Georgetown, CO – August, 2017 Jim is as much a fan of trains and mining as I am of fire towers and moose. So while exploring the mining communities west of Denver I read about a train ride to a mine tour. Well that was a no brainer!
The community of Georgetown, Colorado was once known as the “Silver Queen of the Rockies.” They had a narrow gauge railway that carried silver ore from the mines 2 miles uphill in Silver Plume. The railway and mines were shut down for 50 years but were reopened in the 1970’s by the Colorado Historical Society.
We stopped in historic downtown Georgetown for a quick bite before our scheduled departure. We couldn’t resist a café called the Happy Cooker and we were not disappointed. Jim’s French dip and my meatloaf sandwich were both exceptional.
We walked around the area admiring the many neat old buildings. Their firehouse is very distinctive and serves as the town’s historical symbol.
We then headed up the hill to the Georgetown Loop Railroad. We passed under a train trestle and Jim exclaimed “I hope we get to ride over that”. I was not as excited about the prospect. It soon became apparent that we would be traveling over it as a train came around the bend before heading to the station.
We picked up our prepaid tickets in the gift shop and headed for the platform to catch the train. We didn’t have to wait long until we were boarded and on our way.
The train ride is about 4 miles each way. Even though the stations are only 2 miles apart the tracks zigzag back and forth to keep the grade at an acceptable level, 6% or below. The path crosses the beautiful Clear Creek again and again.
In less than 30 minutes we pulled in to Silver Plume. The engine pulled away to take on water and then reattached itself to the other end of the train for the downhill return.
This took about 20 minutes and we had an opportunity to get off and visit their gift shop if we wanted. They also took on new passengers at this station as you can begin your tour at either Georgetown or Silver Plume. Finally we were back on the rails.
In about 10 minutes they stopped at a platform and those of us who had purchased a mine tour departed. Some people chose to just ride the train. The mine tour is optional or not an option for anyone with children under 5 or those who can’t handle the walk to and through the mines.
We had a brief safety talk and then the passengers broke in to separate groups for the 3 different tour options. We had chosen a tour that would take us 900 feet in to the Lebanon Mine. Everyone donned a hard hat and we headed underground.
The first part of the mine looked like this. The timbers were spaced close together until they got through the part of the hill with the smaller stones.
Once they reached bedrock they only shored up the ceiling where it was needed. The height of the cavern became much shorter and anyone over 5 ½ feet had to spend much of the walk hunched over.
Thankfully they had the hard hats so it wasn’t painful when one found a particularly short spot. I even bumped my hat on a couple low spots. When the tour stopped for a talk everyone was usually able to find a spot where they could stand upright and straighten their backs.
The tour was fascinating and incredibly informative! Much of the mine equipment had simply been abandoned when the mine closed. This scene is practically as they found it when they reopened the mine.
You see the ladder to the above tunnel but can’t see that there is hole in the floor to the lower tunnels. This winch was used to haul the ore from both to the ore carts. We were walking on the carts’ tracks now filled in with gravel.
In another side tunnel the hole down was closer and you can clearly see the ladder descending into the depths of the mine, now flooded.
Our tour was on the 3rd level of a 6 level mine. They are continually trying to open new tunnels to tours. They work over the winter when they are not giving tours. They expect this tour to be about 100 feet longer next season.
The mine didn’t close because they ran out of silver but because the price of silver dropped below an amount that made it profitable to mine. There was silver ore all over the place. The miners called this a dragon tongue.
It apparently means that there is another rich silver vein above it. Several of these have appeared since they reopened this mine. It’s not like you can just pick up the silver though. It is embedded in granite and has to processed to extract the silver.
They don’t anticipate the price of silver ever reaching a level that would make it lucrative to mine these veins in today’s economy. There are working silver mines in the area though. The tour operator said the Phoenix mine down the road does OK and supplements their mining profits with tours during summer.
After about an hour long tour filled with tons of information we were totally satisfied with our experience. We didn’t at all mind leaving the 40 degree mine and Jim especially appreciated being able to stand upright again. We were very happy with our choice of tours as the Extended Lebanon Mine Tour had only 10 participants. Each of the other available tours had at least double that amount which would have made it pretty crowded in the narrow tunnels.
We walked up the hill to the platform and stopped to visit their very gentle pet donkeys on the way.
Our train showed up very shortly and we boarded it for the brief 15 minute ride back to Georgetown. Of course, we had to cross the trestle for the second time but it wasn’t really bad as there were so many sights and sounds to distract you.
I highly recommend this tour if you are in the area and interested in trains and/or mines. I thought the prices were very reasonable. A train ride was about $26 and the mine tours were $11 to 14 more. You could upgrade any ticket to first class which let you ride in a covered car with windows for another $10.
The train ride was rather short but you got to experience all the facets of a train excursion without a serious commitment of time. When we took the Durango & Silverton train a couple years ago it took all day and we were a bit uncomfortable by the end of the trip. This train ride along with the mine tour took a little under 3 hours but we were plenty tuckered out by the end of the day.
We stayed at Dakota Ridge RV Park 35 miles away in Golden, Colorado. We paid $49 per night for a full hookup, back-in site with our Good Sam discount. It was an extremely nice park with a pool, which we never managed to get to, and a hot tub, which we finally visited our last evening there.