The ‘world famous’ Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine tour is located in Cripple Creek, Colorado. The tour takes visitors over 100 stories below ground into America’s only vertical shaft gold mine, an authentic mine from the 1890’s. The mine is located along the southwest face of Pikes Peak Mountain, approximately halfway between the Royal Gorge and Colorado Springs in the Pikes Peak region. The mine tour includes exhibits that educate guests on the history of gold mining in Cripple Creek, as well as the evolution in mining techniques from 1891 to the present day.
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Artifacts from the lifelong collection of miner and prospector Melvin Anderson are on display, and highlight gold ore samples from several of the area’s historic mines in an underground vault. After descending the shaft to the ‘tenth level’ underground, guests enjoy a short train ride aboard the last Tram-Air-Locomotive, built for the mine in 1951, and restored to working condition in 1988. A rare 1890’s steam hoist has also been restored, as well as air compressors used in air powered mining equipment. Visitors can still see authentic veins of gold in the blasted underground areas. Above ground, the mine displays historic mining equipment, a sawmill and a gift shop.
History: Mollie Kathleen’s son, Perry Gortner, arrived in Cripple Creek in 1891 as a geological surveyor assigned to map mining claims in the area. Soon thereafter, Mollie followed to assist her son with housekeeping. One day, while Mollie was wandering the Poverty Gulch and sightseeing, she noticed an interesting rock formation glistening in the sun. Mollie quickly grabbed a few samples of the pure gold she had found and became the first woman in the Gold Camp to strike a claim in her own name, an act that was highly unusual for the day. The National Geological Surveyors who came to visit her mine would record the discoverer’s name as Mr. M.C. Gortner, either ignoring or not noticing that the mine was in fact, discovered by a woman. Mollie Kathleen died in 1917, leaving a one-third interest in the mine to her son, Perry, who remained the mine’s managing operator until his own death in 1949. Tours have been in operation almost as long as the mine itself. Early tours allowed guests to explore the underground shaft while the mine was still in operation. Visitors were guided by candlelight and rode open ore skips with no side or head protection. Ultimately, the popular tours became disruptive to actual work at the mine. This forced mining work to be done at night, while tours were conducted by day. Mining operations ceased in 1961 when the nearby Carlton Mill closed. The closure of the mill forced many mines in the area to shut down, with no way to process ore. Rather than closing completely, the Mollie Kathleen mine remained open, continuing the tour business that had grown in popularity over the years. With the mining activities on hold, several updates were made to the shaft and the mines to enhance the ease and safety of the tours. In the 1970’s, the mine’s new owners financed continued exploration and struck gold again. The ore body they discovered is visible on the tours today. The mine tour has had a considerable impact on the economy of the Cripple Creek area, which otherwise may have been an abandoned mining town. Over 40,000 visitors tour the mine annually.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Tours of the mine depart daily on the hour and are weather permitting, thus guests are encouraged to call ahead. The mine is closed from mid-October through mid-April for the winter season. The 1-hour tours are conducted entirely underground. Visitors should be advised that the 2-minute, 1,000-foot descent down the vertical shaft is in extremely tight quarters. Once underground, guests take a short ride on a rail car, and walk approximately one quarter of a mile. Underground temperature on the mine tour remains steady at approximately 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Guests are encouraged to wear warm clothing, and are provided hard hats for safety.
What’s Nearby: The historic mining and gambling town of Cripple Creek offers restored old west brick buildings, nine casinos, restaurants and hotels. Attractions in the area include the Cripple Creek District Museum, the Cripple Creek Jail Museum, an historic firehouse built in 1900 and the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad, with an historic 1894 station house and several refurbished steam engines.
9388 Highway 67 Cripple Creek, Colorado 80813, website, Phone: 719-689-2466