Lake County lies near the center of Colorado in a mountainous area that extends from the crest of the Mosquito Range on the east to the crest of the Sawatch Range on the west. The Arkansas River heads in Lake County and flows south across the middle of the county. Through 1959 Lake County produced about 2,983,00 ounces of gold as well as large amounts of silver, molybdenum, lead, zinc and copper.
Two of Colorado's most important mining areas are in Lake County, Climax and Leadville. Only Leadville is important in gold production and accounts for most of its nearly 3,000,000 ounces. Since almost all of Leadville's production was a by product of silver, weekend prospectors have overlooked both Climax and Leadville in favor of the Arkansas River placers.
The entire Arkansas River Valley in southern Lake County has had productive placer locations with some of the better locations being Box and Lake Creeks and Gulch. Most of the tributaries can be counted on to turn in small amounts of placer gold.
The confluence of the Arkansas River and Lake Creek area was the general site of some the most extensive and successful placer mining operations in Colorado. Within a short distance are placer areas from numerous sources. Some 4 miles upstream from Lake Creek the Arkansas River is joined by Box Creek and several smaller outlets which provided source gold from the eastern slopes of Mount Elbert (Colorado's tallest mountain). This area was extensively worked for a considerable time period and is generally known as the Derry Ranch Placers. Lake Creek was a principal contributor of placer gold now found in the Arkansas River, draining water courses from the southern and southeastern slopes of Mount. Elbert and adjoining peaks. The majority of the gold originally was accumulated in moraine deposits, a short (6 mile) drive west on Hwy. 82 into the Twin Lakes area will quickly demonstrate the glacial valley. These lakes are now used for the production of hydroelectric power and the saving of fresh water. Originally the lakes (actually 1 lake) were created by two separate glacial flows with the end moraines providing the base dam and the upper/lower lake division. Needless to say with man's "damn" interference, gold no longer is sorted and fed down into Lake Creek from the glacial gravels. Just below the dam for a distance of about 3 miles Lake Creek again flows unimpeded. Dennis O'neil of Balltown, Colo. (a little collection of locals at the junction of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River) owns numerous claims on both Lake Creek and the Arkansas River which are open to daily fee users. Each of the various available claims areas is restricted to different prospecting methods. The most common activities are high-banking and panning. Dredging is allowed, by permit from BLM, on the Arkansas River. I have found that there are some virgin gravels on the East side of Lake Creek in the designated high-banking area but it is tough work as these are packed gravels. It should be noted that of the gold that is found, like most Colorado placer gold, it is of the "fine" variety and your prospecting technique requires care to maximize efforts. Occasionally small pickers and some minor flakes are found. Black sands are abundant and are filled with microscopic particles of gold. In this area water must be pumped almost 200' and considerably uphill. Fortunately you can drive to within 25-50' of the work area. Other areas are designated "panning only" along Lake Creek banks. On the Arkansas River, just 100-200 yards downstream from Lake Creek are some good high-banking areas. These most of these gravels are actually tailing piles from hydralicking and fluming operations of the late 1800's. The old miners must have only been interested in the big pieces because there are considerable fines and flakes to be found. Access is also easy by parking by State Hwy. 24 and crossing over railroad tracks to work area. Water access is also easier here although attention must be paid to fluctuating water levels as the hydroelectric operations on Twin Lakes can allow or stop large volumes of water in very short periods. The previously mentioned high-banker area on Lake Creek however does have distinct layers to be worked and better finds can be had for the gambler. As with most of the upper Arkansas River drainage no matter where you work you will find some success.
Along Box Creek, there was a large dredge operations for placer gold. Along lower Box Creek there was a most productive dredging operation.
Southeast of Climax 1 mile, in the Arkansas River Valley, 10 to 12 miles northeast of Leadville, is the Alicante Mine. It produced lode gold in pyrite ore. Four miles farther south, is the Birdseye Mine on the East side of the valley. It was a base metal mine, with a by product of gold.
Leadville district had a total production of 2,970,000 ounces of gold. In the area there were many great mines. In Iowa and gulches, there were some very rich placer mines. The old placer camp of Oro City, is now a ghost town. You couldn't tell that it once has over 10,000 residents. There are many placers that have to be worked using high bankers or trommels in the area.
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