The cat is out of the bag—I love Lord of The Rings, and when I think about a mine, I picture dwarfs, but mining is also a big piece of Colorado’s history. Over many years, thousands of people have come here to work in our mountain mines, seeking silver and gold.
While in Georgetown, Colorado, we had the opportunity to visit two mines. Remember, Georgetown is just 45 minutes west of Denver along Interstate 70, an it’s an easy day trip. The two mines we visited have differences, the biggest being access, and second being the length of the excursion.
The Lebanon Silver Mine is on the Georgetown Loop Railroad route, which means a guest rides a train to visit this mine. There is a steep descent from the train platform to the mine entrance. Please keep this in mind. And strollers and wheelchairs are not permitted.
This mine tour will add approximately one hour and 15 minutes to the train ride. During the summer, the train ride is also one hour and 15 minutes. With parking and queuing included, this outing will take half a day.
The Lebanon Mine is no longer a working mine. Today, History Colorado owns the mine and the train. Seven people scheduled for our mine tour didn’t turn up, so we venture into the mine with just three other couples and our bearded guide, Jimbo.
We ventured 1,000 feet into the mine, all the time walking next to a tiny ribbon of water running out of the mine. We learned that “trough” acted as a urinal for miners. Jimbo is an amusing guide who regaled us with tales of Tommy Knockers and miner superstitions like never let a woman into the mine. Too late!
Tommy Knockers are the ghosts of dead miners, and apparently, there are quite a few bodies that have never been removed from this mine, so yes, Tommy Knockers are rampant.
A miner’s lifespan was about 45-years-of-age, so I’d have about two months left to live. The short lives of miners tell us that mining was difficult on body and mind. It is dirty, it is loud, it is tough, and days are long.
As we huffed back up the hill to the train, Jimbo told us even more stories. I know our tour was extra special because it was so small, but Jimbo is a great guide. Guest can’t pick their tour guide, but if you go, I hope you get Jimbo.
We also took a tour at the Capital Prize Gold Mine which is right in town, just a little up the hillside. It is easier to access and the tour is an hour. This is a working mine and we learned a lot of fascinating details about the way mining is done today, versus the way they used to find precious metals.
Paul, our guide, even demonstrated how loud it would have been inside the mine by operating some type of mining jack. I don’t know the specific name of the tool but it was loud. I am sure OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health) would have a myriad of problems with mining regulations in the 1800s (mostly because there were none).
This is a hands-on tour. The kids on our excursion got to swing pickaxes and I got to push an ore cart which was heavier than I expected. Imagine pushing this thing back and forth, in and out of the tunnel, all day. Most of us have soft hands from typing on computers all day. I bet these men had hands of steel by the time they were 18.
The most memorable part of this tour for me was when Paul turned out all the lights, including the small candle he had lit, to demonstrate the kind of lighting that was used by the miners. Seldom do we experience complete darkness and it gave me a bit of vertigo. Thankfully, no Tommy Knockers came out to play in the dark.
If you want to learn a lot about hard rock mining, this is a good place to do it. When we ventured out, past the working part of the mine, we each got to pick a rock from a bucket. Outside, we washed the rock and then busted it open using a mallet.
As chipmunks watched and waited impatiently for treats, one boy on our tour busted his rock open to find a little silver. Unfortunately, my rock was just a rock. However, my prize was feeding chipmunks, although, as is evidenced above, I am very bad at photographing them. I will happily feed chipmunks all day.
Thank you to Visit Clear Creek County for hosting my stay in beautiful Georgetown, Colorado.