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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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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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    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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