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Colorado’s Blue Wrinkle Mine
When we talk about Lapis Lazuli we immediately think of Afghanistan, Siberian or even Chilean lapis. But there are more to that – a Lapis Lazuli from Colorado, USA. It is known to be of a fairly good quality, but, regretfully, the Colorado mines are closed today.
Gem quality lapis lazuli has been found in only four places in the world: Chile, Siberia, Afghanistan and in a once-famed Blue Wrinkle Mine on North Italian Mountain near Crested Butte.
The North Italian Mountain near Crested Butte has an outstanding vein of Lapis Lazuli. Crested Butte lapis ranges in color from dark blue-black to royal blue to light denim blue. There’s even a mine of the opaque blue gemstone in a remote 12,700-foot-high valley along upper Cement Creek.
Lapis lazuli actually prompted the term “royal blue”, since in ancient times, only kings, queens, and emperors were allowed to own the rare, deep-blue lapis stones. Learn more about the importance of this fascinating stone in Ancient Egypt from our Egyptian Lapis Lazuli post.
One of the first commercially traded gemstones in Ancient Egypt, lapis was valued equally with gold. King Tut’s sarcophagus and mask were made almost entirely of lapis and gold, and lapis lazuli (literally “heaven stone”) is poetically praised in the Bible’s Book of Job, Pliny the Elder’s history of the Roman Empire, and the records of Charlemagne and Edward I of England.
Lapis was also ground into powder for use in medicine, cosmetics and painting (creating the color ultramarine blue). By healers and energy workers through the ages, it has been associated with stimulating creativity and opening the energy centers (chakras). Learn more about it in our Lapis Lazuli Chakras Healing post.
The local lapis lazuli (from Crested Butte), labeled “among the best the world has ever seen” occasionally stirred a ruckus in regional and even national media from the time it was discovered in 1939 until the Blue Wrinkle closed down in the 1990’s.
Comprised primarily of the mineral lazurite, which is formed under high temperature in metamorphic rocks, Crested Butte’s lapis was created by the folding and shifting of the earth and the intrusion of molten rock millions of years ago in the Cement Creek valley. Then the blue vein lay hidden until Carl Anderson ran into a bit of bad weather in 1939.
Although the Afghans have been mining their lapis for 6,000 years, selling it to the Egyptians who used it to make jewelry and talismans, the Indians who put it in the Taj Mahal, and the Chinese who used it in screens, nobody knew the Colorado deposit was there until 1940, when a Gunnison grizzled miner-prospector Carl Anderson discovered it on his mountain property.
Known as “The Blue Wrinkle”, his makeshift mine had the following sign:
THIS PROPERTY BELONGS TO A MADMAN. HE´S A DEAD SHOT. NO DIGGING.
For a while, the Colorado Lapis Lazuli was brought down and sold in gift stores in Crested Butte and Gunnison. Some claimed it even cured snakebites, but lately the Colorado lapis lazuli movement has ground to a halt.
One day Carl Anderson was traversing high on North Italian Mountain, heading back to work at the Star Mine, when a cold autumn rainstorm sent him seeking shelter in a gulch at about 12,700 feet.
The truth is that one story says he was drunk and fell off his horse, while another says he just headed into the ravine to get out of the rainstorm. Like everything in a history, we think it’s probably a bit of both.
In any case, the rain had polished the blue face of some exposed lapis lazuli, catching Carl’s eye. He knocked off a chip with a hammer and in a few days, he tested the chipped piece to reveal to his own amazement that it was Lapis Lazuli.
After having identification notified, Carl returned to the mountainside above the gulch. He repeatedly shoved boulders down the hillside to figure out where the blue –studded stones must have originated to roll down the hill to where he found them. Once his experiments had pinpointed the likely source, he started digging. He found the main vein about three or four feet under dirt and eventually followed it for several hundred yards around the mountain.
The discovery caught unmediated attention due that it was the first gem-quality Lapis Lazuli in the United States. Several authorities have pronounced that it was lapis of the finest quality. Mr. Whitmore, of the Smithsonian Institute, has said:
“It has the color and is also equal to any of the specimens of this mineral from any of the localities represented in our collection. ‘
Mineral hound Otis Dozier, who years later became so fascinated with lapis that he climbed North Italian Mountain to hunt down and interview Carl Anderson, wrote the following account of the lapis discovery in a 1944 Rocks and minerals journal:
“Near the top of the gulch, he noticed a boulder of limestone that was highly crystallized with iron pyrite. This being out of the ordinary, he stopped to look it over and knocked off a chip with a hammer. On one side was a small spot of dark blue color which the rain intensified. Mr. Anderson pocketed the rock. A few days later, he thought again of the blue rock in his pocket, looked at it under the glass and tested it. To his amazement, it was lapis lazuli.”
Carl staked some claims and worked the area with pick and shovel every summer for three decades, generally keeping to himself. Paul Schultz, an Oklahoma oil-man who became manager of the Blue Wrinkle Mine long after Carl died, said:
“I never met Carl. He was kind of a grim fellow, from what I know.”
Thirty years after discovering lapis, Carl Anderson died at the State Hospital in Pueblo without leaving a will. His son Andre, who had abandoned his life as a performing musician and come up the last few summers to help his father dig, took over the claims. For another decade Andre picked at the blue vein, spending his summers in a rough little cabin high on the mountainside.
Andre could be as much a loner as his father. It was he, who posted a sign near the lapis site that read:
“This property belongs to a madman. He’s a dead shot. No digging.”
He did however make a few friends in the valley. In 1977, geologist Gary Christopher wrote about Andre in a gem collectors’ magazine and eventually did some digging with him. Gary wrote:
“Hearing the story of Carl and Andre Anderson, I knew my mind would never rest until I saw the mine and Andre Anderson. I’ll never forget the day that first trip. It was a beautiful day and I remember seeing a lone figure working in a trench way up on the mountain. It took some forty minutes of hard climbing to get there. I introduced myself and found Mr. Anderson to be quite friendly, even though he carried a big gun on his hip.”
During the snowy Crested Butte winters, Andres sometimes lived at Harmel’s (trading lapis for rent), then at the Three Rivers Resort in Almont. The Associated Press story said of him:
“He sometimes pulled out a postcard-sized photo that illustrated a glamorous former life, a time when he worked as a musician on a cruise ships: “Andre Anderson the singing Accordion Man”. Andres’ obituary described him as a former professional musician and photographer based in New York City, who sang and played accordion and concertina.”
No one ever knew how much Andre pulled out of the lapis mine, though Gus Grosland, a retired Western State College professor who befriended the miner, remembers occasionally giving him a ride to Denver with his carpetbag full of lapis. Until his death, Andre was also hardly known for his generosity.
Grosland, recalls that he and his wife sometimes wondered why Andre always seemed to show up for a visit just before mealtime. However, Anderson did tell Grosland how he came to own the Blue Wrinkle. He was working with his father for three or four years before Carl died. The day after Carl died, Andre went down to the Gunnison County Courthouse and put the claims in his own name.
Technically, that’s what you call jumping a claim. He told me that, if anything ever happened to him, I should go down and register the claims in my name. – says Gus Grosland.
Andre grew ill in the late 1970’s and apparently sold the mine to Anchor Coal Co. to fund heart surgery. He died in 1981 and surprised everyone who knew him leaving $69,000 to Gunnison Library to establish a room for music and storytelling. An interesting way in which Andre made sure that there was no question about what would happen to his CDs once he died.
Andre was a frequent visitor to the library, but this came as a complete surprise to us,” said Anne Zugelder, then president of the library’s board of trustees. She described Andre as a “private person, strongly individualistic.”
Today, at the Gunnison Public Library, a pen-and-ink portrait of Andre Anderson hangs in a corner of a 1,500-square-foot music and reading room added in the last few years. A small plaque acknowledges that he donated the room.
Under Anchor Coal Co., the Blue Wrinkle Mine entered a new era, as the company brought in earth-movers to replace handpicks and cut deep into the hillside of Paleozoic sediment.
Since that day, mice nest inside the cooked stove in the Blue Wrinkle’s summer cabin. Marmots found refuge under the eaves. And no one lived in the one-room cabin anymore.
Since that time, as soon as the snow was gone, the men came with backhoes and giant earth movers. The heavy equipment did more in a week than Andre and Carl could do in a summer. During summers, those who worked the Blue Wrinkle, lived in a deluxe cabin a few dozen yards from Andres’ old summer home.
After just a few years, the Blue Wrinkle Mine cut twice as deep and wide into North Italian Mountain as the Andersons had managed in their 40 years of digging.
Famous Colorado Blue Wrinkle Lapis Lazuli
In the early 1980’s Colorado lapis lazuli received even more attention after an Associated Press article proclaimed it “among the best Lapis Lazuli the world has ever seen”. After that, headlines hit newspapers across the west, from Tulsa to Denver to Rapid City: “Remote Colorado Mountain yields world’s best lapis”.
Eventually, however, Anchor Coal Company found diminishing return on its investment and closed the mine. Gary Christopher, who had briefly worked with Andre years earlier, bought the Blue Wrinkle in 1991 and occasionally worked it on his own before closing it down for good.
He donated the Colorado Blue Wrinkle’s prize pieces of lapis lazuli, a 37-pound polished slab dating back to the Anderson era, to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
But it is not an end to the story of blue stone in the Rockies that added a wrinkle to Colorado history. In time, when Andre was still working in a mine, a man named Noel Adams, moved to Crested Butte in 1972 after growing up in Denver, studying sculpture in Boulder, and working as a photographer, illustrator and light show specialist for San Francisco. As years came, Noel changed several carriers and finally opened a Zacchariah Zypp jewelry shop.
He heard a story about Colorado Blue Wrinkle Mine and Anderson’s. He even tried to befriend Andre in its time, but Andre was not interested in knowing “hippy jeweler”. And so, after the mine was closed and all Noel’s lapis lazuli stock was used, he started wondering.
For years Noel wondered what had happened to the rest of the famed lapis that had caused such a stir, and then seemingly disappeared. He had purchased some from other locals earlier but had used it all but one large stone. He said:
“It was such a beautiful piece; I didn’t want to cut it up. So, I decided I’d better hunt down the rest of the lapis.”
Noel did some detective work to find where the lapis was hidden. It appeared that the raw chunks of lapis stone were relegated to a forgotten Tulsa, Oklahoma, storage room until Noel, who had long been intrigued by the stories, searched it down, bought it and hauled it to Crested Butte, where it belongs. Now he pulls lapis as needed from a storage unit full of rocks bearing streaks and veins of blue.
“Now all this lapis belongs to me, but I don’t really feel like I own it. It’s more like I’m the caretaker of it, Noel said. There’s something special about this lapis. It really does have a certain feel, almost spiritualization about it.”