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BOOK: Golden Gulches: 1860s - 1920s Hydraulic Mining in and around Breckenridge, Colorado

As shouts of joy echoed through Iowa Gulch, jubilant prospectors dreamed of riches beyond compare.

Not long after gold was found in the Blue River in 1859, the men began exploring the gulches to the west of the waterway by panning the placer deposits in nearby streams. One of them, Iowa Gulch, was worked near its mouth and quickly showed "good promise". 

The Iowa Hill hiking trail winds through that promising area telling the story of over 150 years of mining history. Virtually all of the key innovations in placer mining - pan, rocker box, long tom, sluice box, undercurrent sluice, water ditch, water flume, booming, giant, hydraulic derrick, shafting, and bank blasting - occurred on Iowa Hill.

But the story of Iowa Hill does not begin in 1859. It begins millions of years ago when a set of mountains called Frontrangia rose just east of what is now Breckenridge, Summit County, Colorado. Remnants of these three-hundred-million-year-old mountains now form the core of the Ten Mile Range. More recently, about sixty-five million years ago, crustal compression formed a second set of mountains, the Rocky Mountains that we know today. The force of the compression buried the remnants of Frontrangia deep within the crust, changing them to metamorphic rocks. When the gneiss, schist, and quartzite were crystallizing under tremendous stress, cracks formed within the rocks. Hot, mineralized fluids moved upward from deeper within the crust. The fluids cooled and solidified within the cracks, leaving the gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, and other minerals for which Breckenridge is famous.

Written by Sandra F. Mather, PhD. with William Fountain, Richard Skovlin, Eric Twitty, and Rebecca Waugh
(c) 2008 by the Town of Breckenridge, Colorado