Denver Capitol

continuing in this capitol vein, let’s head to Denver’s mile-high capitol. while I may have visited before, my most memorable trip to the Colorado statehouse was on my drive from Madison to San Diego four and a half years ago (wow, really that long ago?!). because my uncle was running for state elected office at the time, upon stopping into the Republican caucus the office person offered to show us around the legislative chambers. apart from my uncle getting into trouble for trying to go into the well of the Assembly chamber (which is, apparently, restricted to elected officials), the tour was somewhat underwhelming. part of the interior was under renovation and mostly I remember it being dark and much narrower than any capitol I’d visited to date.

the building was designed by Elijah E. Meyers (who also designed the Michigan and Texas state capitol buildings) and constructed at the end of the 19th century, opening for use in 1894. unlike Illinois, the selection of Denver as capitol proved primarily uncontentious, the city beating out competitors like Pueblo by more than 17,000 votes. the exterior construction consists of white granite while the interior utilizes rose onyx and a rare rose marble, all from Colorado. the ceiling of the entrance hall rises some 180 feet (seen above) to the top of the dome, though (as I said) I was less impressed with this dome than with others that I’ve seen. the exterior of the dome is covered in gold plate, an addition made in 1908 to commemorate the Colorado gold rush.

the capitol shares its most unique feature with the city’s nickname as the Mile High City. the fifteenth step of the western entrance includes the phrase “One Mile Above Sea Level” and serves as the mark for measuring  the official elevation of Denver. subsequent to the step’s placement, however, more accurate elevation measurements have been taken — first by students at Colorado State University in 1969, and again and in 2003. each time, brass markers were added to indicate the adjustment, which currently resides on the 13th step.

learn lots more history here

the Argo Gold Mine

walking down the hill

after we learned about the tunnel from our new Dutch friend, we got to go up the mountain and into an abandoned mine — the Double Eagle Mine, which dates from the early 1890s. they made us put on hardhats and, upon letting us out of the shuttle, admonished us to walk down the hill. apparently, a couple of weeks earlier a couple from somewhere in Europe made the mistake of turning left out of the tunnel and ended up half way to Central City (which we know is about 4.5 miles away).

when these mines were prospected, men had to rely on candlelight and hand tools, with the occasional assistance of dynamite (which, as we know, got them into trouble in the Argo Tunnel). it was excruciating and exhausting work to dig and haul rock from the tunnels and the depth of the Double Eagle mine illustrated this. it’s only a couple dozen meters from the mouth of the tunnel to the end, though it’s high enough in most places for someone of my height to walk through (we still had to put on hard hats all the same).

while the Double Eagle mine didn’t net the miners the lode every prospector hopes for, it yielded some gold. in fact, there is still gold to be found in the tunnel. because they were using candles to light the tunnel, the original prospectors didn’t notice the vein of gold running along the ceiling at the back of the tunnel. it’s hard to tell from the picture of Gabrielle and Jen, but there’s an apparent streak along the southern wall of the tunnel which would have been just a bit too faint to distinguish by candlelight. we, of course, had the benefit of electricity. and being told where to look to see the gold. you can’t prospect on the Argo land any more, but there is still gold in dem hills and anyone can take a pan out to the creek and try their hand at prospecting in the frigid waters. we opted for the easy, gold-flake-laden prospecting opportunity in the troughs in front of the Argo shop. the water was plenty cold, but at least we weren’t up to our knees in it!

the Argo Tunnel

in addition to the Denver Miniature Museum, we also ventured into the mountains to see another unique Colorado site — a gold mine & mill. the Argo Mill & Mine is located in Idaho Springs east of Denver and is known in part because of its 4.16 mile long tunnel that allowed easier extraction of gold along the length of the tunnel. the Dutch ex-pat that started us off on our tour was a hoot and gave us far more information than strictly necessary.

construction of the tunnel began in 1893 from the southern terminus and, by the time it reached its completed length in 1910, intersected nearly all the major gold mines between the entrance and Central City. construction did not progress unhindered, as management and construction teams changed and war broke out between England and Spain. rather than dig further into the mountain and then cart gold out to the entrance and down the mountainside or to the mill, the tunnel allowed prospectors to send ore down chutes into carts that traveled along rails inside the tunnel and straight to the mill.

by 1914 the nearby mill was running at full capacity but problems persisted and, in 1943, disaster struck. prospectors found a major lode of gold near the Central City end of the tunnel and decided to blast it out to get at it more quickly. unfortunately, there was an abandoned mine that did not appear on maps which was filled with water. the blast unleashed what amounted to an underground lake and flooded out the tunnel. the deluge ripped up everything in the tunnels, rendering it virtually unusable and full of acidic mine water. shortly after the disaster, the national government ordered all gold mines closed so as to free men and materials for mining metals more deemed more important to the war effort. neither the mine nor the tunnel ever re-opened.

Argo Mill & Tunnel
Argo Tunnel