For mine scouts and experienced prospectors the discovery of rich "float" is the key to finding the source of the ore itself. In most cases, "float leads to source", but in the annals of mining history there are a few instances where float leads to barren rock. Nothing baffles and frustrates the prospector more than a valley full of rich float combined with a total lack of primary ore deposits in the surrounding hills. In cases like this, the prospector simply scratches his head in wonderment.
Consider the famous Klondike gold strike of 1896. The marvelous gold placers in the Klondike District were good producers for nearly 10 years, surely a record in mining history. In the best of circumstances, a gold placer district is usually worked out in 3 to 4 years. The rich gravels in the Klondike District produced a steady stream of gold from 1896 to 1906. Although placer gold and even mammoth tusks have been discovered in prodigious amounts, the source or "mother lode" of the Klondike gold has never been found.
The Calumet Mine is located in the old Turret Mining District, northwest of Salida, Colorado. Noted for its rich iron deposits, the mine lies in a geologically complex area that has produced garnet, epidote, quartz, and gem-quality sapphire. First described in 1887 by Walter B. Smith, the bluish-gray sapphires were said to have originated from a thin layer of corundum schist located somewhere in the vicinity of the mine. Today, careful examination of the hillside both above and below the mine reveals absolutely no outcrops of schist.
In 1882, two prospectors named Shedd and Henry stumbled upon a field of rich silver-bearing float 3 miles north of Kingston, New Mexico. Located along a stretch of Carbonate Creek, the float consisted of cobbles and sometimes boulders of acanthite, a rich sulfide of silver. Although 80,000 ounces of silver were recovered from the area, the source of the acanthite float was never found.
The famous "Planchas de Plata" or "Bolas de Plata" (the "place where silver grew out of the ground") was discovered in 1736 by a Yaqui Indian. Chunks of pure silver were found lying right on the surface! Some were in nugget form, others occurred in large sheets, while a few were even found as boulders. Indeed, one enormous surface boulder of pure silver weighed 3000 pounds! But the source of all that silver was never found.
In the summer of 1897, a miner named Martin Hotter discovered a huge boulder of sylvanite ore on the banks of Junction Creek, 12 miles northwest of Durango, Colorado. The 10-inch vein in the boulder yielded $1600 worth of sylvanite! The source of that boulder must certainly be close by, but to this day it has never been found.
The same situation occurred in the rugged Never Summer Range in north-central Colorado during the 1880's. Prospector Isaac Alden, said to be a descendant of Pilgrim John Alden, discovered a large chunk of iron-stained, gold-bearing quartz on Soda Creek, north of Lake Granby. Alden submitted the sample for assay and found to his delight that it contained $1600 worth of gold per ton! It was truly bonanza ore. Unfortunately, when he returned to Soda Creek he was unable to locate the source of the incredible ore. It remains hidden to this day.
Grand County, Colorado has never been a major producer of precious metals. The county has also lagged behind the rest of Colorado by some 20 years, having been first prospected sometime around 1879. (Two decades had passed since John Gregory's famous gold strike on Clear Creek!) Within the entire 2000 square mile expanse of Grand County, the only significant mineralization occurs in the extreme northeastern corner of the county. This area includes the spectacular Never Summer Range and the rugged headwaters of the Colorado River.
The decade following John Gregory's 1859 gold strike would be dominated by the quest for gold. Prospectors instinctively migrated southwestward from the mines on Clear Creek, following the trend of the Colorado Mineral Belt. They found gold aplenty all along its length. Particularly rich strikes were made in South Park, Breckenridge, and Silverton.
The first evidence that Colorado was also a silver state appeared in 1869. Immense deposits of silver were discovered at Caribou, just west of present-day Boulder, and at Rico in the southwestern part of the state. These phenomenal strikes served as precursors to the silver decade of the 1870's.
The 1870's saw three major silver strikes in Colorado. In 1872, rich silver ore was discovered on the western slopes of the Wet Mountains near present-day Rosita. Then in 1875, massive deposits of silver-bearing cerussite were discovered in the Mosquito Range, near Leadville. These tremendous silver deposits would make Leadville the "Silver King" of Colorado. In 1877, the focus shifted back to the Wet Mountain Valley where rich deposits were uncovered near Silver Cliff and Westcliffe.
In 1879, prospectors searching for silver finally penetrated the Grand Lake area in north-central Colorado. Gold and then silver, lead, and copper were discovered in the Never Summer Range, just north of Grand Lake. In 1880, the first cabin appeared on the site that would eventually become the mining camp known as Gaskill. Named for Captain L.D.C. Gaskill, the camp sprang up on the west side of Bowen Mountain near the famous Wolverine Mine. By 1882, nearly 100 people resided in the town, most of them miners employed in the nearby Wolverine, Ruby, and Grand Lakes Mines. But the boom lasted only 4 years. In 1886, the Wolverine Mine ceased operations and Gaskill quickly succumbed as the miners left for richer diggings.
The mining camp known as Lulu City (or "Lulu" for short) was established north of Gaskill on the Colorado River. Founded in 1880 by miners searching for silver, Lulu City grew quickly to a town of nearly 500. Unfortunately, by 1884, the silver deposits in the area were depleted and Lulu City faded away.
The mineral deposits in the mountains at the head of the Colorado River produced meager amounts of gold, silver, and base metals compared to the great deposits found in the Colorado Mineral Belt. The Grand County mining boom lasted a scant 7 years at best, from 1879 to 1886. Hardly a trace remains of its once bustling mining camps.