Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Make new friends, they are silver and gold
The state’s mineral wealth is legendary.
According to WesternMiningHistory.com, Colorado ranks second among the gold-producing states. Nearly 75 percent of the nation’s all-time gold production yields occurred in only five states. In order of dominance, those states are California, Colorado, South Dakota, Alaska and Nevada.
“Since 1859, Colorado Mines have produced about 45 million ounces of Gold,” says the Mineral Information Institute (MII). “Colorado’s largest gold discovery was the Cripple Creek district in 1893. This one district alone produced over 22 million ounces of gold. The Cripple Creek district contains the sole remaining gold mine in Colorado with an estimated annual production of 240,000 ounces in 2000.”
In addition, MII notes that Colorado is also blessed by Molybdenum, Uranium, aquamarine, rhodochrosite, beryl and even diamond gemstones.
“Diamonds were discovered in 1975. The Kelsey Lake Mine in Larimer County began commercial production in 1996 and quickly produced some outstanding gem quality diamonds -- as large as 14 and 26 carats,” says MII’s Colorado state mineral production summary.
But you must not forget about silver.
“From 1887 to 1893 Aspen was the richest silver mining area in the US. It boasted six newspapers, two banks, a water works, telephone service and the distinction of being one of the first towns in America to run on electricity,” writes Bruce Caughey and Dean Winstanley in their 1989 book, The Colorado Guide. “During this heyday, Jerome Wheeler built the Wheeler Opera House and the magnificent Aspen showpiece, the Hotel Jerome. The hotel opened on Thanksgiving eve 1889 with Aspen’s biggest social event to date. Guests came from as far away as Europe; and for perhaps the first time in their lives, miners spruced up with starched shirts, top hats – and bay rum. This soiree helped bring Aspen into the national spotlight, but the attention was short lived.”
By 1893, silver had been “demonetized” and prices for the metal fell like a rock.
“Within a week the mines had closed and people were moving out. The Smuggler II Mine on Smuggler Mountain managed to stay open for while longer, and in 1894 produced the largest silver nugget in the world weighing in at over a ton. But not even the richest Silver mine in the world could afford to stay open,” wrote Caughey and Winstanley.
The claim to being the largest silver nugget in the world is disputed but a number of big silver chunks were pulled out of Aspen mines including a 1840-pound beauty from the Mollie Gibson in 1893 and the aforementioned nugget from the Smuggler II weighing in at 2,054 pounds. The nugget from the Smuggler was 93 percent pure silver. (A 2,750 pound silver monster was reportedly pulled from a mine in Sonora, Mexico in 1821 and was later “appropriated” by the Spanish Government.)
The largest gold nugget in Colorado is claimed by folks from the Breckenridge area in the form of “Tom’s Baby.”
Tom Groves, according to lore, strolled into town one July day in 1887, cradling a 13.5-pound gold nugget, wrapped in blanket. The nugget was sent on to Denver and appeared and disappeared several times over the next 85 years, but the nugget (minus nearly five pounds) resurfaced in 1972 when the State Historical Museum discovered “Tom’s Baby” among gold specimens deposited in a Denver bank in 1926.
One other important mineral of note found in Colorado is marble.
The largest single slab of marble ever found weighed 100.8 tons and was quarried in Yule, Colorado. A portion of that slab was cut for use as the copingstone at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.