Follow the Gold
Andrea Gross | May 29, 2013, 11:40 a.m.
Pikes Peak or Bust—Colorado, 1859
Not long after disheartened prospectors abandoned California, gold was found in a Colorado creek. More than 50,000 ever-hopeful men, urged on by the slogan “Pikes Peak or Bust,” raced to find their fortune in the Rockies. The nearby towns of Cripple Creek and Victor became go-to, get-rich places.
We begin our tour at the Mollie Kathleen Mine, where we’re crammed into an elevator for a two-minute ride that takes us 1,000 feet underground. A guide lets us experience what it was like for the miners by turning off the lights and turning on the drills. The darkness is oppressive, the noise deafening. Although I believe him when he says that conditions are better now, I still cross “miner” off my list of possible second careers.
To learn more about the history of the area, we board a narrow-gauge steam-engine railroad for a 45-minute ride through rocky hills covered with spindly pines and abandoned mine structures, some of which sit atop mines that are as deep as the Empire State Building is tall. Many folks estimate that these hills still hold more than $6 billion of gold.
In the meantime, as trucks and drill rigs race around the stepped walls of the vast caldera where the mineral is hidden, Cripple Creek is almost as well known for its casinos as for its mining. It seems that the search for gold takes many forms.