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Day 49-50 – May 30th-31st: Last Dollar & Madonna

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<– Day 48 – Fri. May 29th: Pikes Peak International Raceway | TRIP OVERVIEW | Day 51 – Mon. Jun. 1st: Black Canyon of the Gunnison –>


Saturday May 30th we spent in Colorado Springs. On Sunday, May 31st, we began our trek westward. My goal for the day was to get a better sense of the family mines so that I can write the imagery correctly for my upcoming book.


Today we drove from Colorado Springs to Gunnison.

Our first quest of the day was for fudge. Not just any fudge mind you, but salted carmel fudge. My wife has been pining for some well-made salted carmel fudge ever since we bought some from the Alamo in San Antonio. I thought it was time to find some for her, so the first stop of the day was at Goldminers Nuts and Candy in Manitou Springs. Their fudge turned out to be pretty good, but the salted carmel wasn’t quite as good as the Alamo’s. Still, we’ve been enjoying it :-).

After the fudge stop, we began our climb into the mountains. Colorado Springs is around 6500 feet, while the small mining town of Victor is around 10,000ft. So, up, up, up we drove. The one problem we encountered on the climb was that the closer we got to Victor the more threatening the rain clouds became.

As we approached Victor from the north, we came upon the entrance to the American Eagles Overlook and Historic Mine. The entrance isn’t obvious, but if you look for the entrance in the photo below you’ll be at the right place.


This rock marks the entrance to the American Eagle Mine overlook.


Follow this road to the very end. There, you will find a guard and a small shack. Give them your name and you can drive up to the overlook.

When you drive up the entry road you will soon arrive at a shack where they record your name and the number of people in the car. Then you begin to climb up the hill. When you get to the parking lot, above you is the historic mine, while just about everywhere else is an open pit mine that seems to stretch into infinity. I was pretty jazzed about the place, but of course the rain came just as we got out of the jeep. Still, we got our photos.

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The reason I wanted to enter the Overlook was to figure out where my family’s Last Dollar Gold Mine might have been. It didn’t take long to figure out that it was just at the edge of the giant pit, swallowed by the massive mining operation.


Last Dollar Gold Mine on a google map marked as “M”. You can see the marker places the mine at the eastern edge of the huge pit. The American Eagle overlook is about a quarter mile directly north of the “M”

While the Last Dollar Gold Mine’s structures have been wiped from the earth, the area was still a great place to look at old mine buildings and equipment. And, the shear number of abandoned mines that still dot the landscape is pretty impressive.


An example of the left over ore processing buildings. Note the sagging ladder to the left of the building.


Not a bad view at 10,000 ft!

At the turn of the 20th Century, the town of Victor boasted a population of about 18,000 running 500 plus gold mines. These days the population has shrunk to 400. Still, while the town feels a bit abandoned, it still has a little life left.


This large sign marked the town of Victor.


In Victor it was cloudy one moment . . .


And blue sky the next moment!

After checking out Victor, we made our way over to the more famous town of Cripple Creek. That city remains quite vibrant. The businesses traded gold mining for casinos, which seems fitting since in both luck can play a big role in success. However, on this day our luck was against us. As we rolled into town so did a heavy rain.

We got a chance to snap photos of this wagon, but other than that we didn’t dare get out of the jeep.

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Hoping for better wetter, we left Cripple Creep and drove towards Monarch Pass. On the way I spotted an FC in the town of Florrisant, Colorado. The FC was with some other junky looking vehicles about a 1/4 miles south of the post office on Teller County Rd 1. We couldn’t get a very good photo, but it was there.

From there we headed south and then west to Monarch Pass. We stopped so I could show Ann where I thought the old Madonna Mine was. But, then we climbed a little farther than I did the other day. And there, across a ravine, was a building labeled “Madonna Mine”. I realized I hadn’t gone far enough up the mountain. I had based the location on where the town of Monarch was located. However, it turns out the original town of Monarch had been destroyed. And, as I looked at the old photo from 1884, the landmarks are for more clear despite the changes due to mining.


This is likely a newer building and not one of the original ones. The current owner has considered opening the mine up for tours, but the mine required enough changes that he found it wasn’t worth the effort.


You can see the red building at the base of the hill.


Above is the area as of 2015. Below is the photo from 1884 which was taken from a higher elevation. However, you can see that the town which was there in 1884 has completely vanished, as has the ore tram going up the side of the hill.

Satisfied that I’d finally located the actual mine location, we drove the remainder of the way to Monarch Pass, where we found a gift shop. I asked the owner if they had any “Madonna Mine” swag, but no luck. However, she was very interested in the Madonna story, so I shared the history about it.

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After Monarch Pass, where we crossed the continental divide for the last time on the trip, we headed for Gunnison to stay at the local Econolodge. I only bring this up because we had a strange experience. About midnight or so Sunday night someone knocked on our door, said something like “housekeeping”, and then opened the door. Fortunately, I had chained the door, so it wouldn’t open. As soon as whomever encountered the chain, they shut the door and left.

Normally, I would have investigated the situation, as I’m confident housekeeping doesn’t work late at night. In fact, I think it was a break-in attempt. But, Ann and I had enjoyed a few cocktails that evening, so between that and being groggy from sleep, I just didn’t care about it. I did ask the front desk about it in the morning and they were quite puzzled. They checked to see if someone else had been issued a key to the room, but they hadn’t. It was all very strange.

On Monday we plan to explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

<– Day 48 – Fri. May 29th: Pikes Peak International Raceway | TRIP OVERVIEW | Day 51 – Mon. Jun. 1st: Black Canyon of the Gunnison –>


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