The Colorado Mineral Belt contains abundant ore deposits stretching northeast from the La Plata Mountains in southwestern Colorado to the Front Range near Boulder. Most historic metal mining camps of Colorado lie within this area, the most important exception being Cripple Creek. Over 25 million ounces was extracted from the area.
The Colorado Mineral Belt also includes molybdenum mines at Climax near Leadville and Henderson. Major historic sites for gold included Central City which yielded 4.2 million ounces; Leadville on the Arkansas River where gold was found in the 1860s, and later lead, silver and zinc lodes found in 1874. In the San Juan Mountains the major discoveries were at Ouray, Silverton, Mount Sneffels and Telluride. More than 10 million ounces of gold was mined from this region. Gold placers were found at Breckenridge and Fairplay.
|Mines in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado|
Gold was first reported in Colorado in 1858. Further finds in 1859 prompted the Pikes Peak gold rush which eventually yielded 1.25 million ounces of gold. Gold was discovered in 1858 in the South Platte River. Gold was discovered in placers at Empire, Georgetown, Idaho Springs, Breckinridge, Blackhawk. Other prospectors moved up the Arkansas River and discovered gold at California Gulch near what is now known as the Leadville district.
The area is underlain by igneous and metamorphic rocks, including contorted schists, interlayered gneiss, migmatite, and sheets, dikes and masses of granite and granodiorite. The veins generally fill north-northeast to east trending fractures and faults in Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rocks. The Precambrian complex is intruded by a variety of Tertiary plutons and dikes. Mineralization ranges in age from late Cretaceous through late Tertiary and is found in veins that range from a few inches to nearly 40 feet thick. Common ore minerals include gold, silver, pyrite, chalcopyrite, galena, sphalerite and tennantite and are generally grouped into:
1) pyrite-quartz veins;
2) copper veins with quartz, pyrite, chalcopyrite, tennantite, minor galena and sphalerite;
3) lead-zinc quartz veins containing quartz, pyrite, galena, sphalerite and subordinate chalcopyrite and tennantite, and
4) lead-zinc carbonate veins containing galena, sphalerite, and small amounts of chalcopyrite, tennantite and pyrite.
|Specimen with molybdenite in fracture fillings surrounding quartz. The|
molybdenum is the distinct, silver, metallic material.
After Carlin and Homestake, Cripple Creek is the third most productive gold district in the US. The ores from Cripple Creek have an origin different from other gold deposits in the Front Range. The gold at Cripple Creek was formed within or at the margin of a Tertiary volcanic breccia. These rocks occupy a steep-walled volcanic caldera about 4 miles long and 2 miles wide that was a result of gaseous eruptions. Explosive fracturing and subsidence produced shear zones in the breccia and adjacent Precambrian rocks. Along these shear zones, various dikes and irregular masses of volcanic rocks were emplaced, including latite, syenite, phonolite and lamprophyre. These dikes were more porous to fluids than the surrounding Precambrian granitic rocks, and in many places became the conduits for the ore bearing brines.
|Breccia. A broken rock rehealed (cemented) by later mineralized solutions|
The gangue minerals (associated minerals with no value) are chiefly quartz and fluorspar, with dolomite, ankerite and celestite.
The most spectacular discovery at Cripple Creek was the Cresson Vug. This cavity, roughly 25 feet by 12 feet by 40 feet high, was found in 1914, and was lined with gold tellurides, quartz, celestite and clay. Nearly 20,000 ounces of gold had been mined from this vug.
While most gold mined in Colorado was from lodes, there was significant placers. Placer mines included the Gregory placer which yielded 50,000 ounces. Others were mined at Blackhawk, Central City and Gamble Gulch. About 90,000 ounces of gold were mined from Cache Creek area near Granite. Other placers were worked along the Arkansas, Lost Canyon Gulch, Chalk Creek, Cottonwood Creek, Pine Creek, Bertschey’s Gulch, Gold Run Gulch, Gilson Gulch, Oregon Gulch and Ritchey’s Patch.
Nearly 140,000 ounces of placer gold was mined in Clear Creek and its tributaries, including Chicago Creek near Idaho Springs. Additional important placers were mined in Nevada and Illinois gulches and Missouri Flats. About 350,000 ounces of placer gold was mined from Fairplay, Tarryall and the Alma districts and 360,000 ounces of gold was placered from Iowa and California Gulches, tributaries of the Arkansas River, in the Leadville district.
|Shorty panning for gold - one of many sketches|
for sale by the author.
An extensive area of placer deposits exists for a considerable length along the Arkansas River. For most of this area, the gold in the Arkansas is very fine in size. Much of the headwater area of the Arkansas River as it comes down out of the Leadville area.
The Cripple Creek and Victor open pit mine in the Cripple Creek District is the only active large-scale gold mining operation in Colorado. The ores yield average grades of 0.02 to 0.03 ounce per ton. A similar gold district was discovered in Wyoming in 1981 by W. Dan Hausel, but the district has yet to be developed even though drilling has identified commercial amounts of gold at shallow depth. Several small underground operations also are working in the Front Range gold belt.
In 1890, gold was discovered at the Independence Lode, producing one of the largest gold strikes in history. It is reported that $500,000,000 worth of gold ore was dug from Cripple Creek.
Through 2005, the Cripple Creek district produced about 23.5 million ounces of gold. Open pit operations began in1994 east of Cripple Creek at Victor.
The Cripple Creek Mining District is located within a Tertiary age alkaline volcanic/diatreme complex dated at 33.4 Ma (Jensen, 2003). Surrounding country rocks are Precambrian granites and metamorphic units. Gold mineralization within the Cripple Creek district occurs in two principal styles. Mineralization occurs as (1) broad zones of low-grade, gold-pyrite mineralization which is microfracture-controlled and disseminated and (2) as fracture zones containing high-grade, gold-silver tellurides. The low-grade mineralization commonly contains microcrystalline native gold attached to pyrite and was deposited in permeable host rocks and/or microfractures adjacent to the narrow, high-grade structures. In many cases, the high-grade gold mineralization occurs adjacent to the contacts between Cripple Creek Breccia and the sills, dikes, domes, plugs, and/or Precambrian contacts.
Both types of mineralization are associated with potassium metasomatism. High-grade mineralization occurs as either native gold with iron oxides after gold-silver tellurides and pyrite, or as the gold-silver tellurides (calaverite, krennerite, and sylvanite) in association with pyrite. Minor gangue mineralization consists various occurrences of quartz, fluorite, and carbonate. The majority of the historical production came from these high-grade gold-silver telluride vein portions of the deposit.
There are two late-stage, prominent hydrothermal breccia pipes in the northwest corner of the district. Gold mineralization within these late features is almost entirely in the clasts indicting that much of the activity was post mineral (Seibel, 1991).
|A flawless 14.2 carat octahedral diamond from Kelsey Lake|
Colorado (photo courtesy of Howard Coopersmith).
The State of Colorado is essentially bankrupted. This lack of cash flow could be corrected by cutting taxes (something most politicians have no concept of) but also by providing serious incentives for exploration and mining and by cutting ridiculous regulations associated with exploration. All of the western states including Colorado would do well to study the Canadian models for exploration, land acquisition, mining and regulation. Colorado still has some incredibly rich gold deposits, many to be found, and along the way, the state also has many diamond deposits that could also be exploited.
For more summaries on Gold see websites at: (1) Gold Hunter, (2) Arizona Gold, (3) East Arizona, (4) Gold in Alaska, (5) Donlin Creek, (6) Montana, (7) Gold Prospecting.
For more information, see the GemHunter or watch for our new book - anticipated to be published in 2010.