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. 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 pigeon 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:

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.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Celebrating Jurassic World with Dinosaur Raps with Jimmy Fallon


The Crystal Peak Gem Company

Steven Wade Veatch
Andy Weinzapfel

Just north of the small town of Florissant, Colorado is a prominent topographic feature shaped like an Egyptian pyramid.  Early settlers knew this as Cheop’s Pyramid or Topaz Butte. Today it appears on maps as Crystal Peak, an important geological and historical point of interest.

The geology of the Pikes Peak region is dominated by the 1.07-1.09 billion-year-old Pikes Peak batholith, a large body of once-molten rock that was likely derived from the earth’s deep mantle and injected upward to a depth of 3 miles or less below the surface.  Crystal Peak is part of this batholith (Bryant et al, 1976). The Pikes Peak Granite, extending over an area of 1200 square miles, is exposed at the surface today only because the rocks that once covered it have gradually eroded away.

A common but erroneous belief is that Crystal Peak is an old volcano.  Its pyramidal shape is actually due to differential erosion, a process whereby fine-gained granite (aplite) on the peak weathers away more slowly than the surrounding coarser grained variant.

Figure 1. View of Crystal Peak from the
 Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo © by S. W. Veatch

A number of remarkable minerals occur at and near this site in pegmatite (coarse-grained rocks of granitic composition) dikes that contain open pockets, or what geologist's call miarolitic cavities. These cavities form near the earth's crust during the cooling of the parent magma, and allow room for the growth of well-formed crystals inside the cavities (Dietrich and Skinner 1979).

Exceptional mineral specimens from the Crystal Peak area can be found in many of the best national and international museums. Most notable are greenish or greenish-blue euhedral (smooth-faced) crystals of amazonite, a relatively rare and beautiful variant of a common mineral, microcline feldspar. Feldspar, along with quartz, is a major constituent of granite, the most prevalent igneous rock found in continental mountain ranges. Smoky quartz is the black or brown variety of quartz. The color of smoky quartz is related to the small but ubiquitous amount of radioactivity that occurs in the surrounding granitic rock. Smoky quartz crystals from the area are a lustrous, opaque black.  Fluorite is a late-crystallizing mineral in pegmatite pockets. Fluorite cubes are the most common crystal habit, ranging from colorless to various shades of pale blue. Color zoning is present, and dark purple is noted along the edges of some fluorite cubes.

The Ute Indians were the first collectors of crystals from this area, used for spiritual purposes. Collectors have been working the area since the 1870s for amazonite, smoky quartz, fluorite, and other minerals (Wobus 1976, Eckel 1997). A. C. Peale, a member of the 1874 Hayden Survey, wrote about amazonite and smoky quartz crystals in the Pikes Peak region while in the area (Peale, 1873). In the 1870s, Dr. A. E. Foote of Philadelphia systematically explored the area, employing 19 men, and shipped many specimens back east.  Arthur Lakes, who accompanied Samuel Scudder of Harvard University on an early paleontological investigation of the area, sketched the first regional geologic map of the Florissant valley while sitting on Crystal Peak.

Abram Joshua Randall wrote an article in the Georgetown Centennial, February, 1876 about the gem fields of Crystal Peak. It is also one of the earliest known accounts of the Crystal Peak pegmatites (brackets in the transcribed article are used to identify clarifying additions by the authors).  The title of the article was: A Fruitful Field for the Specimen Hunter. Randall writes:

“Florissant, in El Paso County, 35 miles west of Colorado Springs, is celebrated for the great variety and abundance of geological and mineralogical specimens found in its vicinity; and it has become a noted resort for tourists passing through that portion of the Territory. . . Eight miles north-east of Florissant are the ragged peaks of the Crystal Mountains . . .  A range of rocky peaks, so named from the amount of crystals there found. In the last two years [discovery of locality circa 1874-5] many thousands of pounds have been taken out, the greater part of which have been sold in Manitou, Colorado Springs and Denver, but many have also been shipped east. The crystals formed there, are Smoky Quartz, Orthoclase, Adularia, Amazonstone, Green, Purple and White Fluor Spar, Specular Iron and also a few specimens of Amethystine Quartz, but these last are rare.

These pockets contain from a single handful to several hundred pounds of crystals. From one pocket opened last September [1875], by Mr. Anthony, about 4,000 pounds were taken. Some of the Quartz crystals are of immense size; one taken out last spring by Mr. Disbrough, was about 4-1/2 feet in length, and 10 inches in diameter at the base, and is now in [Reverend Lewis] Hamilton’s Museum, in Denver [formerly of Central City in 1869]. During the summer [of 1875], several were found from 20 to 30 inches long. 

Last Summer and Fall [of 1875] there were from 25 to 30 miners here constantly, besides some thousands of tourists and excursionists. Deer were plentiful in the neighboring hills, the scenery grand and picturesque, thus inviting the hunter as well as the curiosity seeker to spend a few days among the sylvan shades of these everlasting hills.”

In 1908, A. B. Whitmore established the Crystal Peak Gem Company north of Crystal Peak, a successful mining operation that developed mineral property.  The Crystal Peak Gem Company mined precious and semi-precious gemstones in the pegmatite cavities found on Crystal Peak. The company was incorporated in Wyoming. A company stock certificate (number 26, issued April 22, 1912) is signed by president Anna M. Saunders and Albert B. Whitmore as the secretary. Anna Saunders is listed in the 1906 Colorado Business Directory as the proprietor of Burlington House, 101 W. Masonic, Cripple Creek, Colorado. Burlington house was probably a boarding house serving the gold mining district.
Figure 2. Early photo of the Crystal Peak Gem Company’s operations on Crystal Peak. Notes on the photo: “Camp of Crystal Peak Gem Co. G. W. Weed of company on right. J.D. Endicott on left. Specimens of quartz, amazonite, etc. in shelves. Coplen Dome, a granite knob, beyond. Photo date Aug. 1913. Photo credit: U. S. Geological Survey.  

The Mining Investor, in 1911, announced the Crystal Peak Gem Company was owned large acreage in Teller County, north of Florissant and “has sent its president and general manager A.B. Whitmore and three miners to perform annual assessment work on its claims on Crystal Peak (The Mining Investor).”  The announcement continued by listing the gemstones found and that they were in demand.

According to the 1917 Biennial Report issued by the Colorado Bureau of Mines, small quantities of stones were produced by the Crystal Peak Gem Company, including amazonite, smoky quartz, clear quartz, topaz and phenakite. Specimens from Crystal Peak and ore samples from the mines in Cripple Creek were sold in the curio stores of Denver and Cripple Creek. The Crystal Peak Gem Company conducted mine tours. The gem company had a store operating at 508 Bennett Avenue, the main street of Cripple Creek.

Figure 3. Postcard depicting view of the gem mines as a tourist attraction.  
From the collection of S. W. Veatch Image © S. W. Veatch. 
Successful collecting in the area continues today, as witnessed best by the discovery of several gigantic smoky quartz crystals on the Godsend Claim in 2002 by Rich Fretterd. These unique specimens currently reside in the Pikes Peak Historical Society museum in Florissant. More recently, an exceptional amazonite-smoky quartz cavity, known as the Icon Pocket, yielded possibly the finest known plate, or cluster, of these minerals in the world.   This treasure was found on the Smoky Hawk Claim by the Dorris family.  More crystal specimens await  discovery in the Crystal Peak area.

References Cited:

Bryant, B., F. Barker, R. A. Wobus and R.M. Hutchinson. 1976.  Road Log, Pikes Peak Batholith Field Trip.  In Studies in Colorado Field Geology, ed. by R.C. Epis and
R.J. Weimer, 17-31.  Colorado School of Mines professional contributions 8.

Dietrich, R. V. and Skinner, B.J. 1979, Rocks and Rock Minerals. New York:   John Wiley & Sons,

Eckel, E. B. 1997.  Minerals of Colorado:  A 100-year Record, Updated and Revised.
Golden:  Fulcrum Publishing.

MineralDat Foroum. (2006). Retrieved from,6,51496,51496,quote=1

Peale, A. C. 1874.  Seventh Annual Report of the Hayden Survey, 1873.

The Centennial [newspaper] (1876). February, 1876 Vol 1, no. 2, page 1, col 3  and page 2, col 1 and 2. Published by Jesse Summers Randall, Printers’ Alley, west of the Miners’ Assay Office, Georgetown, Colorado.

The Mining Investor. (1914). Retrieved from

Wobus, R. A. 1976.  New data on potassic and sodic plutons of the Pikes Peak Batholith
central Colorado.  In Studies in Colorado Field Geology, ed. by R. C. Epis and R.

J. Weimer, 57-67. Colorado School of Mines professional contributions 8.