Lugnasa Harvest Moon
Jon and the grandkids went camping at Upper Maxwell Falls, less than 2 miles from here in the Arapaho National Forest. They watched a fawn come up underneath a doe and whack her underside a couple of times, then drink. Having this kind of opportunity so close to our home makes grandkid life richer. Ours, too. Ruth got cold; Gabe got hot. They ate clam chowder with sourdough bread and drank hot chocolate. Breakfast was back here.
The trip to the Argo Gold Mine was a promise to Ruth, made after I took Gabe there last year. It was much better this time since new owners had a guide that went with us on the whole tour, including the Double Eagle Mine. The Double Eagle was dug by hand, went back maybe two hundred feet, following a vein of quartz (gold shows up near the quartz). It was called the Double Eagle because the entire mine netted its two miners only $20, a double eagle coin. A helluva lot of work for 20 bucks, even in the late 19th century.
The tour is really of the Argo mill, the processing plant that received, through the Argo Tunnel, ore from 800 mines. The tunnel, 4.2 miles long, ran from upslope Central City to a spot just above the processing plant.
An assayer’s office determined the percentage of the big five metals in each ore cart: gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc. The mill purchased the ore cart based on the value of the metals. Then the ore cart moved over to the receiving pits. The cart tipped over on its side, spilling the ore into these deep bins.
From there the ore went to stamping mills for crushing of larger chunks of ore, through chemical slurries and ball mills and finally onto sorting tables. The process used vaporized mercury at one point and a cyanide leaching tank for the gold. Added to the physical dangers in the wooden mill, criss-crossed by belts to drive various machines and filled with the noise of the stamping mills that could be hear fourteen miles away, the poisons used made the mill a dangerous place to work.
This all came to an end when 5 miners, trying to retrieve gold from a vein when the mines were shut down, set off an explosion that drained older mines of water built up in their drifts. This sent a pulse of water jetting through the 12 foot wide Argo Tunnel, killing four of the miners, shooting a one ton ore cart a mile in the air and making the tunnel unfit for use.
The Argo mill shut down the next day. No way to get ore out of the mines and to the mill.