Deep beneath the earth, in the dim, cool tunnels of The Phoenix Gold Mine, you can still see veins of gold-streaked ore, bright metallic flecks that speckle the rock. One of the veins shimmers bright blue and green — the colors come from oxidized copper — and the bold streak across the walls of the mine looks as if someone has run a turquoise paintbrush along the rock.
The mines that pockmark the mountains along the Front Range Mineral Belt are a testimony to the high days of Colorado’s gold-mining history, and The Phoenix Gold Mine, dug from the hard rock in the 1930s, is one of the best places to experience it. Phoenix tours, in Idaho Springs, last about an hour or so and take you 750 feet into the earth.
Our tour was led by owner Alvin Mosch (just call him “Al”). Al looks exactly like you might expect him to: a weathered miner in his blue pants, bright red T-shirt and hard hat; his skin is tan and his arms firm, a testament to the hard work he’s done above and beneath the surface.
Although the Phoenix Mine has other guides, occasionally visitors are lucky enough to have Al as their guide, when he isn’t digging for gold. He describes himself as a “self-made historian,” and has so many old stories to tell that he’s likely to talk your leg off, if you let him. Stories about the Lucky Bucket and the good fortune it’s brought Al and many of his guests, or about Al’s grandfather, Rudolph Mosch, who walked from New York City to Colorado in the late 1800s. The Mosch family has been mining since, more than 100 years later.
The string of lights along the tunnel ceiling does enough to brighten the interior, but like any mine, it’s still dark and chilly. In an earth-friendly move, the lighting and electricity in the Phoenix Mine are provided entirely by solar panels. Tellurium, the material used to make many solar panels, can still be found in the mines.
The mines stay at a fairly constant, cool temperature around 45 degrees throughout the year, so you’ll probably want to bring a jacket, as well as comfortable walking shoes.
Al Mosch and his mine have been in the spotlight: The Phoenix Mine was featured on the Discovery Channel in July 2005, and the interior mine scenes in 2004’s Silver City, a film directed by John Sayles and starring Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss and Daryl Hannah, were shot here. While drilling a hole to hang a light for the movie, Al discovered a vein of gold.
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The Phoenix Mine also gives visitors the chance to get their feet wet while panning on a portion of Trail Creek. Panning is one of the enduring images of old-time prospectors, who sifted through the silt at the bottom of a creek in hopes of finding small traces of gold. Best of all, you can keep any gold you might find. Panning is included in the mine tour, though there is a $5 fee if you’re not interested in going in the mine.
Bring food and water when you go — there are no drinking fountains or bottled water at the mine, and no food to buy, but there are a few picnic tables where you can brown-bag your lunch. The whole trip makes for a fun afternoon.
If You Go
The Phoenix Gold Mine
Trail Creek Road, Idaho Springs, Colorado
(303) 567-0422 Visit www.phoenixgoldmine.com for a map and directions.