Nov 07 2011
One of our favorite stops in Colorado this summer was the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine. About an hour’s drive into the mountains from Colorado Springs, the town of Cripple Creek is perhaps best known for the several casinos that line the streets of this old mining town. For families, however, a couple of museums, a scenic railroad ride, a visitors center with interesting exhibits and a beautiful view, and of course the gold mine, offer plenty to do for a day of play.
After enjoying the pleasant drive from Colorado Springs, which is all on nicely paved roads, we came around a bend to see the town of Cripple Creek nestled below us in a valley, and just ahead of us was the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine. After paying our admission, we donned our miners’ jackets and hard hats and were packed carefully into a mineshaft elevator with our tour guide, Ed, who is a former miner.
Then we went down . . . and down . . . and down some more, until we were 1000 feet below ground level. Perhaps it should have been scary, but it wasn’t particularly claustrophobic, and Ed explained the precautions that were taken in the old mining days and still are today to ensure that the air quality is fit for humans.
Once in the mine, Ed gave us a guided tour of stations located throughout the mine that are set up in historical order. We learned how dusty and dangerous the early mines were, and saw how the equipment and techniques gradually progressed to be safer and more efficient. It was as much a history lesson as a gold mine tour, and it was interesting in both regards. Ed demonstrated much of the equipment that had been used, and though some was loud, he always warned us first so the kids could cover their ears for the brief noisiness.
Near the end of the tour, we got to ride on a minecar on a rail, powered by an engine invented right there in Cripple Creek.
The mine was much bigger than I’d expected, and it was interesting to learn about how the various pathways were created far below ground. We learned some of the miners’ terminology, and how hit-and-miss the mining operation was; one vein was just feet away from where the miners had quit after looking for it for years.
At the end of the tour, we each got a piece of gold ore as a souvenir, and other mine memorabilia was available in the gift shop.
After visiting the mine, we went across the road to the Cripple Creek Heritage Center, a beautiful museum and visitors center that depicts the history of the area, including that of Zebulon Pike of Pikes Peak fame. Mining is an integral part of the history of the area, and is portrayed in various interactive exhibits in the visitor center.
For those looking for a day trip from the Colorado Springs area, I highly recommend the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine for families with children older than age 4 or 5. Just warn the kids that there will be a few loud noises, and that you’ll be going underground; other than that, I had no qualms about the tour. At $18 for adults and $10 for kids, it’s not a bargain, but I felt that the history and experience were worth the cost of the one-hour tour.
If I’d have planned ahead better, I would have realized that the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument isn’t too far from Cripple Creek, and would have built enough time in our day to visit there as well. Also, while the road from Colorado Springs is a good paved road, getting to Cripple Creek from other directions is more difficult, so be sure you’ve researched your route before you go.