If one examines a geologic map of Colorado one of the first things they notice is a linear band or chain of mountain ranges that cuts diagonally across the center of the state and trends roughly N20ºW. This great band of uplifted peaks spans the entire state and includes (from north to south) the Sierra Madre Range, Park Range, Gore Range, Mosquito Range, Turret/Calumet area, Sangre de Cristo mountain chain, and Culebra Range.
This extensive chain of mountain peaks intersects the Colorado Mineral Belt near the town of Climax. Except for this junction and the small mining districts at Hahns Peak, Turret, and along the western foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the linear band is nearly devoid of minerals. But this vast chain of mountains harbors a secret at both its northern and southern ends. Ensconced in the hidden recesses of these lofty peaks are two gold veins of legendary proportions - in the south, the Lost Golden Ledge of the Sangres, in the north, the Lost Golden Ledge of the Gore Range.
The Gore Range of Colorado was named after the famous Scottish gentleman and hunter Sir George Gore. Although it is located west of the Colorado Mineral Belt, the Gore Range has an amazingly rich store of lost mine tales. Many of them concern an immense lode of gold that has come to be known simply as the "Golden Ledge". It has attained an almost legendary status in the annals of Colorado mining history.
Rumors of gold in the Gore Range of Colorado began to surface prior to 1850 when Ute Indians showed up in Middle Park carrying handfuls of the yellow metal to trade. Then, during the mid-1850's,
gold was discovered somewhere near Piney Lake in what is now Eagle County by a member of the famous Gore expedition. Led by Sir George Gore and guided by the renowned mountain man Jim Bridger, the expedition would achieve notoriety by its extraordinary harvest of big game animals. Another early discovery of gold in the Gore Range involved the Utah-bound Bela M. Hughes party. A member of the party named Lemuel Pollard found an extremely rich piece of gold-bearing float while passing through the range.
During the 1870's, an old fur trapper named Hill claimed to have found an immense ledge of gold-bearing ore somewhere near the headwaters of Morrison Creek. Hill's samples were rich in free gold and assayed out at over $15,000 per ton. Sadly, the outcrop has evaded prospectors and gold-seekers ever since.
In 1896, a ledge of "peculiar-looking rock" was discovered in the Gore Range by a hunter named Horace Pullen. Pullen collected samples of the rock which turned out to be extremely rich gold ore worth $17,000 to the ton! Again, Pullen was unable to find his way back to the bonanza.
The Lost John La Foe Mine has a similar pedigree. Discovered around the turn of the century by a party of miners on their way to Nevada, the La Foe deposit is said to be an outcrop of rich, free-milling gold ore. It too has evaded re-discovery.
The Gore Range hides its secrets well. Somewhere in those rugged mountains an incredibly rich ledge of gold-bearing ore apparently lies hidden. Of all its discoverers, only the Utes were ever able to return to the ledge repeatedly.
The history of mining in Colorado's rugged Gore Range began with the tide of prospectors that fanned out from the initial gold strikes on Clear Creek and in South Park. Indeed, by the early 1860's, discoveries of gold had been made at the extreme northern end of the range, near Hahns Peak. It was in 1862 that a German prospector named Joseph Hahn and two companions discovered gold near the peak that now bears his name. Two years later, a small mining camp known as the Hahns Peak Diggings (or Hahns Peak Village) was established near the mines. In 1866, the first mining district was organized in the area. By the early 1870's, the mines were thriving. In 1874, the Hahns Peak mining boom peaked as the yellow metal poured out of the mines and placer deposits to the tune of $5 million. That was the high water mark for the Hahns Peak District. During the late 1870's, gold production plummeted as the richest deposits were finally worked out. By 1880, the mining district was finished. Only sporadic mining occurred during the 1890's and early part of the 20th Century. Mining finally ceased during the late 1920's.
As the Hahns Peak rush subsided during the early 1900's, another discovery at the opposite end of the Gore Range rejuvenated the mining industry of
Colorado. Situated high atop the Continental Divide, the famous Climax and Henderson Mines turned out to be the richest sources of molybdenumin the world! Interestingly, the metal was first discovered in the area around Fremont Pass in 1879. But the significance and value of the soft bluish-gray metal were not recognized until just prior to World War I. Then Climax boomed! Mine production steadily increased throughout the 1940's, 50's, and 60's until it peaked in the 1970's. But unfortunately it was not to last. When the bottom fell out of the molybdenum market in 1986, the Climax Mine closed its doors.
Although the extreme southern and northern ends of the Gore Range saw rich mineral strikes during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most of the range has turned out to be a backwater region as far as mining is concerned. No major mining districts occur in the Gore Range. Indeed, the only gold-producing district of any note is the Red Creek District, located about 10 miles northwest of Gore Pass. Situated near the headwaters of Red Dirt Creek, this small mining district was founded on placer deposits of gold. The district quickly succumbed after the scattered pockets of gold were worked out.