EXPLORE THE HISTORY OF
MINING IN CHAFFEE COUNTY
Colorado’s 1859 gold discoveries brought a mining boom to Chaffee County when “Pikes Peak or Bust” prospectors moved on from the Front Range to the central mountains. Situated in the Colorado Mineral Belt, these mountains yielded a wealth of gold, silver, copper, iron, zinc, lead, coal, limestone, marble, fluorite, travertine, gypsum, molybdenum and feldspar.
SCENIC BYWAY MINING DESTINATIONS
Lone prospectors panned in the watercourses, early placer mines diverted water to sifting boxes to separate nuggets from gravel, powerful hydraulic water hoses tore at hillsides blasting mineral-bearing dirt from river rock, and later hundreds of men extracted ore from deep mine shafts. The banks of Cache Creek south of Granite are piled with jumbled river rock left by early hydraulic mining.
Raw ore was crushed in stamping mills and transported to smelters to claim the minerals. The tremendous smelter temperatures required charcoal or coke, provided by local wood fired in large brick beehive kilns, resulting in widespread deforestation. The Smelter Historic Wayside north of Salida describes the 365’ smokestack on the site of the Ohio and Colorado Smelting and Refining Company, which employed up to 450 before World War I.
The 1878 Madonna Mine, once a leading silver producer, stands silent after almost 100 years of silver, lead, gold and zinc production. Later the Monarch Quarry produced limestone for Colorado Fuel & Iron’s steel mills in Pueblo. This huge complex of crumbling structures is visible from the Monarch Pass Exploration Route below Monarch Pass, and may be toured today.
CHALK CREEK MINING DISTRICT
St. Elmo and its satellite towns of Iron City, Romley, Hancock and Alpine served the Chalk Creek mining district. The Mary Murphy Mine, discovered in 1870, was the area’s biggest producer of silver and gold, with a 4,996’ tramway down to its mill below the Denver, South Park & Pacific RR and The Morley Bridge. Nearby, the collapsed Allie Belle Tipple loading bin is a photographers’ favorite subject along the Chalk Creek Canyon Exploration Route.
East of the river from Buena Vista, Midland Hill (also known as Freegold Hill) was dotted with smaller gold mines. Its most famous prospector, Mrs. Mallen, lived there and worked her numerous claims in the 1880s.
In the Arkansas Hills near Turret the Gold Bug Mine caused much excitement. But iron, copper, granite, mica and other minerals proved more rewarding. The Calumet mine complex was the richest iron source in Colorado. The nearby M&S Quarry produced sodaspar for hardening glass until 1962 and is now filled with water. High quality pink granite from the Salida Granite Co. formed the 1927 Mormon Battalion Monument in Salt Lake City. Some photogenic mining remains are visible from the Aspen Ridge Exploration Route that begins on Ute Trail from Salida.
MT. ANTERO & RUBY MTN. MINERALOGICAL AREAS
Mt. Antero and Ruby Mountain mineralogical areas are renowned for gem quality minerals that include topaz, garnet, smoky quartz and obsidian. Significant deposits of Colorado aquamarine, the state gemstone, are found on Mt. Antero.
Every summer Buena Vista hosts one of the Triple Crown Burro Races, Colorado’s indigenous sport celebrating the hardy burros’ contribution to the our mining heritage. Each competitor runs the 12-mile course through Fourmile Area with a burro packed with 33 pounds of mining gear, including a pick, gold pan and shovel.