Cover Story / Culture

COVER: Mine tours, museums safe way to discover what’s below surface


Phoenix Mine – Photo by Jeffrey V. Smith

Mining is a vital part of our region of the state’s history. It’s where the some of the earliest and most substantial gold discoveries were made and why most of the towns in the area were founded. Those wanting to learn more about the region’s mining history, don’t have to dig very deep. Mine tours and museums—found in several high-country towns in Clear Creek, Gilpin and Boulder counties—allow visitors to look below the surface into local history as well as see how equipment worked, spot mineral veins, pan or dig for gold and learn about mining characters. Colorado’s mines tell the stories of its early settlers and of the origins of the state itself.

While hundreds of abandoned mines exist throughout the region, it is never safe to explore them on your own. Most are on private property and hazards like unstable soil, unsafe roofs and ladders, deadly gases, poisonous snakes and dangerous explosives always exist. The many tourist mines and museums offer safe experiences with knowledgeable professionals who will outfit you with the proper gear and teach more than you could ever learn by yourself, plus, the experiences are one-of-a-kind.

ARGO Mill & Mine Tour – Idaho Springs
The Argo Gold Mine and Mill is a former mining and milling property consisting of a gold mine, gold mill and historic ARGO Tunnel. The tunnel was built between 1893 and 1910 to drain the gold mines in Virginia Canyon, Russell Gulch, Quartz Hill, Nevadaville, and Central City and allow easier ore removal. When completed, it was the largest mill of its type in the world and processed more than $100 million of gold.

Tours of the ARGO include a history video, demonstration of mining equipment, tour of the Double Eagle ore mine and tour of the five-story mill. A gold panning lesson follows.

The attraction is open Wednesday-Monday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The first tour is at 10 a.m. and the last is at 4 p.m. Beginning Oct. 19, it will also be closed on Wednesdays. Starting on Nov. 7, the site will be open Thursday-Monday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The first tour is at 11 a.m. and the last is at 2 p.m.

Coeur d’Alene Mine Shaft House – Central City
The Coeur d’Alene Mine Shaft House serves as a reminder of Gilpin County’s mining heritage. Developed in 1885, the Coeur d’Alene produced ore into the 1940s. Tours of the building, which is perched on the brow of Academy Hill, allow visitors to see antique mining equipment, the inner workings of a mine shaft house, and panoramic views of Central City and Black Hawk. Tours by the Gilpin County Historical Society are available Labor Day-Memorial Day weekend.

Edgar Mine – Colorado School of Mines
The Edgar Mine, known as Colorado School of Mines’ Experimental Mine, produced high-grade silver, gold, lead and copper in the late 1870s. Today, as an underground laboratory for future engineers, it produces valuable experience for those who are being trained in mining. The Edgar Mine is open for public tours for a small fee. Public hours vary and tours must be booked in advance.

Georgetown Loop Railroad/Mine Tours
The Georgetown Loop Railroad was one of Colorado’s first visitor attractions. Completed in 1884, this spectacular stretch of three-foot narrow gauge railroad was considered an engineering marvel for its time. From May-September, visitors can enhance their train ride with an optional tour of a mine.

The Lebanon Silver Mine tour goes 500 feet into a mine tunnel bored in the 1870s. Guides point out rich veins of silver and explain early-day mining. An extended tour goes into the newly re-opened southwest Lebanon access tunnel more than 900 feet into Leavenworth Mountain.

The Everett Mine tour gives visitors a sense of a mine when it was brand new and in operation in the late 1880s. Guests also pan for gold, and can take home everything they find.

Although the train continues to run, mine tours are available May-September.


Hidee Mine gold panning – Photo by Jeffrey V. Smith

Hidee Mine – Central City
Visitors to the Hidee Mine are invited to chip away at a gold vein and keep what they find, providing a hands-on understanding of the grueling work undertaken by the hard-rock miners. The Hidee Gold Mine sits in the heart of the Glory Hole Area, reputed to be the richest square mile on Earth. Tours last 90 minutes, half of which is spent about 135 feet below ground. Extra time is needed to enjoy gold panning, the historic sites, the gift shop or lunch outside the mine. The mine tour was recently chosen by readers of USA Today as one of the 10 best underground attractions in the country.

Tours run daily, 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m., on the hour all year, weather dependant.

Idaho Springs Heritage Museum/Visitor Center
The Heritage Visitor Center in Idaho Springs features a free, fun and informative museum full of unique exhibits of the area’s mining history, early life, and the important role it played in establishing not only Idaho Springs, but the state of Colorado itself. Learn who first discovered gold here, how the gold was found and the impact of that discovery. It is open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

assayofficemuseum James F. Bailey Assay Office Museum – Wallstreet
The Assay Office Museum contains many tools and implements used in the assaying process, as well as furniture and artwork owned by the Bailey family. The assay office where prospectors took ore samples to find out whether or not they had potentially “struck it rich.” The free museum in Four Mile Canyon is open the third Saturday of the month from April through October from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

nederlandminingmuseumNederland Mining Museum
The Nederland Mining Museum displays ores and mine trams, hand and pneumatic drills, steam shovels, pictures, blacksmithing tools, maps and documents from the 1860s to the present. Walk through exhibits and learn about hard rock mining, the tungsten boom, and present-day conservation techniques. See the various “tools of the trade” and get a close-up look at the lives of the miners.

The museum is also home to a 1923 Bucyrus 50B steam shovel—used to dig the Panama Canal—whose epic move was chronicled on The History Channel’s Mega Movers.

Share coffee and dessert with the mining museum coordinator and discover the adventures and stories behind the building of mining roads and scenic byways in the area, Oct. 7 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. during “An Evening at the Museum: On the Road Again.”

The museum is open June through October, Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m-4 p.m. Admission is free. A short talk titled “Hard Rock Mining, Hard Work” begins at 1:30 p.m. during visiting hours. Learn the stories behind hard rocking mining and watch an original stamp mill crush ore.

Phoenix Mine – Idaho Springs
The Phoenix mine, originally discovered in 1871, is operated by Al and Dave Mosch, members of the oldest continuous gold-mining family in Colorado. Included in the admission price is a guided tour of the mine and its “lucky bucket” and plenty of mining stories. Gold panning and lessons are also offered. The mine has been featured in National Geographic and other print media and on television shows including Ghost Hunters, Globe Trekkers and Ghost Adventures.

Mine tours are available daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mineral samples and prospecting supplies are also for sale.

School of Mines Geology Museum – Golden
The School of Mines Geology Museum, home to one of the state’s two Goodwill moon rocks collected during the Apollo 17 mission, was started in 1874 and displays mineral, fossil, gemstone, meteorite and historic mining artifact exhibits. The museum is also the state repository for mineral heritage.

It is open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday 1-4 p.m. Identification of specimens is performed Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m.-noon. Admission is free but guided tours have a fee. Guests are requested to make reservations by phone one week in advance.

Virtual Hard Rock Mining Tour
This web-based tour explores the history of Boulder County’s hard rock mining through historical and present-day photos, videos, oral histories and an interactive map that includes mining and milling sites, and the Switzerland Trail Railroad line. The virtual tour is meant to be an introduction to hard rock mining in the county and is especially aimed toward beginners like researchers, students, teachers and tourists.

Front Range Mine Tours

ARGO Mill & Mine Tour
2350 Riverside Dr., Idaho Springs
303-567-2421 •

Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum
1310 Maple St., Golden
303-273-3815 •

Coeur d’Alene Mine Shaft House
Academy Street, Central City
303-582-5283 •

Edgar Mine – Colorado School of Mines
8th Avenue, Idaho Springs
303-567-2911 •

Georgetown Loop Railroad/Mine Tours
646 Loop Dr., Georgetown
888-456-6777 •

Hidee Mine
1950 Hidee Mine Road, Central City
720-548-0343 •

 James F. Bailey Assay Office Museum
6352 Fourmile Canyon Dr., Wallstreet
303-678-6200 •

 Nederland Mining Museum
200 N. Bridge St., Nederland
303-678-6200 •

Phoenix Mine
Trail Creek Road, Idaho Springs
303-567-0422 •

Virtual Hard Rock Mining Tour

Originally published in the October 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly


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