this kidney stone knocked me out last weekend. 

    It’s good to be home; the weather has turned cool and rainy today, the maples and oaks on the mountains are blazing and there’s snow on the peaks of the Wasatch. Writing this post has helped me clear my head a bit, so maybe I can get some actual work done now.

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