Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Notes on the Geology of Colorado Fishing

Steven Wade Veatch

A stream, as a geological agent, is one of the most powerful forces on Earth.  Many of Colorado's magnificent landscapes are the products of what streams do best—moving sediments sporadically downstream in regular cycles of erosion and deposition.  In Colorado, the Continental Divide splits streams that flow west to the Pacific Ocean from those that flow eastward to the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. The sparkling streams of Colorado not only shape the landscape but also provide great fishing.  A deeper understanding of the riparian environment and geologic processes will enhance every fishing trip.

Snowmelt gives rise to Colorado's four major river systems:  the Platte, the Arkansas, the Rio Grande, and the Colorado.  Here is a quick review of those rivers.

The South Platte begins in the high country of South Park, but when it reaches the Cheesman Canyon, south of Deckers, local geology creates some remarkable places to fish.  Granite formed in the canyon under enormous pressure several kilometers below the surface and was later exposed by regional uplift.  With the erosion of the overlying rock, the granite expanded and cracked due to the release of pressure.  Gravity now causes the rock between the cracks in the granite to break loose in concentric slabs from the underlying granite body.  This process, exfoliation, results in the rounded nature of the granite outcrops in the canyon.

Granite boulders, slabs, and gravel form bars across the South Platte that dissipate the energy of the flow, producing areas of calm water and deep pools in Cheesman Canyon.  Willows grow along the banks while aspens and spruce trees grow tall, providing shade for brown trout.  Because browns are very selective in what they eat, they are hard to catch and grow to a large size.  Anglers on this river frequently use small flies, especially the pheasant-tail fly.

The Arkansas River starts in the mountains near Leadville and Tennessee Pass and flows south and east to merge with the Mississippi in the state of Arkansas.  After spring runoff has reworked sand and gravel bars, fresh gold placers can be panned on the upper reaches of the Arkansas.  As the Arkansas River flows by the Texas Creek recreation area on its way to the Royal Gorge, brown trout can be caught with caddis flies.  The Texas Creek area is also noted for deposits of rose quartz associated with pegmatite (coarsely crystalline) granite that intruded into metamorphic rocks.

The Rio Grande River has its headwaters in the San Juan Mountains and flows through New Mexico on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.  Near Creede, at Wagon Wheel Gap, the Rio Grande offers excellent fishing for browns, brooks, rainbows, and cutthroats using a prince nymph.  Cutthroat trout like slow pools that are just opposite large granite boulders.  There are several geothermal springs in the area, and excellent specimens of fluorite occur nearby.

The Colorado River drains the western slope of the Continental Divide and empties into the Gulf of California.  The major tributaries of the Colorado River are the San Juan, White, Yampa, and Gunnison Rivers.

The Gunnison River began downcutting into the Earth after a period of regional uplift 28 million years ago.  Today steep Precambrian gneiss (metamorphic rock) walls, with pink pegmatite dikes filling cracks and fissures, rise thousands of feet above the Gunnison River in the Black Canyon.  Geological processes here have produced the best fishing spot in the state.  It is the only place in Colorado where browns and rainbows grow to 16 inches in just four years.  Anglers in this area commonly use big nymphs.

A view of the Gunnison River running through 
the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Photo used 
by permission under a Creative Commons License. 

Geologic processes have created 1,800 lakes above 9,000 feet in elevation in Colorado.  Many of these high-country lakes, called tarns, occupy the bottoms of amphitheater-shaped cirques where glaciers eroded into the mountain.  If there are enough insects to eat and the lake is deep enough for the fish to winter, there will be a population of trout.

Maroon Lake, at the foot of snow-striped Maroon Bells, 
is one of many Colorado lakes where great fishing awaits.  
Photo © S. W. Veatch.

Trout are not always easy to catch in high lakes as they feed along the edges and can be easily spooked.  Brook trout—commonly found in high country lakes, beaver ponds, and small creeks—tend to be small because they reproduce rapidly and surpass their food supply.

Trout like to cruise most of the 11,300 miles of streams in Colorado, and if anglers consider the rock and understand the role that geology plays in fishing, they have an advantage for catching trout. It is “gneiss” to know that fishing and geology can't be taken for “granite.”

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Stegosaurus: Colorado’s State Fossil

By Destin Bogart, guest blogger

As the state dinosaur of Colorado and one of the most iconic members of Dinosauria, Stegosaurus has earned this spot due to its fascinating history and its large number of fossil remains that allow paleontologists to understand more about Stegosaurus than other dinosaur genera that have a more fragmentary fossil record.

The first remains of Stegosaurus were uncovered during a period in the late 1870s known as, “The Bone Wars,” which intensified the collection efforts between two rival paleontologists—Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope. Marsh initially discovered Stegosaurus in 1877 near Morrison, Colorado. Marsh first thought those remains belonged to a turtle-like animal, but soon revised this finding as more Stegosaurus fossils were unearthed.

O.C. Marsh's 1891 illustration of Stegosaurus ungulatus
Paleontologists now place the arrangement of the back 
plates in two alternating rows and oriented vertically. 
Copyright: public domain.
The largest Stegosaurus could stand four meters (12 feet) high at the tallest back plate and could reach lengths of up to nine meters (~30 feet). But the size alone is not what sets Stegosaurus apart from the other animals it shared its ecosystem with; rather the plates that line the spine of Stegosaurus make this dinosaur recognizable to everyone. Yet the plates remain an enigma; paleontologists have put forth many theories regarding how the plates are positioned. When Othniel Marsh first found the remains, he thought the plates lay flat against the body like the armor of a Pangolin (looks like a scaly anteater).

Through the years, paleontologists have refined the theory regarding the exact configuration of these plates, which went from two lines of identical plates on the back, to one row of plates that alternate. Scientists now place the arrangement of the back plates in two alternating rows and oriented vertically.

Stegosaurus stenops from the Late Jurassic of North America, 
pencil drawing by Nobu Tamura. Copywrite: Image license through the 
courtesy of Creative Commons.
What these plates were used for is still up for debate and has remained so since the animal’s discovery. Robert Bakker, a world-renowned paleontologist and curator of the Houston Museum of Nature and Science, speculates the plates of Stegosaurus were the inside, or core, of a bigger plate made of keratinous material. Bakker also suggests these plates were semi-movable and the animal used them as a defense, splaying them out to the sides to deter predators from coming too close. Other scientists have claimed the back plates were used to attract a mate or to control body temperature.

Even if the plates of Stegosaurus were not used for defense, Stegosaurus carried with it four spike-like osteoderms (bone embedded in the skin) on the end of its tail. These spikes (informally called thagomizers) bent out to the sides and backward and were likely an incredible defense against many large predators of the Morrison Formation. 

In 2014, Robert Bakker found a large open hole in the lower-front portion of the pelvis of a mounted Allosaurus skeleton at the Glenrock Paleontological Museum. The hole fits the tail spike of a Stegosaurus. This is evidence of just how formidable the tail of a Stegosaurus was as a defensive weapon when it struck the crotch of an Allosaurus. Evidence suggests bacteria, broken bone, and other debris remained in the wound, causing an infection that eventually killed the animal. According to Robert Bakker, “A massive infection ate away a baseball-sized sector of the bone, probably this infection spread upwards into the soft tissue attached here, the thigh muscles and adjacent intestines and reproductive organs.” 

The brain of Stegosaurus, although not quite walnut-sized, was unusually small compared to its body mass. So far, Stegosaurs claims the smallest brain size to body mass of any other dinosaur. This small brain presented a problem—how could it survive without more intelligence? It seems the large plates on its back and the spikes of its thagomizer were keys to its survival against predators. Also, Stegosaurs behavior played a role. Paleontologist Matthew Mossbrucker discovered in 2007, footprints of adult, juvenile, and hatchling specimens in the Morrison Formation that suggest Stegosaurs stayed together in small groups, most likely for protection against predators. 

Stegosaurus is the rhinoceros of the Late Jurassic as it was both an herbivore and highly dangerous to anything it perceived as a threat. Stegosaurus died out near the end of the Jurassic, leaving only fossils and footprints as a reminder of its existence. However, paleontologists can, using fossils and a little bit of educated guesswork, begin to understand how this animal behaved, how it lived, and how it died.

Author’s Bio: Destin Bogart is 16 years old and ever since he can remember he has had a passion for paleontology. He is an Earth Science Scholar with the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society and is a junior IB World Student at Pueblo West High School. Destin is planning a career in vertebrate paleobiology.


Castro, Joseph. "Stegosaurus: Bony Plates & Tiny Brain." LiveScience. Purch, 08 Dec. 2014. Web. 18 June 2015.

Holtz, Thomas R. Jr. (2012) Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages, Winter 2011 Appendix.

Lambert, D (1993). The Ultimate Dinosaur Book. Dorling Kindersley, New York. pp. 110–29. ISBN 1-56458-304-X.

Carpenter, K (1998). "Armor of Stegosaurus stenops, and the taphonomic history of a new specimen from Garden Park Colorado". The Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation: An Interdisciplinary Study. Part 1. Modern Geol. 22. pp. 127–44.

Carpenter, K and Galton PM (2001). "Othniel Charles Marsh and the Eight-Spiked Stegosaurus". in Carpenter, Kenneth. The Armored Dinosaurs. Indiana University Press. pp. 76–102. ISBN 0-253-33964-

Pastino, Blake De. "Allosaurus Died from Stegosaur Spike to the Crotch, Wyoming Fossil Shows." Western Digs. Western Digs, 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 June 2015.
"Stegosaurus; Colorado State Fossil." State Symbols USA. STATE SYMBOLS USA, n.d. Web. 21 June 2015.

Jacobson, Rebecca. "First Steps of a Baby Stegosaurus, Captured in 3-D." PBS. PBS, 16 July 2014. Web. 22 June 2015.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Shadowgee

By Steven Wade Veatch
During the school-free months of summer my mother, brother, and grandfather stayed at our cabins in the mountains north of Divide, Colorado.  Mother’s cabin was next to my grandfather’s cabin. These were simple times where we passed the summer days with pleasant recreations. This was a time where relationships and memories were made—a time when my life was shaped. The two cabins marked some of the most memorable scenes of my boyhood.
Sunrise in the mountains. Watercolor © by S. W. Veatch

There were no malls or shopping centers, only a simple country grocery store six miles away. There were no toney, high-end country clubs; instead we went to the Divide Community club, which was built during the Great Depression, for a weekly diversion of bingo or a dance that alternated each Saturday with the bingo game. The mountain folks referred to the dance as “goin’ to the fights” as some of the rowdy cowboys liked to throw down and mix it up out back during the dances.
At our cabin I would stay up late and read. Before turning in for the night I would go out on the porch and look at my grandfather’s window to see if his bedroom light was on. It always was on—he would read into the dark and quiet hours of the night.  He liked to read, he liked words and working with words. I got that from him.
On this particular summer morning I got up at daybreak and looked out the window of our cabin to see welcoming smoke coming out of my grandfather’s chimney. I ran down the porch steps to start a morning with my grandfather—my mother and my brother would soon follow.
While my grandfather made breakfast I watched the meadow, forest, marsh, and granite rocks through his kitchen window. The July meadow grass waved rhythmically from wind while the wildflowers painted a splash of purple along the edge of the meadow. A chipmunk sat on a weathered stump and worried a seed.
After our breakfast of pancakes with Mickey Mouse ears, Log Cabin syrup poured from a tin, bacon, and orange Tang we eased into the main cabin room. The burning pine crackled, popped, and hissed in the Ben Franklin fireplace.  Angry red embers warmed the room. The calming aroma of the burning wood filled the cabin while the morning sunlight streamed through the windows where light, skipping off little specs of dust, created pinpoints of reflected light.
I curled into the couch and my grandfather relaxed next to me in an easy chair. He put a mug of black coffee on an old wooden barrel with a round top painted a deep red. Old liquor bottle labels, covered with clear shellac, decorated the top. He filled his pipe with Half and Half pipe tobacco, stuck a wooden match and lighted the bowl of his pipe. Soon a tendril of smoke climbed from his pipe. It was time for stories to be tossed around. I can still hear the deep, articulate, and measured sound of his voice—certain, knowing. He fired my imagination by telling erudite tales of mining days all the way back to territorial Colorado. His grandfather and father were pioneers in the windswept mining camp of Caribou in Boulder County.
Following our morning round of tales my grandfather took an old, gallon-sized Half and Half pipe tobacco can and reworked it into a lantern. He attached a wire at either end with the loop on the outside of the can. The wire stretched from end-to-end.  This made a handle and held the can on its side. Next he punched an inch-round hole on the underside of the can. Finally, he shoved a candle in the hole. The candle flame would reflect off the shiny, inside bottom of the can and shine out through the open top, creating a beam of light. Now the empty tobacco can was a makeshift candle lantern. I sat upright, engrossed. I waited with held breath and hoped that he would hand me whatever he was making. What could it be?
I said, “What the heck is that?”
Grandfather said, “It’s called a shadowgee, this is what the miners used in mining camps before flashlights. Would you like one?”
 “Heck ya!”
My grandfather reached over with the Shadowgee and handed it to me. I carefully took it from him and held it in my hands. I slowly looked it over. It felt so cool and seemed like the best thing ever made.
The shadowgee my grandfather made for me. Note how the handle is offset from the top. This way, when the lantern was carried, the candle would tilt away from the wire handle and not burn the miner’s fingers. Photo © S. W. Veatch.

View of the shadowgee in operation.  Photo © S. W. Veatch.
The empty can kept the mountain winds from blowing out the candle flame. The burning candle provided a steady light so the miner carrying it could check his corral in the dark or to see his way on a late-night trip to the outhouse. Grandfather used his shadowgee to find our two-holer outhouse at night.
The shadowgee speaks about mining life: miners were careful in spending their money; lamps and kerosene were costly; and miners were resourceful and had to improvise and use discarded tin cans as a resource, repurposing them into shadowgees or other useful artifacts.

That night, I waited to test my shadowgee. The wind quieted down so it could hear the alluring sounds of the forest. Shadows whispered across the meadows. The evening became a lingering twilight of layered crimson in the clouds. The night turned eggplant dark and the countryside calm. When the summer stars were bright it was time for me to test my shadowgee and follow the worn path to the outhouse. Out I went, into the night, shadowgee in hand. What I learned was that spending time with my grandfather was the best part of those summer days so long ago. He always had something new to show me or teach me. What I didn’t appreciate then was that his stories of living in a mining camp and the shadowgee sparked the beginning of what turned into a lifelong fascination with mining.

Today my grandfather is gone. My mother is gone too. The other day I was going through some of my mother’s boxes. I opened a cardboard box and saw a real treasure, a shadowgee—a battered tin can that was an affectionate throwback to the world of my grandfather. It brought me back, forty-nine years ago, to that moment when I first learned about the shadowgee, now a symbol of my grandfather and an intensity of life, a time of stories and where I could really relate to someone, a time before distractions of smart phones and other technology.
I know the time my grandfather spent with me enfolded me into something larger than myself. I emerged changed—nearer the person I longed to be. In this way he reshaped and repurposed my life, just like the tobacco can being made into lanterns—something better. I carefully put the shadowgee back in the box, and smiled.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Regale of France: Henry VIII’s Lost Ruby

By Steven Wade Veatch

Glittering jewels, precious metals, and religious relics—ranging from a spine from the Crown of Thorns to a twig from the Burning Bush, and sundry relics of saints—were important to all medieval monarchs as physical symbols of power, pomp, and religious expression (BBC). King Henry VIII (1491-1547) of England had one of these venerable objects— a ruby.
Figure 1. Henry VIII, The king can be seen sporting several jewels in this 1531 painting. Henry prized the French Regale, a ruby fashioned into a cabochon. It remained in Henry’s private collection until he died at the age of 55 in 1547. Image public domain.
A ruby (Al2O3) is a gemstone and a variety of the mineral corundum (aluminum oxide). It’s one of the hardest minerals on Earth (9.0 on the Mohs mineral hardness scale of 10) and ranges in color from pink to blood-red. Traces of the element chromium cause the red color to bloom in rubies. The Latin word for red, ruber is the basis for its name. The other variety of gem-quality corundum is sapphire. The ruby is extremely rare and considered the king of the gemstones with its magnificent color and exceptional brilliance.

Figure 2. View of a ruby in its natural state. Note  the crystal habit of terminated tabular hexagonal prisms. Used with permission, Wilensky Fine Minerals.  
Louis VII (1120-1180) became the first King of France to visit England when he made a pilgrimage in 1179 to St. Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. He spent the night there, and made several offerings, including the “Regale,” considered the finest gem in Europe, for St. Thomas’s intercession and help in the recovery of his son from illness. Period clerics said its blood-red color commemorated the blood of Thomas Beckett, the martyr, whose shrine held the stone. A Bohemian ambassador in 1446 described the ruby as “a carbuncle [ruby] that shines at night, half the size of a hen’s egg.” A traveling Venetian wrote about the gem in 1500, that the “ruby, not larger than a thumbnail . . . is fixed at the right of the altar. The church is somewhat dark, and particularly in the spot where the shrine is placed, and when we went to see it the sun was near setting and the weather cloudy; nevertheless I saw the ruby as if I had it in my hand. They say it was given by a king of France (State Papers).” While descriptions of the size of the ruby do not match, there is no question this gem was exceptional in size and beauty.

By the time Henry VIII dissolved monasteries in England (between 1536 and 1541), he became aware of the gemstone and longed to possess its radiant beauty. In 1540, Henry VIII ordered the shrine demolished. From that rubble, the ruby mysteriously appeared in the king’s Royal Treasury. A rare document describes the event, the “Royal Commission for the destruction of shrines, under Dr. John Layton and a strong military guard, arrived at Canterbury to carry out the work of sacrilege. The spoil of jewels and gold of the shrine were carried off in two coffers on the shoulders of eight men, while twenty-six carts were employed to remove the accumulated offerings to God and St. Thomas, and the noted Regale of France was mounted in Henry’s thumb ring (Wall, 1905).”

At Henry VIII’s death in 1547, an inventory of his property was taken, and the Regale doesn’t appear in that document. Edward VI, just like his father, was very fond of jewels and would likely inherit it, but there are no records of it during his reign. The precious ruby quietly disappears from history, forever. Today its whereabouts are unknown.

Figure 3. Formal portrait Edward VI (1537-1553) in his early teens. Edward was King of England from 1547 until his death at the age of 15. He is the son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Image public domain.
Many questions surround the Regale: Did it end up back in France? Was it the size of a thumb or as big as a hen's egg? Did King Henry order the jewel placed in his royal coffin, or was it secreted away by an attendant? Some thought that the gem was buried with Henry, especially George IV (1762-1830).  Notes and Queries (1863) reports that “With respect to the large carbuncle of diamond [ruby] given by Louis VII, which is said to have been worn by King Henry VIII in his thumb-ring, it was probably buried with him . . . . George IV, when Prince Regent, having ordered the tomb of Henry [VIII] to be opened, and the coffin searched for some ring, which he supposed were still to be found therein . . . Nothing however, was found expect some large bones.”

Since the Regale became widely known in 1179, it has been coveted by many people. It was last seen being worn by the Henry VIII of England. Since then the march of time has continued on and years have become centuries—cloaking the ruby with the dark veil of the past. The ultimate fate of Henry’s favorite gem remains unknown.

References Cited:

BBC - A History of the World - About: Transcripts - Episode 66 - Holy Thorn Reliquary. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/about/transcripts/episode66/

Notes and Queries, Jul-Dec 1863. Mocavo, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

State Papers (ed. 1830), Part II, p. 583. Polydore Vergil, Relation (Camden Society, 30).

Wall, J. Charles, 1905.Chapter Four: Prelates and Priests, Shrines of British Saints, Metheun & Co., London. 


By Steven Wade Veatch

Steamboat Rock and Balanced Rock are well-known tourist attractions in the heart of the Garden of the Gods. These iconic rocks were once privately owned, but today they are part of Colorado Springs’ famous city park.

Steamboat Rock once had steps carved into the rock that went to its top. Tourists eagerly climbed up to the observatory to view the beautiful geological wonders. Balanced Rock, the 700-ton attraction has—for millions years—withstood the inexorable forces of nature, including wind, cycles of freezing and thawing, earthquakes, and relentless erosion. Both scenic rocks are eroded sections of the Fountain Formation, a sandstone composed of unsorted sand and pebbles of many sizes that were washed down from the Ancestral Rocky Mountains.
Figure 1. Early photograph of tourists visiting Balanced Rock (R) and Steamboat Rock (L). In this undated photo a man is enjoying the natural beauty of the area with three female companions in a horse-drawn buggy. Curt Goerke, a 14-year-old entrepreneur, began taking photos of tourists in front of the rocks in the 1890s, selling them each for 25 cents. Photo from the collection of S.W. Veatch.

Figure 2. This view of Steamboat Rock, on a postcard, was taken  about 40 years later than the image in figure 1. Few changes are noted in the physical condition of Steamboat rock. A sign read, “Steamboat Rock Observatory. Use of the telescopes free to visitors. All welcome.” Photo from the collection of S.W. Veatch.
The Fountain Formation began to form long before the dinosaurs roamed Colorado.  A rapid mountain uplift, known as the Colorado Orogeny, began 300 million years ago that produced an ancestral range of Rocky Mountains.  Rain and intense thunderstorms produced torrents of water with enough energy to move rock, ranging in size from tiny grains to large clasts.  These eroded sediments—from the Ancestral Rockies nearby to the west—piled up at the base of these ancient mountains as gravels and formed the Fountain Formation.  This rock unit, up to 4,500 feet thick, has a deep red color from the chemical alteration of iron minerals.  The rock fragments in the Fountain Formation are angular indicating the fragments were not deposited far from their sour

A number of the Garden of the God’s landmarks, including Steamboat Rock and Balanced Rock, were shaped by erosion.  Erosion continues today.
About the author: Steven Veatch is a writer and geoscientist. His family came to the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining District in the early 1890s where they mined for almost more than three decades. The other side of his family mined in the Caribou District in Boulder County, Colorado. Veatch lives next to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.

Friday, December 11, 2015


By Steven Wade Veatch
In 2010 Steven Veatch, a member of the Lake George Gem and Mineral Club, organized several of its members to clean and organize the mineral collection at the Cripple Creek District Museum. They did this once each year. After a few years of working on this historic collection, Veatch became aware that a more serious and sustained approach was needed to care for this collection.

Steven Veatch in front of the Cripple Creek District Museum. 
Veatch is retired from public service and a geoscientist. Photo © S. W. Veatch

Veatch wrote for and obtained a grant in 2012 from the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company for the funds to purchase curatorial equipment, including archival paints, pens, solvents, and an ultrasonic cleaner. 

A plaque announces the help provided by CC&V to make this project a success. 
Photo © S. W. Veatch

Veatch recruited Bob Carnein, a retired professor of geology, and John Rakowski, a retired petroleum geologist to help him label and record each specimen in the museum’s database. This group, who volunteers their time, continues to meet on selected Tuesdays at the museum to continue their work. Dr. Bob Carnein photographs each specimen, views each specimen under a microscope, and identifies it. John Rakowski is the general factotum ensuring that each session is a success.

This is the photographic set up used in the project. Photo © S. W. Veatch

Dr. Carnein preparing to photograph a specimen.
Photo © S. W. Veatch

A microscope is used as an aid in the identification of the specimens.
Some specimens are photographed through the microscope.
Photo © S. W. Veatch

Photomicrograph of sylvanite, a gold telluride mineral. Photo © S. W. Veatch

Photomicrograph of sylvanite in quartz. Photo © S. W. Veatch

specimen of gold ore that has been roasted. Gold has bubbled 
up on the surface. Photo © S. W. Veatch

A unique identifying number is placed on each specimen to that 
all of the data recorded with it is easily retrievable in the museum’s database. 
Photo © S. W. Veatch

For the past two years the Pikes Peak Pebble Pups, the junior members of the Lake George Gem Club and the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society, assist on some of these work days at the museum where they learn curatorial work. The director of the museum provides each Pebble Pup a certificate of training. This certificate documents the valuable job skills they learned for the day.

Jenna Salvat is a junior member of the 
Pikes Peak Pebble Pups and is spending
 a day working on the project. Photo © S. W. Veatch

Jenna is working with a microscope to 
help identify a specimen.  Photo © S. W. Veatch

Jenna Salvat is receiving her certificate of training 
rom the museum director. Photo © S. W. Veatch

This effort is important as it documents the historic mineral collection of the World’s Greatest Gold Camp. Each specimen is photographed, dusted, identified by the three earth scientists, and given a unique collection number. All of this information is recorded in the museum database.  Not only does this improve the condition of the collection, but it makes the collection scientifically.  This project is still continuing.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining District: A Sense of Place

By Steven Wade Veatch

No one really stays the same in life; our experiences shape us. Places change us. For me, a place, the Cripple Creek Mining District, influenced my life and made significant changes in me. I remember childhood days going to Cripple Creek, my mind spiked with curiosity and a sense of fascination, and with wide eyes marveling at the tall head frames marking where mining took place in the late 19th century. Over the many decades that followed I developed a strong bond to Cripple Creek where a true sense of place developed through a growing knowledge of the history, its legends, it geology.  
Memories of rock hunting, attending Victorian melodrama, and exploring the landscape make this place special. I learned to play the bluegrass song Cripple Creek from memory on my guitar and pursued a master’s degree in Earth Science. These things anchored me to the gold camp while shaping my mind and my life.

A mining scene in the Cripple Creek  Mining District.
Original watercolor art by Steven Wade Veatch.

The decades blend and blur, but the story of dreams, desires, and building a mining district in the sleepy hills next to the quiet granite of Pikes Peak remains compelling. The Cripple Creek Mining District lies on the southwestern side of 14,115-foot-high Pikes Peak in southern Colorado. Bob Womack, a ranch hand and itinerant prospector, discovered gold in late October,1890 that all of the other prospectors missed. His discovery sparked a rush of prospectors into to the area under a quiet sky. Soon low-grade ore deposits in unyielding igneous rocks led to the unearthing of rich veins of gold. Miners spread across the district and dug fortunes out the six-square-mile bowl of gold. The high concentrations of gold telluride minerals made this place like no other in North America. The area soon became known as the World’s Greatest Gold Camp.

Cripple Creek, looking northeast. The partly wooded knob on the left is Rhyolite Mountain.
Just beyond the town are Mineral and Carbonate hills and in the background is Pikes Peak. Teller County, Colorado. September 181903, plate 4-B in U.S. Geological Survey. Professional paper 54. 1906d 
The nationwide Silver Panic of 1893 and with it tough economic times made people consider how their whole lives could turn out to be nothing with an endless supply of extraordinary ordinariness. Cripple Creek made a difference: a golden beacon of promise shone across the nation from Cripple Creek as newspapers carried exciting stories of gold. Cripple Creek brought the nation new hope. This state of affairs brought thousands of out-of-work men, fortune seekers, and fortune makers who poured into the gold camp searching for work, wealth, and wonder. Together the miners, mine owners, merchants and all the people of the mining district consumed life at a fever pitch. The gold rush to Cripple Creek forever changed the landscape where mountain men once explored and the Ute Indians roamed.
Cripple Creek sprawled around the base of Mount Pisgah where grassy hills, dotted with wildflowers, became an instant city of tents and log cabins. The wind buzzed as it passed the corners of the cabins while the sun rose over the goldfields. Soon lumbermen built sawmills that produced a supply of sawn boards for the well-to-do townspeople who built large, two- or three-story frame houses. In this brawling, raucous, free-for-all mining camp food was expensive, water scarce, and whiskey plentiful.

Cripple Creek, looking west from Gold Hill. The Midget and Conundrum mines are in the foreground and Mount Pisgah is in the background. Teller County, Colorado. October 3, 1903,
plate 4-A in U.S. Geological Colorado Professional Paper 54. 1906.
By 1900, 500 mines had been located and more than a dozen towns established—including Cripple Creek, Victor, Altman, Independence, Elkton, Anaconda, Arequa, Lawrence, Cameron, Mound City, Goldfield, and Gillett.  Many of the gold mines were located either in or near the City of Victor. During that peak year 8,000 miners produced more than 878,000 ounces of gold. A number of the mines were well capitalized business operations with large payrolls. The Portland Mine boasted 700 workers who worked for $3 a day in wages. The district continued its growth despite several horrific fires and major labor conflicts in 1894. Then in 1903 through 1904 labor strife surfaced againwhen anger gloomed like a darkness, scores of men were killed, and 225 miners sent packing out of the district.

Bull cliff and town of Independence, Vindicator mine to right. Teller County, Colorado.
October 7, 1903, plate 25-B in U.S. Geological Survey. Professional paper 54. 1906
The district’s population in 1900 climbed to 50,000 people served by hotels, restaurants, lawyers, and brokerage houses. A number of assay offices, overflowing with lab equipment, operated in the district. Bankers had long lunches with mine owners in restaurants graced with china plates, white napkins, and sparkling glasses. Children attended crowded schools, and newspapers printed the headlines of the day. Busy mining men took time out for a drink of whiskey in saloons; business was brisk at dance halls, pool halls, and theaters. A notorious red-light district on Meyers Avenue sprang to life each evening when the sun slid behind Mineral Hill.
The people who traveled to the Cripple Creek Mining District brought their institutions and customs, including fraternal organizations, band concerts, opera, theater, and religion. Sunday church services were an important part of life in the gold camp. Miners celebrated the Fourth of July with enthusiasm that included parades and games. Sporting events were a big draw in Cripple Creek with the townspeople attending boxing matches, baseball games, and firemen’s races.
As the gold camp grew, railroads linked the area to the outside and kept the district provided with food, supplies, and equipment. Teamsters drove horse- and mule-drawn wagons with creaking wagon wheels along a winding dirt road to bring in supplies while muleskinners hauled ore to local smelters.
Streets bubbled with activity from curb to curb while the pace of business filled the air with whispering motes of gold dust. Each morning the sun greeted Bennett Avenue—illuminating outdoor advertising of patent medicines painted onto the bricks of commercial buildings—and brought the promise of energy, commerce, and hope for the day.
The gold camp had its share of production problems.  The gold in Cripple Creek was unlike the gold ore in other western mining camps. Cripple Creek’s gold was locked in gold-telluride minerals.  This mineralogy required different methods of ore reduction. The chlorination process, instead of the standard stamp milling and amalgamation process, separated gold from gold-bearing minerals in its host rock.  Later in the district cyanide leaching—a more efficient process—replaced chlorination.
Water became a serious problem as underground workings deepened and hit the water table. To mitigate this issue, drainage tunnels were driven to drain the mines. The Carlton Tunnel, completed in 1941, was the longest of these drainage tunnels and drained the deepest levels of the Vindicator Mine. These tunnels of hope filled with murmuring water emptied into Fourmile Creek.
Mining precious metals from the hard rock of Cripple Creek’s gold mines contributed to the recovery of the nation after the Silver Panic and contributed to the economic development of Colorado. The Pikes Peak region’s economy boomed from the goldfields. The district created 30 millionaires from its large and famous mines. Winfield Scott Stratton, a Colorado Springs carpenter, prospected in the hills for 15 years and struck it rich on the 4th of July 1901 when he claimed the Independence Mine. He later sold it for $11 million. Spencer Penrose and Charles Tutt sold the C. O. D. Mine to a French syndicate. Penrose used his share of the profits to build the celebrated Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs and to invest in Utah copper mining.
After WWII, most of the mines were not profitable and shut down. In 1976, Texasgulf and Golden Cycle formed a joint venture, the Cripple Creek & Victor Mining Company to restart mining in the district.  This year marked the revival of gold mining in the district. The Cresson Mine was permitted in 1994 as an open pit mine and gold production increased each year.  Through mergers and acquisitions, ownership of the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company changed. Today, the Newmont Mining Company owns the mining operations. In 2014 the company poured 266,000 ounces of gold; and in 2015 poured its five-millionth ounce.
Limited-stakes gambling, approved by the voters of Colorado in 1991, added to the resurgence of Cripple Creek. The historic brick buildings on Bennett Avenue re-energized as casinos. Today gold is mined around the clock in the goldfields again, and is changing the landscape once again. The renewed mining combined with limited-stakes gambling constitute a rebirth of the district and revitalized Cripple Creek and Victor.
When I go to the Cripple Creek and Victor Mining District, I feel the presence of grandparents and ancestors working in the mines and making a living there. I feel of the sun and shifting mountain breeze. I see the headframes and prospects that dot the land, and smell the burning coal in the steam engine that leaves from the depot next to the Cripple Creek District Museum. I sense the identity and character of the district that is valued deeply by residents.  I am connected to this place. I spend time there, and share my feelings and the stories of the unique human experiences that makes this the World’s Greatest Gold Camp.

The World’s Greatest Gold Camp has refused to fade into the mists of history, but remains the source of legend.