Deep Into a Colorado Gold Mine

With my daughter, Michelle, and grandson, Ross, I drove high up into the foothills of the Rockies to about 9,000 feet in elevation between the two old mining towns of Idaho Springs and Central City, Colorado. We noticed a sign “Gold Mine Tours” and quickly descended a winding, bumpy dirt road that led to Hidee Mine at the lower end of a small mining town with an assay office, and a big log cabin store with various minerals for sale.

Entrance to Hiden Mine

Entrance to Hidee Mine

We ambled down to the assay office to speak with a stubble-bearded guide named John, who looked a bit like a young Henry Fonda. He asked me if I was a senior citizen, to which I answered yes. He then asked me if I had served in the military, to which I said yes—the U.S. Navy during time of the building of the Berlin Wall and later the Cuban Missile Crisis—and then he gave me a double discount as he did with my young grandson, Ross. My daughter had to pay the regular tour price, the grand total of which was quite reasonable for the three of us on a one-hour tour underground.

My daughter Michelle and grandson Ross at entrance to the mine

My daughter Michelle and grandson Ross at the mine entrance

He then had us sign accident waiver forms in the remote case of injury, and gave us each a yellow raincoat and a hard hat. Others came to join the tour of a damp and chilly mine of 50°F, as opposed to the outside temperature of 85°F. We followed John into the well-lit Hidee Mine. “Why, Hidee?” I asked. He explained that the original owner of the mine had a last name that began with “D.” To distinguish between the two mines he owned, one lower, one higher, they were named Lodee and Hidee.  The miners began digging for gold here and sometimes blasting with dynamite in 1859, when Colorado was part of the Kansas Territory (Colorado gained statehood in 1876).

Inside the mine

Inside the mine

We all plodded deeper into the chilly mine, occasionally ducking our heads under wooden beams. At one point, we stopped to get a look at a small statue of a Tommyknocker—a folkloric sprite who brings luck to miners most of the time. John explained that he wasn’t superstitious at all, but one time he happened to be standing next to this Tommyknocker when a stone fell from the ceiling of the mine, only to smash its little leg. Ironically, later that day, his good friend and fellow worker fractured the same leg as the Tommyknocker statue!


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We proceeded deeper into the mine to see a sulfur vein, a tell-tale sign that gold, or silver, or copper would be present somewhere nearby. He showed us a rich vein of copper ore above our heads, but that wasn’t the objective of the Hidee Mine. The miners searched for gold by pounding holes into the hard rock in order to set explosives and then run back to safety. After the explosion, they examined pieces of rock for gold. If none was found, they repeated the process until bits of gold came into view.

Rock with gold nuggets

Rock with gold nuggets

Out came their mallets and chisels to pound into the rocky cracks in order to look further for hidden gold. With any luck, they’d strike it rich. We descended flights of stairs by some 600 vertical feet into the mine until we reached a dead end. John gave each of us a mallet and chisel, and we began to pound into cracks in the walls until a chunk of rock came loose. Sometimes the chunks sparkled with tiny golden nuggets, but most of the time the bits of rock lacked any glint of gold.unnamed

I began to feel a bit claustrophobic, but I quickly overcame it by busying myself with chiseling next to my grandson and daughter. Almost an hour seemed to vanish all too quickly 600 feet under the earth deep inside Hidee Mine. When John saw that we all had interesting bits of rock, he provided us with plastic bags to carry them into the bright sunshine of a Colorado blue sky.

It was so refreshing to smell the pungent air of a pine forest and hear western song sparrows chirping away. We thanked John and said our goodbyes after one of the more unique days of my life.


 

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