The Sangre de Cristo Mountains of south-central Colorado are an uplifted, block-faulted chain of rugged peaks consisting of ancient Precambrian basement rock and younger Pennsylvanian-Permian sediments. The Precambrian rocks include truly ancient metamorphic country rock and slightly younger granites. Throughout most of its length, the crest of the range is capped by a thick sequence of tilted Pennsylvanian-Permian redbeds. These distinctive iron-stained sediments take on a glowing blood-red hue during certain times of the day, thus the name Sangre de Cristo ("Blood of Christ"). The eastern slopes of the Sangres are also made up of these tilted Pennsylvanian-Permian sediments.
On the western side of the Sangres, Precambrian crystalline rock is exposed along the base of the range. Higher up the slopes, younger Paleozoic sediments rest unconformably upon the ancient Precambrian basement rock. In some sections of the Sangre de Cristos, Precambrian granite forms the crest of the range. Examples include the Mount Blanca complex and the Culebra Peak area.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains were pushed up along a set of high-angle thrust faults that pretty much run the length of the chain. Faulting was initiated during Laramide times, but sporadic movement occurred throughout the Tertiary Period.
In the La Veta Pass area, the Sangre de Cristo mountain chain is made up of ancient Precambrian metamorphics along its western edge and younger Pennsylvanian-Permian sediments along the crest and eastern flank of the range. The La Veta area is also home to a number of small mid-Tertiary intrusions which form the core of several prominent landscape features.
Mount Maestas, Rough Mountain, Silver Mountain, Iron Mountain, Sheep Mountain, Little Sheep Mountain, and the small eroded eminence known as the Black Hills are all composed of these mid-Tertiary intrusive rocks. Compared to the rest of the Sangre de Cristo chain, the La Veta area is especially well-endowed with Tertiary intrusions. North La Veta Pass is nearly surrounded by them.
Very few mining districts occur in the southern portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado. The only gold-producing districts are in the Spanish Peaks area and in the Grayback Mountain/Iron Mountain area, just west of La Veta Pass. Located more than 20 miles southeast of La Veta Pass, the famous Spanish Peaks are home to three small mining districts: the La Veta District, the Spanish Peaks District, and the Wayatoya Creek District. The first was founded on lode gold production while the other two subsisted solely on placer gold production.
The Grayback Mountain District lies much closer to the La Veta area. Located only 5 miles west of La Veta Pass, the Grayback District contains lode deposits of gold-bearing sulfides on Grayback Mountain and placer deposits in the adjoining canyons and gulches. Spanish Gulch, Giant Gulch, Grayback Gulch, and Placer Creek were all good producers of placer gold. The lode deposits on Grayback Mountain consisted of small veins of gold-bearing pyrite and chalcopyrite emplaced within a large mid-Tertiary intrusion and the surrounding country rocks.
Interestingly, some of the gold nuggets recovered from Grayback Gulch and Placer Creek were found to contain a gold-tellurium mineral known as calaverite. This suggests the presence of a small undiscovered telluride deposit somewhere on the slopes of Grayback Mountain, above the placer deposits.
Prospectors face a bit of a challenge in their search for the Lost Veta Creek Mine. First of all, the area is not blessed with massive mineral deposits. Secondly, the area has been heavily prospected for many years. Certainly, all of the major ore deposits have been found by now. Thirdly, there is some confusion regarding the location of one of the landmarks mentioned in the various accounts.
The old squaw man indicated that his mine lay "near an old fort close to an Indian trail". The problem is: which fort was he talking about? An old Spanish fort once stood 10 miles north of present-day La Veta, near the Black Hills. The fort was apparently in use from 1819 to 1850. Another stockade was located 8 miles northwest of the old Spanish fort, near present-day Farisita. Constructed in 1820, the stockade became known as Fort Taipa. Another old Spanish fort was said to exist at the foot of Sangre de Cristo Pass during the early 1800's. Unfortunately, it was overwhelmed by Indians in 1819. Its location has never been pinpointed.
The La Veta section of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains offers several routes over the mountains. These include Pass Creek Pass, North La Veta Pass, Sangre de Cristo Pass, La Veta Pass, and Veta Pass. All lie within 10 miles of each other. The old Spanish fort at the foot of the pass could have been located on any number of watersheds including Pass Creek, South Oak Creek, or South Abeyta Creek. Even the streams that head near Veta Pass further south are possible candidates.
By all accounts, the Lost Veta Creek Mine has been cunningly concealed. It's certain that many prospectors have passed by the hidden entrance without knowing it. Prospectors may want to concentrate on those areas capable of concealing a well-developed mine shaft and tailings pile. Heavily forested slopes and areas dominated by boulder fields and landslide deposits are favorable locations to search. Prospectors may want to focus on the broken country surrounding the various mid-Tertiary intrusions in the area. These include the Iron Mountain region, just west of Pass Creek Pass, and the Mount Maestas/Silver Mountain area, located just east of La Veta Pass. The intrusions and surrounding country rocks should be scrutinized closely for signs of mineralization.
Metal-detectors may be useful in the search for gold-bearing float. Prospectors working in the Grayback Mountain/Iron Mountain area should keep an eye out for the source of the calaverite-bearing nuggets in Placer Creek and Grayback Gulch. A hidden telluride deposit must lie somewhere in the area.