Besides being a source of building stone, the varied geology of the Red Rock Canyon area has been explored and exploited in a variety of other ways since 1859 when Colorado City was founded.
1859 marked the beginning of the Colorado gold rush. Prospectors who explored Red Rock Canyon and the surrounding area were most interested in the igneous and metamorphic mountain immediately to the south in Section 16. There, they dug more than half a dozen exploratory shafts and tunnels. Most of these were in the Idaho Springs gneiss which appeared to have interesting and varied mineralization. It contained no economic gold deposits, however. So, the prospectors’ hard work went unrewarded. The shafts and tunnels were abandoned and can still be seen. People who played in the area as children in the 1920’s and 30’s remember a miners cabin or shaft house which was still standing at one of these diggings. One mine tunnel was converted to a squatter’s residence and outfitted with a stone fireplace near the entrance with a short four inch stovepipe for a chimney.
In 1880 Fredericka Langmeyer leased her hogbacks property for the mining and milling “of such gold, silver, copper and lead ores as may be found.” The lease terminated when the lessors abandoned their efforts after finding no ore.
The prospectors’ diggings were re-explored during the uranium boom of the 1950’s. One short tunnel seemed particularly interesting when a Geiger counter virtually went wild in it. However, the radioactivity proved to be radon; and the black rock at the back face of the tunnel proved to be biotite schist (metamorphosed mica) instead of pitchblend. Exploration during the uranium boom also turned up very fine streaks of carnotite in the Benton shale between the Niobrara and Dakota hogbacks. This, too, proved not to be an economic deposit.
In its early days, Colorado City had a plaster mill which made plaster form gypsum which was mined from local deposits. I’ve seen references to three locations where gypsum was mined: a small mine in Colorado City west of Camp Creek, Gypsum Canyon which is now buried beneath the landfill on the Red Rock Canyon property, and the Garden of the Gods.
One historian has claimed that there was a gypsum mine near the switchbacks on south 26th Street. However, the geology of that area is alluvial gravel and Niobrara formation which consists of limestone and shale. It is possible that a limestone mine was operated in that area. Land in that area was once owned by Anthony Bott, one of Colorado City’s founders. Bott operated limestone mines to obtain limestone for cement. When he started mining limestone, he had it shipped to a cement plant in Denver. Later he operated his own cement plant in Colorado City. Mr. Bott’s limestone mining operations ended when his cement factory burned in 1894. Evidence of two limestone mines can be seen west of 31st Street just north of Robinson.
The Snider Stone and Lime Company which operated quarries in Red Rock Canyon also mined limestone from Williams Canyon and Black Canyon north of Manitou.
The sand from decomposed Lyons sandstone is a nearly ideal material for making foundry sand which is used to make molds for cast iron. This sand was mined from the bottom of Red Rock Canyon for a number of years, probably into the early part of the twentieth century.
Later in the twentieth century, gravel from the alluvial deposits of decomposed Pikes Peak granite was mined for road material and as aggregate for concrete. Around the middle of the century, gravel pits were operated around the intersection of 26th Street and the Gold Camp Road. These included gravel pits on both sides of 26th. Street and on both sides of Lower Gold Camp Road. Following the gravel mining operations on Lower Gold Camp Road, the road bed was lowered a short distance east of 26th Street. Village at Skyline is built in one of the former gravel pits. The gravel pit on the east side of 26th Street was a municipal gravel pit and is now the site of a Street Department facility. The gravel pit west of 26th Street is on the Red Rock Canyon property and is traversed by the former landfill road.
A more recent gravel pit which is larger than the others was in operation between the Dakota hogback and Red Rock Canyon until it was closed in 2000. After the Red Rock Canyon property was purchased as open space, this gravel pit area was graded to blend with the adjacent terrain and was seeded with native grasses.