Ignorance is Mine

“And there’s the coke oven,” said Eric, “I wonder what will happen to it now that the property’s been sold.”

“Mmm hmm…,” I responded, checking my email, Twitter feed and Facebook page and not hearing anything, really. He was driving west on Garden of the Gods Road and I was not paying attention.

“Wait, what? Coke oven?” I looked up from my phone and caught a quick glimpse of a beehive-shaped structure.

“You know about coke ovens, right?” he asked.

Of course I did. I had lived here for decades, studied Colorado history and geology, and had even hiked around the “Coke Ovens” — big beehive-shaped rock formations — at Colorado National Monument. I drank Coke many years ago, and there was an oven in my kitchen. I knew all about…

I knew nothing about coke ovens.

My friend turned the corner onto Rusina Road. “There’s the coal seam,” he said, “you can see the layer of sediment up there in the cliff.” A black line ran the length of the cliff face on the side of the road, as if someone had taken a chunk of coal and painted it there. OK, I knew about coal seams. When I visited South Canyon Hot Springs I learned about the underground coal fire that had been smoldering since 1910 and ignited the Coal Seam Fire of 2002 that burned thousands of acres in Glenwood Springs.

Eric turned onto South Rockrimmon Boulevard and went up Vindicator Drive. We were getting close to my house. He pointed at a development on the other side of a block wall.

“That’s where the coal pit was,” he said.

What coal pit? That’s my grocery store.

“This is where they got all the coal to power the gold mining down in Bear Creek, you know, the Gold Hill Mesa area,” he said.

Sure, I knew. I’ve lived here for years. This is my neighborhood. Of course I knew all about the coke oven, the coal seam, and coal pits. The gold mining. What the heck was he talking about?

Eric dropped me off at my house. I was confused. How had I lived on Colorado Springs’ northwest side all these years, driven these roads thousands of times and never noticed any of the things he had just pointed out? I did what any educated, scientific, research-driven individual would do: I Googled. Here’s what I found out: Coke ovens were used during the coal mining days to burn all the impurities out of coal until it was pure carbon, called “coke.” That coke oven on the side of Garden of the Gods Road was part of the Pikeview Mine, which was dug in the late 1800s. Coal from the mine fueled the Gold Cycle Mill, at the current location of Gold Hill Mesa. Pikeview Mine closed on July 1, 1957.

According to an article that appeared in The Gazette around that time: “As much of the equipment as possible will be salvaged and sent to the Cripple Creek District for mining of gold.” How did I not know that? I had heard rumblings of this story over the years but it never seemed to be important to me, so I never paid attention. Most likely whenever the topic came up I was checking my email or my Twitter feed. Suddenly, I was interested. It’s amazing how much more interesting things are when they’re going on in your neighborhood!

The Pikeview Mine, as it turned out, stretched from the bottom of what is now Vindicator Drive east across I-25. There were other mines here, too: Columbine Mine, Corley Mine, Knights of Industry Mine and Klondike Mine. A maze of abandoned tunnels lies beneath the ground here, occasionally prone to a bit of settling and sink holes. As late as 2008, some coal dust from the Pikeview Mine spontaneously combusted, heating the ground above, in a park, to 800 degrees. The heat melted the shoes of a young boy playing in the area. How did I miss that? There are maps on the Colorado Geological Survey site that show where the mines were.

I would like to see the CGS mine map overlaid on the FEMA flood map overlaid on the OEM landslide map. I’m trying to do it myself and it’s like a Venn diagram. There’s my house in the middle — the Woodmen area’s own Bermuda Triangle! I’d like to go back to Twitter now.

This column first appeared in the July 27, 2016 Woodmen Edition of the Gazette Community News.

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