1994 Mining History Association Tour


Leadville Mining District and

National Mining Hall of Fame Museum

Tour Leader: Carl Miller

The route of the tour to the Leadville, Colorado mining district and the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum cut through the heart of the Colorado Front Range Mineral Belt.  It passed through the historic mining towns of Idaho Springs, Georgetown, and Silver Plume.  After crossing the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass the route of travel passed just north of the mining towns Montezuma and Breckenridge, and through the old mining camp of Frisco.  Today this is Colorado ski country with famous resorts of Breckenridge, Vail, and Copper Mountain to name just a few.


The Continental Divide was crossed a second time at Fremont Pass.  At the top of the pass is the famous Climax Molybdenum Mine.  At one time it was the largest underground mine in the U. S.  It was nearly the sole source of “moly,” so critical to the World War II effort.  Initially block caving was used to extract the ore.  The caved area on Bartlett Mountain is easily seen from the highway as are the mill buildings.  Until the 1960s, the company town of Climax was located adjacent to the mine.  It boasted its own ski hill on Chalk Mountain across from the mine.  The town was dismantled and moved to Leadville.  Open pit mining was used to mine the ore on Ceresco Ridge on the south side of the orebody.  Heading downhill from the pass, the road passes the Storke Level Shaft which was used to access the lower levels of the mine.  A large conveyor system was used to transport the ore to the mill at the top of the hill.  As the road approached the pass from the north, it passed the huge Climax tailings ponds which cover the old mining town of Kokomo.  In the years following the tour, the inactive tailings ponds have been reclaimed.  In more recent years, the mine has been kept on a care and maintenance basis and operated in response to changes in worldwide demand for molybdenum.  From Climax it is downhill all the way to Leadville!


Unfortunately, no photographs remain from the 1994 tour of Leadville.  In 2007, the Mining History Association annual conference was held at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum in Leadville.  Extensive tours were included of the historic town and mining areas.  Many historic mining structures remain throughout the district.  Photo galleries from these tours are on-line and are linked from this page.  Additional photos of the mining district were added in 2014 to provide a more complete picture of the past and present of this legendary mining area.  It is worth mentioning that in the 1980s Leadville was designated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the California Gulch Superfund site.  Since that time, extensive measures have been taken to isolate mine waste dumps and eliminate acid mine/rock drainage, a source of water pollution.  Fortunately, most of the historic character of the mining district remained after the clean-up.  The Mineral Belt Trail now provides a convenient way for hikers, bikers, and cross-country skiers to explore parts of the mining district.  “The Route of the Silver Kings” provides a self-guided auto tour of the entire district.  Visitors can obtain maps and explanatory brochures for both from the many visitor information sources in historic Leadville.



This historic 1941 view of the Climax Molybdenum Company mine and mill shows the block cave area at the rear on Bartlett Mountain. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

The Main Gate provided access to the mine, mill, and town site during the World War II era. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

By the 1940’s, the Climax tailings ponds were already extensive. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

The Fremont Trading Company (the “company store”) at the summit of Fremont Pass, was a “must stop” for miners and travelers alike.  The Climax ski hill was located on Chalk Mountain behind the store. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

This 1991 view shows the modernized and enlarged mill complex.  The cave area is at the rear. CLICK HERE to see a model of the mining method.  The model was located at the mine Visitors’ Center in the late-1980s.

The mining facilities were located at the Storke Shaft in this 1991 photograph.  The belt conveyor (left) transferred the ore to the mill on Freemont Pass.

In this 2002 photograph, the mine and mill appear to be idle.  Open pit mining benches on Ceresco Ridge are seen at the right rea 

By 2002, underground mining had ceased.  All that remains at the reclaimed site is the Storke Shaft headframe.

This 2002 photo mosaic of the Climax Mine and Mill facilities on Freemont Pass shows the block caving area (left rear), open pit area (right center), mill complex (center), and reclaimed Storke Shaft area (right).  The view is from Chalk Mountain.

This 2002 photo mosaic of the Climax tailings ponds shows that they nearly fill the valley to the north of the mine.  The mining town of Kokomo, where the Wilfley table was invented, is covered by the tailings.  The inactive tailings areas have been reclaimed since these photographs were taken.  The view is from Chalk Mountain.

Photo Credits: Library of Congress (where noted), Mike and Pat Kaas


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