• Original Reporting
  • On the Ground
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On the Ground Indicates that a Newsmaker/Newsmakers was/were physically present to report the article from some/all of the location(s) it concerns.

A combination of natural algae and minerals left after ore has been processed to extract molybdenum turns water stored in tailings ponds along Colorado 91 a vibrant green. The water in the ponds may be reused in the future or recycled to reclaim the remaining minerals. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

There’s a simple explanation for the unnatural colors, the exploded horizon, the artificial contours that catch the eye between Leadville and Copper Mountain: It takes 2,000 pounds of ore to get 5 pounds of molybdenum. And our appetite for metal — not “someone else’s appetite,” but all of ours — appears endless. The steel-strengthening, lead-colored powder is essential not just for “old” industries, but for solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars, train rails — the list is as long as the regulations that control modern mining. 

an aerial view of the colorful ground caused by mineral deposits with an green color stream passing through

While Climax will clearly be a centurieslong reclamation project, it’s also very much a current, thriving, round-the-clock economic engine for the central Colorado mountain communities. Moly demand has 24/7 shifts of 370 people digging and pulverizing rock 365 days a year, under the direction of multinational mining giant Freeport-McMoRan. Climax says the mine and its sister moly mine at Henderson have an annual economic impact of nearly $450 million in Colorado. 

A stockpile of topsoil awaits for reclamation process at the base of Climax mine. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Climax says the evidence of an ongoing commitment to reclamation, even as they dig deeper and deeper into the mountain, is in each of these aerial photos. New scars of red, iron-rich soil in high meadows are places where healthy topsoil is scraped and stored to eventually cover spent tailings piles. Geometric road grids in tan fields of crushed rock are for spray trucks to keep the dust down. One valley floor habitat is being regrown with a mix of biosolids from Summit County’s human waste, wood chips from local beetle-killed pines and that red-tinged topsoil. 

The mine salvages the available topsoil after it is dug up from mountain sides during the mining operations. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

The area of the Tenmile Range where the Climax mine located is made up of schist, gneiss and granite, which means miners must blast the mountainside to reach more deeply into the ground. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Designed by Eric Lubbers.

Hugh covers a variety of topics for The Colorado Sun, with a focus on outdoor and Western topics, environment, and breaking news. Prior to working for The Sun, Hugh was a daily news photographer/videographer in Utah, Michigan, Wyoming, and within...

Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly Sun-Up podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author with...