Leadville Colorado is a well known silver mining town, and at 10,152 feet is the highest city in the United States. I’ve driven through Leadville more times than I can count headed to or from 14ers.
During its heyday it was the second-largest city in Colorado, behind Denver.
The Panic of 1893 and repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act caused silver prices to tumble, and the town’s fortune turned quickly.
A small gold boom followed, but it was short-lived. Today, the massive Climax Mine produces molybdenum, and you can view the topsides of the mine on both sides of the road as you drive from Copper Mountain to Leadville along the Top of the Rockies Byway, a National Scenic Byway.
All of the mining comes at a price, and that price is environmental damage.
Not only are there the visual remains of the mines (which some of us find quite photogenic), there are the chemicals left behind from processing the minerals.
Many chemicals, including arsenic and lead are present at levels toxic to humans, and the California Gulch area that includes the city of Leadville has been designated as a Superfund cleanup site.
Many residential areas are no longer under Superfund status due to EPA cleanup, but residents are still urged to have blood levels tested.
We visited several of the old mine sites, including the famous Baby Doe’s Matchless Mine to get a feel for the area, and while it’s crazy to think of a time when nobody thought of the environment, it’s good to see that it’s being remedied.
Evian This Ain’t
Pyrenees Mine Headframe
The headframe for the Pyrenees Mine was built pretty solid to look this good today.