National Geographic : 1932 Jul
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE gray, green, white, black, and yellow, and even one with a purple hue. But Colorado's unique road, though it appears to be of ordinary concrete, is a road of gold. Because certain ore from a Cripple Creek mine is so hard that it costs almost the value of its gold to recover it, the mine-owners sold large quantities of it to the State as concrete aggregate. The road, laid for 40 miles in the foothills be tween Colorado Springs and Sedalia, con tains twelve thousand dollars' worth of gold per mile. MOUNTAIN PASSES ARE VITAL IN COLORADO'S LIFE Nothing has been a more vital factor in Colorado's transportation problems than passes, the notches in mountain ranges that, when found, may eliminate several thousand feet of hard climb. The earliest roads made use of the first passes discov ered, but these were not always the lowest and best. Gradually, as the more easily negotiated notches came to light, travel shifted to them, and over them now oper ate the railways and leading highways. But, even with the best passes in use, the Rockies are formidable. It is impos sible to cross the State by highway without rising at least once to more than Io,ooo feet above sea level. On some routes this elevation must be reached twice and even three times. The most traveled of the passes over the Divide are Berthoud, west of Denver, on the direct route to Salt Lake City, more than 1,300 feet high; Tennes see Pass, near Leadville, traversed by both railway and highway, 10,240 feet; Mon arch Pass, a hundred miles west of Pueblo, 11,650 feet; and Wolf Creek Pass, in southwestern Colorado, 10,850 feet. To the commercial trucker the numer ous gigantic ridges that must be crossed in Colorado are doubtless sore trials, but to the holiday explorer by motor, who has come to drink in Colorado's rugged beauty, they are a continual delight. Repeatedly heisgladtomakeinafewhourstheas tounding journey that transports him, cli matically, from Kentucky to Labrador, and whisks him back from Canada to the Mex ican border. Only a few years ago it was taken as a matter of course that all these high passes must be snowed-in each winter and closed to traffic for months. Roads remained open in western Colorado and in the east, but if an automobile owner in either sec tion wished to use his car on the opposite side of the Divide, he must load it on a freight train and ship it over Tennessee Pass. But the Highway Advisory Board found that it was costly to open up the roads in the spring; that it was cheaper never to let the snow and ice accumulate. Now, when a blizzard sets in on Colo rado's most important passes, a patrol starts to work with snow plows. When the blizzard is over, the pass is soon open and traffic resumes its flow (see illustra tion, page 54). Gold was only the curtain-raiser for the amazing drama of minerals that has un folded in Colorado. Silver was discovered in paying quantities six years after the gold rush. Four years later, in 1868, more ounces of silver were produced than gold, and this has been the case in every year since. When Leadville's bonanza silver mines came into heavy production, in 1879, the dollar value of the silver mined each year actually passed that of gold. Colorado had become primarily a silver State. AMAZING WEALTH OF MINERALS One reason for the tremendous produc tion of silver in Colorado-an average of more than 300 tons of it a year-is the complex nature of the State's ores. Many contain mixtures of gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc. Thus silver has been a by product in numerous properties and has often paid the freight for gold. Tin and titanium, cadmium and cobalt, manganese, mercury, and molybdenum, antimony and arsenic, zinc and zircon dip almost where you will into the alphabet of minerals and you will find substances mined or minable in Colorado. Some de posits are awaiting a turn in economic conditions before they can be touched. Others have had their day and may have a rejuvenation. A case in point is radium. Carnotite beds from near the State's southwestern corner furnished the world some of the earliest radium produced. But this mine had to close when ores that could be more cheaply worked were discovered in Africa.