During the days of the last great gold rush, a woman made history by becoming the first female to make a stake in the ore-rich mountains nearby Cripple Creek. Her name was Mollie Kathleen Gartner, and she arrived in the Ute pass together with her son Perry and her husband Henry. Perry was a surveyor, mapping the stakes claimed by the many gold diggers that flooded the area when news about the gold was broken a few years before.
The story has it that one day Mollie was climbing a hill to watch a herd of elk, when she spotted a strange rock that caught her attention. She broke the rock, and, to her awe, she discovered a gold nugget embedded in the quartz crystal. She quickly stashed her find in her clothes and the next day she went to the claims bureau to make a stake for the area where she discovered the nugget.
Mollie and her family started a gold mine in the Poverty Gulch, that soon extended deep into the mountainside. Soon, visitors caught news of the mine, and asked for tours inside the 1,000 feet deep shafts and the network of tunnels that extended miles underneath the rocky land above. Starting at the beginning of the 20th century, the Mollie Kathleen mine tours are the longest continuously operated mine tours in the country at probably in the world.
For a long time, the mining and the tours took place at the same time. Visitors were able to see actual gold miners, toiling away in the dark and crammed tunnels of the mine. But soon, there were so many visitors, that they created difficulties for the mining activity, so the mine’s managers decided to separate the two activities – during the day, tours were being held, while at night the mining would go on.
In 1961, the Carlton Mill that processed all the gold ore extracted in the Cripple Creek mining district was closed, and the few mines that still functioned were forced to close. But the Mollie Kathleen mine was conserved and expanded to better accommodate the growing number of tourists that wanted to see a real gold mine.
The Mollie Kathleen mine still has gold deposits, and some of them are visible in the walls of the galleries. Tourists, carried by special air-powered vehicles can admire the precious veins, as well as the equipment and tools used by the gold miners. The artifacts include tools dating from the turn of the century, as well as more modern air-powered equipment.
Tourists can even buy a piece of gold ore, guaranteed to contain a little precious metal, as a special souvenir. Gold rush enthusiasts, history lovers, and geologists will find that the Mollie Kathleen place is a magical place, worth visiting time and again.