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Cripple Creek downtown

Downtown Cripple Creek Colorado

This is the second half of my trip to Cripple Creek, Colorado, over the Labor Day weekend. As I described in my last post, we traveled to Cripple Creek on Friday, Sept. 4, 2010 and arrived late at night. The next day, I started out by taking a guided tour of the Mollie Kathleen gold mine, then visited the Cripple Creek Heritage Center right across the road, taking photos of all the displays. They even had a scale model of the Mollie Kathleen.

Anaconda mines

Anaconda mine sites with Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine

Now for the rest of our visit: After taking some panoramic video shots of the town from the mine dump behind the heritage center, I drove back down Hwy 67 to the town. I was to meet my wife, ‘Becca, and our two children at 12:30 at the Cripple Creek District Historic Center at the east end of Bennett Ave. (the main street of town). I was a bit early, so I wandered around and took some photos and video of downtown, then ate lunch with my family. I had wanted to visit the Historic Center (a man at the mine told me it was worth visiting both museums) but didn’t want my family having to wait for me, so we decided instead to take the narrow gauge railroad tour. We were almost late for the train, and in the hurry my son William fell down and skinned his knee in the parking lot, so we were trying to get him bandaged up (fortunately we brought a first aid kit in the diaper bag) while the train pulled away. The loud train whistle frightened William some more, and I’m afraid the whole experience wasn’t very great for him or my wife, who had to hold him most of the way. My other son, Jonathan, was having the time of his life, pointing out all the rocks to me (at three he’s already a budding geologist). I tried to videotape the whole thing and take a few photos as well.

Headframes in Victor

Headframes in Victor, Colorado

The train headed south along the mountain grade, over some old tressles and fills, past many old mine workings, to a point about half way to Victor at the abandoned town of Anaconda. It was quite interesting to see the old mine shacks lower on the hillside and the new terraces and trucks working the higher hillsides for the Cripple Creek and Victor gold mine. On the way back we paused on a siding to let the next train pass, and the engineer pointed out the remains of Crazy Bob Womack’s cabin in Poverty Gulch, who was the first to discover gold in the district in 1890. We had a good view of Cripple Creek and Myer Ave., which was the notorious part of town.

WInfield Scott Stratton and I

Winfield Scott Stratton and I

We had to leave for Denver by 3:00, so we had just enough time to drive out to Victor and snap a few photos. There are many headframes on the hillsides around town, including those of Stratton’s Independence Mine and the Portland, which he had a share of. As we left, I had to take one more photo of myself seated on this bench with Stratton himself (well, at least a bronze replica of him).

Winfield Scott Stratton was the first big millionaire of the district, discovering his gold telluride deposit on July 4th, 1891. He had searched unsuccessfully for silver and gold for the previous 17 years, working as a carpenter during the winters to finance his summer prospecting expeditions. He had even built a sign for H. A W. Tabor in Leadville for his opera house while he was prospecting there. He finally decided he needed more education and took courses in mineralogy at the new Colorado School of Mines. In 1891, he scoured much of the Cripple Creek area and found nothing. On the evening of July 3, 1891, he had a dream in which he imagined going back to a granite ledge he had already passed over. The next day, upon revisiting the site, he noticed signs of gold telluride ore, and discovered rich veins in some boulders that had fallen off the main face of the ledge. He staked a claim and named it the Independence, which he eventually sold for $11 million to a group of British businessmen, the highest amount paid to date for any mine, and a large fortune at the time. But Stratton wasn’t one to blow all of his money; he’d learned from the example of Tabor, who was now ruined because of the Silver Panic of 1893. Eventually Tabor came to Stratton looking to sell some mine stock to help pay his debts. Stratton paid him $50,000 for the stock, but never bothered to record the sale at the mine office. Stratton eventually bought a house in Colorado Springs that he himself had built years before and lived there the rest of his life. I had read a biography about him a couple of years ago called Midas of the Rockies by Frank Waters (1937) and now I’ve finally visited the sites he helped to make famous.

Victor Colorado

Downtown Victor Colorado

There is still much I would like to do and see here. I would like to hike some of the paths in Victor, take the tour of the open pit mine, and view the whole valley from the Eagles overlook. But that will have to wait for another trip. At least I have gathered enough footage and photos to make a great video of the Cripple Creek mining district.

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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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