A stay in Colorado last summer led us on the adventure of a lifetime. We knew that Gilpin County was mining country, but we had no idea the vast number of mines that are located there, not to mention the number of shafts all around. As we got to know the area more, we decided to take a mining tour. We weren't sure which one to take but eventually decided on a visit to Hidee Gold Mine. Let me tell you, it was an experience we'll never forget.
Panning for Gold
When we arrived, our tour guide, John (or Boomer as my kids affectionately called him… they love the Wilderness Family), led us to where we could pan for gold. Benches and tables were set up with crates of water and pans. He taught us how to pan for gold and what to look for.
They had a setup quite like a miniature town in the Old West, quite the photo opp really.
Tour of the Mine
After awhile, we were outfitted with hard hats and set off on our journey under the ground. The mine was quite slippery in places, so we took it slow, stopping at different “checkpoints” to listen as John recounted stories and other facts about mining and more.
Along the way, we had many a poignant reminder of the dangers involved in mining… Upon entering the mine, just a little ways back in, we came upon a makeshift bench with Tommyknockers, a kind of cross between Irish leprechauns and English and Scottish brownies. Miners believed these spirits mined right alongside them. Some miners were afraid of them; others thought the knocking that came before a mine collapse or cave-in was the work of Tommyknockers, trying to warn them. There was opportunity to leave gifts or favors for the Tommyknockers. There are a lot of stories surrounding these mythical creatures.
As we continued on into the mine, we were introduced to different pieces of equipment, learned all about mining methods and local geology, learned about the dangers of mine shafts all over the mountains (which, I'll admit, made me a little paranoid the rest of the trip), and also learned a lot about the history of mining and of this particular area. John, a veteran miner, shared so many real life stories with us.
As told by John, most miners would work until they had enough gold to pay for a meal and any other needs or wants… Then they'd head into town, Central City or Black Hawk, both filled with casinos, restaurants, and hotels. Each day's work would provide just enough gold to get them through to the next.
Mining the Vein
As we neared the 5 foot glittering gold vein, we went down a set of stairs where we picked up mallets or hammers and chisels and set to work mining for gold. This was probably our favorite part of the entire tour. The boys had a blast. We chiseled away at the vein, knocking chunks of gold ore off the floor and walls. If you looked up, you could see all the glittering beauty… I could only stare in awe.
John told more stories and helped us learn the best techniques for harvesting the gold. It was an amazing experience. He had little baggies for our treasures, and he would actually add to the boys' baggies as we kept on hitting mallet to chisel.
Things to Know Before You Go to Hidee Gold Mine
There are a few things you need to know before you visit the mine.
- Take cash or check. We actually had to run back into Central City for cash; thankfully, a casino about a mile away had the closest ATM.
- Don't listen to your GPS. Take the Central City Parkway, and look for the Hidee Gold Mine sign around Mile Marker 6.3. We learned this the hard way… funny story.
- You may want a light jacket. It's a little chilly in the mine, about 45°, not too bad.
- Wear long pants and closed-toed shoes with good traction. Parts of the mine can be quite slippery, and if you're down on your hands and knees with hammer and chisel… you'll want long pants.
- You may want a separate pair of shoes to change into after the tour, just in case. Your shoes will likely get quite muddy.
- Check their hours. They're open for tours June to October.
- Tour space is limited, so calling ahead may be a good idea.
- Tours are about 1 1/2 hours long.
- There's really not a lot of stooping required. We were able to stand completely upright for most of the tour.
- Group tours and reservations are available. Educational discounts are given to school and university groups.
- Touring the mine was a really affordable activity for our family of four. We paid right around $70 to $80 altogether, and it was well worth the cost.
- They do have a small gift shop on site, as well.
It was one of the most memorable activities from our simple vacation. Upon leaving the mine, we took a few photos together and with John. When we walked away and got back in the car, none of us could shut up about how awesome this was. Mining for gold with a veteran miner equals an experience none of us will soon forget.