Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum a hidden gem in Golden
GOLDEN —To call one of Golden's museums an "undiscovered gem" is true, even it if is a wince-worthy pun.
The Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum is free, open to the public and is the state repository for Colorado's mineral heritage. But located on the Colorado School of Mines campus, it is also a bit off the beaten path.
"Anyone who goes there comes out bubbly, with, 'Oh my gosh, I didn't know that place existed, it is so good,' " said Barb Warden, founder of golden.com, also home of the Golden Cultural Alliance, which promotes Golden's museums.
Tyler Rockley, a senior mining engineering student, leads a tour at the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum on Feb. 11, 2016, in Golden. (Anya Semenoff, Your Hub)Visitors who go to the geology museum simply expecting to see beautiful displays of colorful rocks and minerals such as the exhibits at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science will be surprised.
"The Denver museum is a great museum," said Ed Raines, the Geology Museum's collections manager. "But it is a general natural history museum, and we are pretty much focused on geology, mining history and things like that. Our specialization certainly shows a marked difference from the general approach of the Denver museum."
The total collection is between 50,000 and 60,000 items that range from minerals, gems and fossils from around the world — or outside this world, as in the case of a moon rock gathered during the Apollo 17 mission — to artifacts from Colorado's mining history.
These include six murals painted by Irwin Hoffman in 1939 for the Golden Gate International Exhibition in San Francisco after Hoffman followed his brothers to mining camps. An antique safe displays samples from Colorado's Gold Rush and another display showcases an elaborate silver pitcher and plate commissioned during the Silver Boom of the 1880s.
School groups bring students from grade schools to colleges, mostly for geology lessons, but Raines said there is more than just science on display.
"We don't get so much in the way of mining and mineral economics and the economics history, although there's a lot to be learned from a place like this," he said.
The museum itself is a part of mining history, dating to the 1870s when famous paleontologist Arthur Lakes came to the School of Mines and began building a collection of mineral, fossil and rock specimens. The collection was in storage at times, then the State Museum in Denver before moving back to the college in the 1960s.
A small team of employees, including some students, run the museum, and volunteers help. Because it is attached to the college, the geology museum does not qualify for certain funding, like that from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, yet it still offers free admission, and charges only for guided tours or large groups.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors go to the museum annually, Raines said, and that includes the dedicated community that comes to the area for the Denver Gem and Mineral Show. People from that community — hunters, collectors, geologists and gemologists — lend a fair share of the collections for the museum's rotating exhibits.
Steve MacAlpine, a retired geologist from Lakewood, came with his two grandsons recently because they expressed an interest in gems and minerals.
Nick MacAlpine-Switzer said he enjoyed the formulas listed with each mineral display to show its chemical compound.
"Everything here is pretty well-informed," he said.
Josie Klemaier: 303-954-2465, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JosieKlemaier
Colorado school of mines geology museum
Where: 1310 Maple St., Golden
More information: mines.edu/geology_museum or call 303-273-3815
Tyler Dukeshier, 13, wearing red, smiles as he touches a fossil at the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum during a tour on Feb. 11, 2016, in Golden (Anya Semenoff, Your Hub