The kids and I got a bit sick of hanging around the house, and decided to utilize our couple of weeks until school starts by exploring CO.  I guess you could say we are just planning a few educational field trips to kick off the new year!  S still has to work, so I am essentially on my own.  I guess this is where kid-training really pays off.  In any case, yesterday, we decided to make the drive into the mountains to explore a real gold mine.  What an adventure that was!

As the story goes, Mollie and her husband purchased this plot of land in the 1800’s, and one day she went for a walk up the mountain.  She sat down to take a rest, and noticed a very unusual, shiny piece of rock sticking out of the ground.  She picked it up and showed it to her husband, who, of course, fell madly in love with her all over again thanks to her discovery of pure gold ore on their mountain.  The Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine has been a working mine ever since. 

They have taken a section of the mine and converted it somewhat for public tours.  While we waited our turn for the tour, we enjoyed looking around the mine site at the old, historical artifacts.  There were lots of old machines used for all sorts of different things many years ago.  There was also this really neat building (obviously not in use any more):

When it was our turn, I had to wear N on my front for safety, and we suited up in our coats and hard hats. A was less than thrilled with the oversized cap!

Once we were ready and received our safety lecture, it was time to descend into the mine.  This process involved boarding the original 9-man cage elevator.  To make it authentic, they really crammed us in there!  You literally couldn’t move, and had to suck in your tummy to allow the next person to board!  You can get an idea of the elevators in the background in this photo:  (The orange/red contraption behind the kids is the cage that held all of us and one other family of 4!)

Once we are all loaded up, the elevator descended down into the mine shaft.  This was not a ride for the claustrophobic!  It was almost pitch black except for the tiny light overhead, and the shaft was approximately a 16 ft square–just big enough for the elevator and an escape chute next to it.  The ride down took about 2 minutes, as we descended 1000 feet!  FYI, that’s about the height of a 100-story sky-scraper!  That is a lot of granite overhead!

Once we managed to unwedge ourselves from the cage and other people onboard, then we met our guide.  He was a 6th generation miner, who was just full of fascinating information! 

He showed us the old-timey, original tools and the modern day versions–which, surprisingly were not much different.  He turned some of the tools on and showed us how they worked, all of which were air or water based, and VERY loud down in all that rock.  As a result, A and another toddler, quickly became pretty fussy and annoyed at the racket.  Thank the Lord, a grandpa-type figure was on the tour with us, and offered to help with A.  He wound up holding and carrying him for the latter half of the tour, which was a huge help! We learned about tools like the original “widow-maker” because of the dust and silica it would stir up, infecting miner’s lungs and resulting in death by age 30. (It has since been replaced by a safer tool).  The following picture is an upward-shaft (can’t remember the technical term for it) that went up about 50 feet.  The ladders and boards you see are all that exists to keep the miners safe! 

On one side of the shaft, there is a chute-like structure (seen below) which the miners use to haul their tools up.  They literally tie them to a cord hanging in the chute, climb the ladder to their work spot, then pull the cord to haul up their tools. 

Toward the end of the tour, we climbed onto an air-powered mine “train.”  I have no idea how this thing worked other than an un-manned air compression engine mounted on a track, but I do know it was horrendously loud.  While you may not see the thrill of looking at the back-side of everyone’s helmet, I wanted to show a good depiction of the size of the tunnels we were walking through.  It was literally just large enough for this train–at 2-people wide– to go through.  This pic was taken with my flash camera, so it was also a very dark ride!  It kind of reminded me of the “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” movie where they are on the magic boat and everything goes dark except for occasional flashes of scenes as the pass by.  That’s the way this was.  The kids were a bit nervous, but I think they were more fascinated by the adventure to be overcome by their terror!

The entire tour was absolutely fascinating and incredibly educational.  I only wish the kids were old enough to understand more of it.  The thing that surprised me most was how “old-fashioned” modern mine work is.  They still use fairly primitive tools like a single, battery-powered miner’s lamp on their helmet for the entire work day.  By the end of the tour, the kids were ready to return to the surface of the earth as they knew it.  So, we all crammed back into the tiny elevator for the 2-minute ride back up the shaft.

If you ever make it out this way, I highly recommend this tour!