Colorado, Mountains of Gold

The central part of Colorado has so much to see and do and I don’t get a chance to do many things that I want to.

Mt. Evans Summit

I take my last day to travel up the highest road in North America; the summit of Mt Evans. The 14-mile designated byway is a narrow paved road, full of switchbacks, and with no guard rails. It was recommended to me by several people who know I like wildlife and grand vistas.

Early into the trek, I come upon Echo Lake. This area offers some wonderful wooded hiking trails that Murphy and I take advantage of before heading up the mountain.

Curious Craig - Ducks on Echo Lake
Echo Lake

As the narrow road winds up and through ponderosa pines, the view below becomes more or more dramatic.

Curious Craig - Echo Lake at Mount Evans
Echo Lake

As the road ascends above the treeline at about 11,000 feet, we reach the absolutely beautiful Summit lake. It’s early July and there are pockets of snow still around.

Curious Craig - Summit-Lake.jpeg

Though trees will not grow at this altitude the rocky terrain has pops of color from wildflowers that find the conditions just perfect.  I notice that the types of flowers change as I reach different altitudes.

Curious Craig - Mountain WIldflowers

While keeping an eye out for bighorn sheep, I spot a couple of shaggy mountain goats standing in the road. I’m excited to see these guys and try to position myself to get the perfect photo before they disappear. Little did I know a couple switchbacks further up is the whole herd.

Curious Craig - Mt-Evans-Summit.jpeg

Are you kidding me

Watching the kids play under the close supervision of their nannies is just fascinating. The goats are very much wild but don’t seem very concerned about my presence.  I keep a close eye on the horns just in case.

Curious Craig - Nannie and Kid Mount Evans

I spend about 1/2 hour watching the goats play. The temps are in the 40’s with winds probably around 30mph, it’s getting uncomfortable.  I head back down to check out a couple of towns I passed through earlier.

Curious Craig - Kids on Mt Evans

Towns of Gold

I drive back to the two small towns I passed en route to Mt Evans, Black Hawk is located adjacent to Central City, both historic mining settlements in Gregory Gulch. The two cities form the federally designated Central City/Black Hawk National Historic District.

The area flourished during the mining boom of the late 19th century following the construction of mills and a railroad link to Golden. The towns declined during the 20th century but have been revived in recent years after the 1991 establishment of casino gambling.

Curious Craig - Central City Colorado
Sunrise on Central City, Colorado

While the communities try to maintain the look and feel of an old mining town, they are in reality wall to wall casinos with a few marijuana dispensaries sprinkled in. I look for a novelty shop or somewhere to purchase a souvenir T-Shirt and find no such shopping venue.  I grab a little lunch,  a nothing special muffuletta at the Mardis Gras casino beheading to the one touristy thing I saw. A gold mine tour.

Curious Craig - Black Hawk Casino
Black Hawk Casino

All that glitters is not gold

Old abandoned mine shafts dot the landscape throughout Colorado and golds’ impact on the area is pronounced. Yet, I know nothing about gold mining and decide to proceed to the outskirts of Central City to the Hidee gold mine.

Curious Craig - Old Pittsburg Mine Shaft

The Hidee Gold Mine is a former gold mine that began operations in1896 and was first accessed by a shaft atop the ridge. The vein has been worked intermittently from then until the present time. In the early 1980’s, a long time miner “Choppo” Fetterhoff, decided to re-access the shaft via walk-in adit and give educational tours to grade schools, universities, and mineralogists.  It is one of the few tourist attractions in near town as a result of the efforts of the local residents, and the Hidee Gold Mine company which worked to recreate the history of mining.

Curious Craig - Hidee Miner Jon - Squirrell
Jon aka “Squirrel”

Jon, aka Squirrel, was quick to introduce himself and to engage in conversation as we have about 30 minutes before the tour begins.  Turns out he is an ex-technology executive that ditched the suit and tie in pursuit of what made him happy.  Crawling in holes, hammering rocks, and educating the public is his passion.  I like this guys style.

Curious Craig - IMG_8513.jpg

The tour begins with a well-justified hard hat fitting. No doubt I would have left bloodied without it.  When they say low clearance they mean it.  The mine is a “drift” mine. Meaning the tunnels follow the gold vein pretty much horizontally through the rock. Twisting and turning as the vein does.

Curious Craig - Tommy-Knocker.jpeg

 The Tommyknockers

We stop at what appears to be an altar with a gnome. We are told the story of the Tommyknockers.  They are about two feet tall, and often described as greenish in color, they look like men and are most often spied wearing a traditional miner’s outfit. Living beneath the ground, they have been “known” to have committed both good and bad deeds through the centuries, often playing practical jokes and committing random acts of mischief, such as stealing unattended tools and food.  Jon is quick to toss a rock on the altar as a peace offering.

Curious Craig - Squirell-Hammer.jpeg

We go about 600 feet deeper into the mine learning the history and methods of mining throughout the ages.  Once we reach an endpoint we are given an opportunity at single jacking (hammer and chisel) our own fortunes.  I was anxious to try my hand and this but a nagging shoulder injury said otherwise.  Jon seeing my lack of participation asks if I’m okay. Well in short order, Jon is doing what he loves under my supervision and chiseling out the sample of my choosing.

Curious Craig - Pyrite from Hidee
Real or Fools Gold? The Tommyknocker knows!

The one hour tour is all in good touristy fun, certainly educational if not wildly profitable.

All that is gold does not glitter

While the gold rush days of a bygone era may have brought many to Colorado seeking riches, there are many not so hidden treasures around every corner.

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