The Argo Gold Mine and Mill is a familiar sight to anyone heading into the mountains from Denver for hiking or skiing. In fact, this iconic building has been recreated in miniature in Tiny Town, a few valleys over. The Argo is an odd-looking rust-red building that, rather than standing up like a regular multistory building, seems to be leaning back against the hillside enjoying the brilliant high-altitude sunlight. The white “ARGO” painted on the building is visible from the road. For those educated in Greek myths, Jason and the Argonauts come to mind, but warriors on a ship seem a long way from the Rocky Mountains.
The connection between Jason and the Rocky Mountains is, of course, the search for gold – in this case, not the Golden Fleece, but auriferous rocks. The mine was actually the exit point for the Argo Tunnel through the mountains at the depth the mines had reached. The tunnel saved the effort and expense of hauling ore to the top of the mines, and also helped drain the mines of the frequent hazard of water. Construction of the four-mile-long tunnel started in 1893 and finished in 1910, and it was the longest in the world at the time, a wonder of the western mining industry. Gold ore coming out of the tunnel needed local processing to reduce the cost of hauling gold ore into Denver, so the Argo Mill was built at the mouth of the tunnel, saving $100 million over the years in transportation costs.
The mine is now a museum, not because they dug out all the gold – there’s still a lot of gold in them thar ‘ills – but during WWII there was a shortage of men and money, so the mine never reopened after an accident in 1943. After the war, the price of gold went down and the price of extracting it went up, so an estimated 80% of the gold still lies under the mountains, awaiting the right economy.
Ewan designed the original print for a t-shirt, showing the mine with the mountains above and Clear Creek below. Later he expanded on the theme for the color art print, making the Colorado flag the sky and sun in the background over blue mountains, green forest, red Argo building, and Clear Creek in the shadow of the mountains in the foreground.