Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Have you ever been inside an underground mine? We had the opportunity to do this last month on our vacation in Colorado. The Old Hundred Gold Mine is located near Silverton, a Victorian mining town in the southwestern part of the state. If you ever have the chance to visit, I think you would enjoy it a lot. Old Hundred, supposedly named for a German hymn, once contained a thick vein of gold within Galena Mountain. Founded in 1872 by three brothers from Germany, the Neigolds, the mine was very productive for decades and made the Neigolds rich. Silverton was a bustling little mining community for quite a while.
At the mine site, located at the end of a long gravel road (the pavement ends about two miles before the mine), there is now a small building where the tour starts, with a real mine train car out back, for entering the mine. Everyone puts on a yellow rain slicker and a hard hat for protection inside the mine. It's cold down there, about 48 degrees all the time, and very damp, so a sweater is a good idea too. You pay the admission price, then you board the mine train, driven by your tour guide (all are retired miners), and it heads into the mountain on the original old track. It's dark as night in the mine, as you might expect, with light bulbs strung up here and there. Water runs down the rocks, leaving colorful mineral deposits. Copper, silver and lead were mined here in addition to gold.
When you're inside the mine, you're actually standing where the vein of gold used to be - they mined every last bit of it, leaving behind a winding tunnel. You have to watch your step to avoid the water flowing across the floor and along the sides of the footpath. Almost immediately, you'll feel grateful for the slicker and the hard hat. Everything about the tour is intriguing. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and experienced; he had many interesting stories to tell and he demonstrated the use of several different kinds of mining equipment. The small Bears were able to try a few things, like pushing down the plunger on an old dynamite detonator. I especially enjoyed seeing the elevator and emergency equipment, as well as the artifacts of mining life - lanterns, lunchboxes, discarded bottles and tins. In our tour group, there were some people who knew a lot about mining and the discussions were fascinating.
The tour lasts about 45 minutes before the group boards the train and it zips back out again. Then you're on your own, to pan for gold or to walk around the site. We chose the latter, walking out behind the building to look up at Galena Mountain, where you can still see the miners' boardinghouse, located 2,000 feet up the side of the mountain face (the men rode a tram to get up and down). There's an old mine train out there, which you're free to climb on. The site overlooks a ravine with a rushing creek at the bottom. There is nothing but mountains and trees as far as you can see, green and more green. It's a bit sad - the gold ran out, dreams died - but people once flocked here and some saw their fortunes made. It's hard to imagine the industry of it all now, but the abandoned boardinghouse is a good reminder. When you drive back down to Silverton, along the gravel road lined with clutches of columbine, you feel like you've experienced a secret slice of history.