If you’d like to see an historic western mountain town, look no further than Idaho Springs, only 30 or so minutes west of Denver. Today, people come to town to soak at Indian Hot Springs, enjoy a beer at a local brewery and otherwise do touristy things. However, at one point, people flowed into Idaho Springs with hopes of striking it rich, or making a little money at a local mine.
To understand how this town came to be, one need not look further than the Gold Rush of the 1800s. Idaho Springs owes its existence to the presence of gold in the surrounding mountains. In fact, Colorado’s first substantial gold discovery was found here. There is still gold in Idaho Springs, but it’s not cost effective to mine gold right now.
To get a little taste of what it was like to be a miner in the 1800s and beyond, visit Phoenix Gold Mine, circa 1875, less than 10 minutes from downtown Idaho Springs.
Now I’ll be honest, I’m not super fond of mines. Having undergone multiple eye surgeries, I have horrible night vision and I’m frankly not a fan of small, dark places. Ryan, however, likes caves, mines and cenotes (sinkholes that can be found frequently in Mexico). Basically, if there is a chance to discover hidden treasure, he’s in. I think it’s a Indiana Jones thing from his childhood.
Hummingbirds zipped overhead and chipmunks ran underfoot, which meant my attention was elsewhere when the tour started. However, I dutifully followed Ryan into the mine for our tour with Kit.
Don’t worry about lighting. Kit lit up each area of the mine with bright overhead lights. I could get around just fine, although I might have grabbed onto Ryan tightly when there was a brief mention of the ghosts that haunt the mine.
Ryan was disappointed that the tour didn’t go farther into the mountain, but visitors will learn a little history about the mine and mining. It’s Mining History 101. If you’re a mining aficionado, the info probably won’t be new, but it’s cool to see inside the Phoenix Gold mine.
The highlight of this tour is that you’ll get to pan for gold. Yes, visitors can try their hand at panning for gold in the mountain creek that flows by the mine. The outing comes with a lesson, the use of a gold pan and then, each person can give it a try.
It’s not as easy as it looks, but I did find some colorful rocks. I was actually a bit startled at the variety of rocks that tumble down a mountain in creek water.
We panned until the rain got a little too persistent. Ryan can’t wait to try his hand at panning for gold again.
If you’d like to learn a little about mining, this is a fun diversion that paints a picture of the way things used to be in Idaho Springs. The best part? If you find gold, which occasionally happens, you can keep it. Now that’s something to write home about!
Visit PhoenixGoldMine.com for hours, prices and location.
Thank you to Visit Clear Creek County for hosting our trip to Idaho Springs.