By Rick Sallinger

CRIPPLE CREEK, Colo. (CBS4) – Colorado was built on mining, especially on gold. Today in Teller County, that gold is providing jobs and helping fund communities.

Cripple Creek

Cripple Creek (credit: CBS)

In Cripple Creek, fortunes in gold have been made and lost. If the numerous old mine relics could speak, they could tell all kinds of classic Colorado stories.

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“The mine has been an integral part of the community as far as a large employer and providing help on the economic side and has been huge charitable donor,” said Fire chief Dane O’Nale.

Pioneers first struck gold back in the late 1800s in the area that is now Teller County. The region boomed. Then busted. 100 years later it was back again as gold prices soared.

CBS4 reporter Rick Sallinger and photographer Kevin Hartfield were escorted down (way down) some 1,500 feet into the open pit mine.

Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine

Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine (credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Six million ounces of gold have been lifted from the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine valued in the billions of dollars. You can still see where the miners of old operated without the tools of the trade they have now.

(credit: CBS)

One miner working for Newmont Goldcorp today is Frank Archuleta.

“It’s just amazing how old timers did this by ore cart and dynamite explosives,” Archuleta marveled.

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

They still use explosives to break up the rock in the ancient volcano, but now giant hydraulic shovels deposit what they call “the muck” onto massive trucks, hauling it up and out, 250 tons at a time. The gold is then separated from the rock in an elaborate process using small portions of cyanide. The gold particles are so tiny you can’t even see them, explained miner Lance Tidemann.

“The gold we are using (and) we process is pretty small compare it to particles in smoke,” Tidemann said.

(credit: CBS)

But in the end, it’s poured into gold bricks and sold.

They say that all good things must come to an end. This mine’s life is expected to reach that point in the year 2027, and then things around here will change. Denver-based Newmont bought this mine 4 years ago and it will be responsible for reclaiming the land into what it looked like before the mine was there.

(credit: CBS)

In the meantime, the community has been benefiting from this modern gold rush.

The fire chief says his department is one example,

“We approached the mine and they helped us purchase new portable and mobile radios for all emergency response personnel,” he said.

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The mine employs 600 people at $80,000 a year on average, and it is the area’s biggest taxpayer and helps support community nonprofits. This town has also been rejuvenated by casino gambling. It’s betting that once the mine’s life ends the company will want to stick around and dig for more.

Rick Sallinger