Follow the vein of gold ore one-third of a mile into Galena Mountain, and you can see and experience the operation of mining equipment in a real mine setting. The Old Hundred bores into Cunningham Gulch, just minutes from historic Silverton, in a scenic area that's easily accessible by car or RV. The 45-minute guided tour takes place in an authentic mine tram as well as on foot. Tours leave on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week from May 10 through October 13. Gold panning is free with the purchase of a tour ticket.
Hard-rock silver mining made Colorado what it was in the first half of the nineteenth century, but can you imagine what life was like for the miners? Find out when Colorado Historical Society guides lead you through the Lebanon Silver Mine and show you the mine manager's office, the change room (also called a "dry"), and the blacksmith's shop and tool shed. The mine is accessible only by the Georgetown Loop Railroad; reservations are accepted for Silver Plume departures only. The hour-and-twenty-minute walking tour costs $6 for adults, $4 for children (in addition to the train ride) and is available from May 25 to September 2. Bring a sweater.
Next time you drive through the mountains and see an old mine that evokes romantic images of Colorado's gold-rush days, stop by the Idaho Springs Heritage Museum and Visitor's Center. The Clear Creek Watershed Exhibit that takes up an entire back room is a reminder of the mess mining left behind. More than a decade ago, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency decided that the thousands of mines in Clear Creek County needed cleaning up, because metals-laden run-off from the abandoned sites was contaminating the creek -- a source of drinking water for many Coloradans. The EPA declared the town and surrounding mines a Superfund site, and the residents revolted. After years of bickering over cleanup methods, the locals and the government finally agreed on a plan, and this exhibit details it. Now that's gold!
This large cave in Iron Mountain above Glenwood Springs contains about three miles of known passageways and was first opened as a tourist attraction at the beginning of the twentieth century; it was abandoned in the 1920s, then reopened in 1999. A family tour along electrically lit gravel pathways is available through some fantastic interior decorations that Martha never even dreamed of. The caves open May 1.
Another tourist cave that had been abandoned for years, Manitou offers a physically challenging wild tour that includes sections discovered as recently as five years ago. Still missing is a large section that was open to tourists, complete with electric lights and hand-rails, until it flooded in the 1920s. Check out the Web site, www.caveofthewinds.com, for an in-depth probe.
At 7,000 feet, Spring Cave, which opens May 1, is one of the longest caves in Colorado, located less than a mile from the South Fork Trailhead, east of Meeker. In springtime, the stream that flows through the cave widens to form "Emerald Lake," which makes a full wetsuit a requirement for anyone heading into the back sections.