Colorado Gold

It’s been a challenging couple of months. Nothing Earth-shattering, just breakthrough COVID and a new job and life’s usual stressors. I’m thinking about a new blog site, but I don’t have the bandwidth for a launch just yet. And today’s topic is travel-related, so it works here.

I took a day away from my new job to attend a meeting with colleagues from my old (and now supplementary) job. We enjoy each other’s company, so a social event was scheduled in advance of the meeting day. Being generally geeky teachers of the gifted, it involved learning (as well as eating and drinking).

The Argo Mine is located in Idaho Springs, Colorado. It is visible from Interstate 70. I would not even want to guess how many times I have driven past it over the last 30+ years in Colorado. It may be a failure of my usually overactive curiosity that I never thought much about it. Oh yeah, another (probably) abandoned mine in the Colorado mountains…

In fact, the Argo (formerly Newhouse) Tunnel was built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to drain and access gold mines between Idaho Springs and Central City. It was perfectly sloped to allow for both mine-water drainage and downhill transit of loaded ore carts. It functioned until a catastrophic wall failure between the tunnel and a flooded mine in 1943. As gold mining had also been shut down to focus on mining efforts (other than gold) for World War II, the tunnel did not reopen at that time or since.

The first part of the tour focused on the mill, which processed the lower-value ores.

Higher-quality ores were sent directly to Denver for smelting, and we also saw the facility where ore carts were dumped into waiting train cars.

Working conditions in the mill were, as one might expect, fairly inhumane. We were a bit skeptical of some of the “facts” dispensed by our tour guide, however, who was leading his first tour. According to him, all miners were “dudes” and the bracelet on his ankle was a result of “bad choices” (one of the children on the tour asked 🙂).

Since 2017, tours have also visited the tunnel entrance. This requires a hard hat, which I hope they cleaned between tours (this was not clear).

I was oddly excited to see the water since draining from the tunnel. I had studied acid mine drainage in my time as a chemist and chemistry teacher, but it had been a fairly abstract idea. This was decidedly real.

The Environmental Protection Agency built a water-treatment facility here in 1998 (let’s not think too much about what happened between 1943 and 1998, shall we?), so the tunnel is both a tourist attraction AND a Superfund site.

After the mill and tunnel tour, we were offered the opportunity to “pan for gold.” Our group of middle-aged teachers declined. (We were more interested in social time at the pizza parlor adjacent to our hotel.) If you have never seen a gold mine/mill/tunnel and find yourself in Idaho Springs, the tour could be worth an hour of your time and the $25 fee. Otherwise, you might want to hold out for the mine tour in Silverton, which another colleague rates as very good.

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