CLIMAX MOLYBDENUM MINE
If you drive on Colorado 91 between Copper Mountain and Leadville, you will find the colossal molybdenum mine of Climax atop Fremont Pass. The pass is at 11,318 feet/3450 meters high and the mine carves up the mountainsides to the east to the literal crest of Bartlett Mountain. The first mineral claims were established by miners looking for gold in the late 19th century. Instead of gold, the miners found only molybdenum for which there was little use until World War I when it was discovered that molybdenum could be used to better harden steel alloys. Just as the molybdenum mine was established, World War I ended and the mine was briefly shut down, but slowly through the 1920’s, further uses for molybdenum were established and the mine expanded. Expansion lead to expansion and the mine would become the source of 75-85% of the world’s molybdenum. At its peak in the 1960’s, the mine would grow to employ over 2000 people and was a very important factor in the economic health of nearby Leadville. Higher fuel costs and cheaper molybdenum sources in South America eventually conspired to cause the Climax company to once again shut down the mine seriously impacting Leadville which you can see from census figures. The same company also owns another molybdenum mine which is still active - the Henderson Mine - which you can notice if you are driving through the little town of Empire on US 40 towards Berthoud Pass and the ski area of Winter Park (The huge milling area for these deposits you see driving near the town of Kremmling if you happen to be en route for Steamboat Springs.). The Climax company estimates there is enough molybdenum left at the Henderson Mine to last another twenty years when they will once again center their attentions at Climax. In the meantime, Climax has opened once in recent years for a short time but is again slumbering. Sometimes, you might visit the mine in the summer, otherwise just take in the gigantic proportions of the mine as you drive past. Realize that all of the reservoirs to the north along the highway in the Ten Mile canyon are tailing ponds from the mine above. The mountain of molybdenum separates the headwaters of Ten Mile Creek - whose waters eventually flow into the Colorado River and off to the west - from the headwaters of the Arkansas River - waters that eventually reach the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River.