St. Elmo

The ”ghost town“ of St. Elmo is a reminder of Chaffee County‘s past involvement with mining. The area is a favorite with off road vehicle enthusiasts.

In the 1800s, miners would take to the mountains in Chaffee County for minerals out of necessity. Today, gold panning and rock hounding for minerals are still common but as hobbies.

“There’s a lot of resources, and we are in a very, very good mineral belt here. Not only do we have gold in most every stream, we are blessed with lots and lots and lots of minerals. That, combined with a lot of public land, gives us a lot of opportunity,” said Cindy Peratt, owner of the Rock Doc in Nathrop.

Before hunting for gold or gemstones, leave behind any notions of getting rich immediately. Best to enjoy the hunt, as there will be plenty of that and no certainty of rewards.

Avoid trespassing on private property and be aware of lands with private claims on them. Some private claim owners will allow outside hunting on their properties for a fee.

For gold panning, use a good gold pan and a sectioned device like a pipette to remove nuggets from the pan. A vial to store the nuggets will also be helpful. Extra tools to use include screens, treasure scoops and magnets for pulling out black sand.

A particular gold-panning hot spot is at Cache Creek by Granite, designated by the Bureau of Land Management for this exact hobby. Chalk Creek is also a great place to search, as well as areas south of Trout Creek Pass.

Rock hounds will want a good rock hammer as well as a chisel. Take along a guide for identifying minerals and a hand lens to inspect the smaller minerals.

Hiking boots and gloves will also come in handy for any of these rugged outdoor activities.

Mount Antero has a lot of claims on it, but it is also a popular hunting ground for rock hounds. Or try searching outside Turret near Salida or around Trout Creek Pass.

The Colorado Rockhounding page on PeakToPeak.com can also point mineral hunters in the right direction.

“It’s a really good family activity,” Peratt said. “Everybody gets a little exercise and sunshine. Both of those are really inexpensive hobbies for families. We encourage that, and we encourage the families that are getting their kids excited about science.”

More information on gold panning and rock hounding is available from Gold Prospectors of Colorado at gpoc.club and Columbine Gem and Mineral Society at rockaholics.org.